Confessions of an Equine Risk Manager

Photo © Janice Thompson


Working in the personal insurance industry as a risk manager for decades has conditioned my eye to be keenly aware of circumstances that could threaten the safety of lives and our built environment. Even when not “on the job,” I can’t walk into a room or around a property without immediately noticing fire hazards or safety measures. As geeky as that may sound—and believe me I do chuckle to myself about it sometimes—I enjoy opportunities to share my observations and help others. Being a horse person also allows me the added insight to share ideas specific to preventing or minimizing harm to horses and horse properties.

A good way to establish preventative measures is to think of an emergency situation and then force yourself to rewind the scenario and list what can be done to either avoid it altogether or reduce its effects. Top of mind with horses is when they get loose and the heightened potential for them to cause harm to themselves or others. With well-managed operations and trained handlers or riders, horses don’t get loose often, but we all know (and dread) that it does happen.

We hope for the scenario that they stop soon and put their head down for grass, but things aren’t always that lucky. Take a moment periodically in your busy day to pause and look around your property and assess what could happen if a horse was scared and running loose. Given my relentless pursuit to manage risk, I’ve done some of the work for you. The following are initial considerations, and I encourage you to expand on the list to make it as relevant as possible.

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First, because even the friendliest horses can be difficult to catch when scared or excited, are feed or treats easily accessible to take for enticement? Then, what hazards could it encounter? Here are some examples that apply specifically to horses:

  • Closed gates, especially at property exits near roads, help contain and protect them.
  • Boards or chains across stable entrances can stop them from running in full speed.
  • Ring drags should be covered with plywood or located in an area where they can’t run over or into them.
  • Elevated ground or doorways with drop offs for manure spreaders should have clear barriers so horses won’t run over the edge.

Another emergency scenario is fire. The good news is there are several things you can do to help prevent it. Use this checklist:

  • Install centrally-monitored detectors and/or fire sprinklers when possible for early notification and suppression.
  • Store hay in a separate building or at least in a well-ventilated area to reduce the possibility for spontaneous combustion if it wasn’t properly dried and baled.
  • Use fans designed for stable environments with enclosed motors instead of box fans. Avoid extension cords or minimize their use. Also, fans shouldn’t be left running all the time, especially over night when no one is around.
  • Ensure that heat lamps are installed to the manufacturer’s specifications and are never left on when people aren’t around.
  • Manage and store flammable liquids in specific areas and/or in metal containers to avoid increasing a fire or spontaneous combustion. These include oils and rags used to refinish wood, oil paints and paint thinners, alcohol in liniments, oil hoof paint and fuels for equipment.
  • Display street number clearly at property entrance, and invite fire department to visit and develop fire attack plan. These recommendations are especially important in rural areas and those with long driveways.
  • Never block driveways or stable entrances, as it could prevent firetrucks and firefighters from easy access. Equip electronic entrance gates with an amenity to allow emergency access, such as codes, keys, a Knox box or siren activation.
  • Place 10 lb, ABC fire extinguishers at each entrance and also throughout larger buildings.
  • Avoid landscaping near buildings in dry and wildfire-prone areas.
  • Keep electrical wiring in conduit, and choose light fixtures that are appropriate for barns.

A common fear that we can’t always escape is the wrath of Mother Nature. Depending on your location, consider the potential impact of severe weather:

  • Remove adjoining brush, overhanging limbs or large, unhealthy trees.
  • Evaluate structural capabilities for snow load and wind.
  • Maintain a grade sloping away from any structures for proper drainage.
Photo courtesy of Becca Hunt

Everyone knows the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and you can tell from my advice that risk management includes an emphasis on staging your property to avoid injury or harm.  In referencing that quote, I learned it was written by the brilliant Benjamin Franklin, who has many other pertinent quotes, such as “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” and even one about a horseshoe nail.

The second overall point to understand is the sooner you are aware of a problem, the greater your chances are to minimize its impact. Use the human factor for identification paired with built-in devices, such as fire alarms and surveillance cameras.

Finally, although swift action is commonly not encouraged around horses, it certainly has its place if something goes wrong. So be ready to act appropriately or engage experts without delay.

It’s my hope that sharing these thoughts has helped you make your property a safer place for two and four-legged occupants alike, and you can take comfort in knowing you’ve taken steps to best protect it all.

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Becca is the National Valuation Manager within AIG Private Client Group’s Risk Management Services department. She has been with AIG Private Client Group since 2005. In 2006, she served as Training Manager and established the first formalized training program for Risk Management Services. Becca joined the Platinum Account team in 2007 where she serves as the risk manager for many of the largest and most complex accounts, providing detailed valuation calculations, customized loss prevention solutions and coordinating complimentary services. In 2016, she took on the additional role of managing inspections for AIG Private Client Group’s multinational program. She also contributes her expertise in Equine and Historic Home risk management.

Prior to joining AIG, Becca had her own architectural consulting business and completed insurance inspections exclusively for AIG from 2002 to 2005. From 1999 to 2002, she was an appraiser and valuable articles specialist for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies’ Philadelphia office. Prior to getting into insurance, Becca was a historic preservation specialist at architectural firms in the greater Philadelphia area for seven years.

Becca is based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and can be reached at 908-319-3756 or

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