Learning horse safety through life experiences is risky!
The older I get, the more cautious I become around my horses. I had no fear in my childhood – galloping bareback on half broke horses over a pasture. When I was in college, I loved the challenge of training a young horse. However, age, motherhood and life experiences have instilled an innate caution that at times borders on fear. I have worked with students with long term riding injuries, lost a student due to a trail riding accident and had numerous friends land in the hospital with broken backs, hips, legs, etc. due to horse related accidents. I consider myself lucky (knock on wood!) to only have a few scars to show for my life long equestrian pursuits.
While some horse related accidents are almost unavoidable, there is usually some underlying theme where we can replay the accident and say, “if only I had (or hadn’t) done that”. So, based on my experiences, I am going to try to describe what I believe are three common errors in judgment that puts horse people in danger.
Mismatching People and Horses
Many accidents happen because we match an inexperienced rider with an inexperienced horse. When I was nine, my family went on a vacation with some friends and stopped at their relative’s small farm. Knowing that I was horse crazy, their relatives had saddled up a pretty sorrel mare in their front yard for me to ride. These people didn’t know me from Adam, but still mounted me up in an open area. I walked the horse around a bit and then felt the sudden rush of wind blow through my hair as we galloping towards the barn. The only thing in our way was a clothesline. I heard frantic shouts of “duck” and thank goodness I did. All was well as the horse pulled to a stop at the barn and I hopped off. I can’t blame my parents for letting me ride that day…. at that point my parents had no clue that horses could be that unpredictable or dangerous. As a nine-year-old horse crazy girl, I certainly didn’t have any notion that I was broaching an unsafe situation. However, the horse owner’s should have known better than to let an inexperienced rider ride this mare in an open area. The liability alone should have given them pause.
LEARN MORE Read this article on horse selection from DiscoverHorses.
Not Wearing a Riding Safety Helmet
Growing up in Texas in the 70’s and 80’s, riding with helmets wasn’t really a consideration – especially if you were riding in a western saddle. Even when riding hunt seat, we had cute velvet caps without the restrictions of a chinstrap. We were starting two year olds with nothing but a ball cap or cowboy hat on, never thinking about our brain’s safety. Not that we didn’t have close personal experience with head injuries – there was always a story of someone getting a concussion or worse from taking an unexpected fall. When I came to Michigan in the mid 90’s, I started noticing that more people where wearing riding helmets – with actual chin harnesses! At first I just chalked it up to the lack of cowboy influence. But once I started instructing horsemanship at the university, I started to grasp the importance of wearing a safety helmet every ride.
The point was brought home when I hopped up on our “kids pony” bareback. She was flighty, thus we hadn’t put my son on her yet, and I was still trying to see if she might settle down with some work. She proceeded to buck me off right on top of a cement pad in our alleyway. My head smacked and then bounced on the hard cold cement and I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I am going to have a head injury due to this little pony.” Lucky for me, besides having a sore lump for several days, I was OK. I haven’t been on any horse since without an approved riding helmet strapped tight.
LEARN MORE Watch this video series Every Ride Every Time from eXtension Horses.
Taking a Horse for Granted
Finally, we have all taken a horse for granted at one time or another. I won’t even get started on the dumb things I have done in the past (besides my pony bronc ride!) It is always dangerous to under estimate any horse’s flight response on any occasion. Even the gentlest horse, when startled can kick out. I had a friend in Texas who had one of those one in a million good old roping horses. One evening after a long hot day at a team roping event, he was loading his horse in the trailer for the millionth time. Evidently, the horse was being a little balky and his owner lightly slapped him with a rope, an action you really wouldn’t expect this particular horse to question twice. However, on this night the horse kicked out with both hind legs and caught his owner in the gut full throttle. He spent a week in critical condition in the hospital and another month recuperating from the accident. As the song goes “this wasn’t this cowboy’s first rodeo’. He is a great horse person and never would have dreamed of putting himself in that position with any other horse. However, he made the mistake of getting lax with his tried and true cow pony – something I know we are all guilty of from time to time.
LEARN MORE Brush up on your horse handling skills with Paula Hitzler from My Horse University.
If you want to learn more about horse safety check out this FREE opportunity: Equine experts from Michigan State University’s My Horse University and eXtension HorseQuest recently released a new course called “Horse Sense” – Equine Farm Safety Training. This course is designed for youth who currently work with horses or desire to be involved with horses in the future. Adults are also encouraged to take the course. You receive a certificate for successfully completing each unit.