Even when you are prepared, accidents can happen. Fortunately, most of the time these accidents tend to lead to a bit of bruising at most, but on rare occasions, a small accident can lead to serious injury. Unfortunately, accidents both big or small can happen at any time to anyone. Even professionals are at risk, like the recent incident involving Olivia Inglis and her horse, Coriolanus. While an accident cannot be predicted or prevented, there are a number of steps you can take to try to stop a small accident from becoming a serious injury. The following are some of my top safety tips that I encourage everyone to follow anytime they ride.
While this is most likely already common practice for outdoor riders, always be sure to check your surroundings before working your horse. If there has recently been inclement weather of any sort, walk the perimeter of your ring to check the footing conditions. Sectioning off any slippery areas can be an option, but if your horse spooks easily, you both might end up in the mud anyway.
Watching the weather can always be used for more than just deciding how many layers to wear. Monitoring the Doppler radar can alert you to any unexpected rain or snow, and if there is any chance of a thunderstorm, especially if your horse has metal shoes, be sure to take the day off. Also keep wind in mind; you all know a windy day can blow around sounds and smells that make even the calmest of horses a bit too frisky to focus.
For many English riders, putting on a helmet is part of the tack-up routine, but many western and dressage riders prefer only a hat. For shows, it is understandable to be wearing the proper attire, but in the practice arena or on trails, I always suggest a helmet. If you fall on your head, it’s still going to hurt, but most likely with the proper protection, serious or permanent injuries can be avoided. Since helmets are often not the most stylish piece of equipment, some brands are now coming out with earth-toned colors, which are becoming popular with Western styles and among those that prefer neutral colors.
I can never stress enough the importance of being sure your horse’s shoes are not just on, but on tight. Pulling shoes can lead to lameness and sometimes scratching. If you are planning a hard workout, such as jumping or galloping, make sure all your shoes are safely secured first. If you plan to do a lot of trail riding, there are protective boots for horses that can be helpful.
On occasion, everyone likes to raise the bar just a little bit. For example, if a jump is already set up higher than you are comfortable with, sometimes you choose to jump it anyway. Or if you see a log on the trail, you may choose to go over it rather than around. Sometimes the jolt of excitement and the flood of triumph that follow provide a feeling that is unmatched. However, it is always important to keep in mind the feelings that could follow if you don’t make it and end up getting hurt. I for one have felt that rush of triumph more times than I care to admit, and luckily my horse and I have never faced serious injury because of it. However, the unfortunate incident that occurred with Olivia and Coriolanus should remind everyone that even in scenarios where you have trained hard and know exactly what you are doing, testing your limits is always a risk. Eventually you will be ready to clear that log or jump that inch higher, but you must train and prepare carefully beforehand. While taking baby steps can test your patience, what makes training worth it is knowing that not only did you overcome the obstacle, but that you are now ready to do it over and over again.
A few years ago I found an interesting pair of half chaps. They were simple, black-cloth, zip-up half chaps, but what made them so appealing was the pocket on the outside of the right leg. The cell phone holder was the sole purpose I bought those chaps, and to this day I am happy I did. Keeping a phone on your person is pretty difficult when riding, especially during the summer. Winter is easy enough; a zip up pocket on a coat works fine, but unfortunately there just isn’t a good way to put a phone in jeans’ pockets when you ride. I have worn these chaps on just about every ride I’ve been on since purchasing them in order to keep my phone on my leg, and it has come in handy many times. Whether you fall off and your horse runs down the road or you’ve lost the trail in the woods, having a phone on you saves time and reduces panic in a stressful situation.
It is important to do everything possible to prevent injury to yourself and your horse before mounting up. Start off by looking over all of your tack; you can double check it before mounting as well. As you groom your horse, be sure to look for any bumps or scratches, and check for heat in joints. When you pick your horse’s feet, be sure that their shoes are on tight and that your horse is not favoring any of their legs. Once you have finished grooming your horse, you can also choose to follow an additional step and stretch your horse. Just like people stretch before an exercise to prevent stressed muscles, you can do the same with your horse. To do this, try to pick up your horses legs, one at a time of course, and curl them under your horse’s body. Hold this for a moment or two, and then straighten the leg out, letting the joints naturally move. Be sure not to pull too hard and be ready to let go if they do not like it. Not all horses like to be stretched, but if yours does, I suggest doing it before and after each ride. You can also try some neck stretches with treats before or after riding. To do this, stand next to your horse’s shoulder, aligning your feet with their front legs and hold a treat. Have your horse bend their neck towards you to get the treat and then repeat this process on the other side. Once you are ready to mount, make sure your stirrups are on all the way and the buckles are latched properly. Be sure the girth is on tight and everything on your bridle is fastened as well. Don’t forget to check your helmet too; be sure it’s fastened appropriately and tightened to a safe, yet comfortable, level before getting on your horse.
Emergency dismounts are a last resort that riders never enjoy. Although it may seem like failing, emergency dismounts usually can avoid additional harm. It is important that you keep not only your limits in mind, but your horses’ as well. The window between knowing when to hop off your horse and when it is too late is extremely small, so any time you ride, especially when trying something new, be ready to make that call.
It is important that safety be a top priority for all riders of every discipline. While many are passionate and often excited to get out and ride, always be sure to prepare beforehand. Whether you need to add a whiteboard in your barn with a safety checklist or keep a handwritten note in your helmet of all the tips to follow, it is impossible to be over prepared when it comes to safety. If you have a safety tip that you live by, please share it with us in the comments.