Safety: Expect the Best, Be Prepared For The Worst.

Dale Forbes: note, I am off on a clinic for four days, starting in just a few hours, so I will not be at my computer–thus the influx of recent posts.  Please do think up some more safety tips and add them to the list in comments below.

Good old Wikipedia defines Safety:

Safety is the state of being “safe” (from French sauf), the condition of being protected against physical, social, spiritual, financial, political, emotional, occupational, psychological, educational or other types or consequences of failure, damage, error, accidents, harm or any other event which could be considered non-desirable. Safety can also be defined to be the control of recognized hazards to achieve an acceptable level of risk. This can take the form of being protected from the event or from exposure to something that causes health or economical losses. It can include protection of people or of possessions.

(I cannot resist pointing out the obvious: exposure to something that causes health or economical losses actually IS the definition of a horse.  Never mind.)

On January 28th Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs and Steel) published an essay in the New York Times, named, That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer.

In it he makes an argument that statistically men his age are more in danger of losing years of their lives to the shower than many other more dramatic hazards.

“This calculation illustrates the biggest single lesson that I’ve learned from 50 years of field work on the island of New Guinea: the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.”

This is very good advice, and though we as humans may worry more about terrorist attacks than speeding in our cars it is the latter that is more likely to harm us than the former.  And one can extrapolate outward from actual traffic accidents to things like, speeding tickets, harm to the environment, stress–there are many levels.

There is also the phenomenon that things that are done every day with normal safety precautions really are statistically safe. The horse well-trained to side reins CAN spook and have an awful accident–we had one this week and it was not fun.  Does this mean we will never use side reins again?  Probably not.  With normal care and training things like side reins and long reining  (ground driving) can be useful tools.  Sometimes specifically BECAUSE you want a horse in a methodical and gently way to work out its issues without the complication of a human–or the danger to that human.

Example: kindly teaching horses to tie in a systematic manner keeps everybody safer.  Is it 100% risk free?  Certainly not.  Do we do it?  You bet, because it is safer to have them know the limits of the rope than not.  A carefully-managed training session teaching a horse not to pull (and how to respond positively) is a LOT safer than having one randomly check out the limits at unexpected times.

I’m not sure who said, expect the best, prepare for the worst, first, but the person I heard it first from was Meg Plum before I was ten years old.

Here is my “off the top of my head.”  in no particular order,  list minimizing risk in the barn in things you do every day:

1. When you are in doubt in any situation, pause, think, take a breath and think of the best way not to get hurt or have another human hurt.  Humans first, horses second, physical objects third. Go slowly.

2. Tie your horse up with thought.  Even a horse that has been trained to tie can panic–or believe they can break away at will and give it a shot.  This is a training issue.  You may want to deal with it, but in any case do not tie your horse solidly to anything that will not 100% stay put.  A loose horse is a problem, but a loose horse in a panic dragging the gate (or fence rail, or post) is a much bigger problem.  If there is a problem, stand back and wait until the outcome is clear.  There is little you can do–the horse is quarrelling with equipment, not you.  Entering that conflict zone is a very good way to get hurt.

3. When handling, stay relatively close to your horse but with an arm or elbow extended to make firm contact.  If the horse moves suddenly they will tend to push you away rather than run over you.

4. Do not give treats to a group of horses.  You don’t want to be in the middle of their pecking order dispute.  For that matter never give treats or touch someone’s horse without permission.  It is bad manners to create bad habits which the owner will have to correct.  They deserve to enjoy their time with the horse.

5. Be aware of the equine social “temperature” at your barn in any given day.  If the just weaned foal is in your barn row and the group on the hill is running, take that into account as you handle your own horse.

6. If you can possibly avoid it do not ride alone.  There does not have to be another horse present–though that can help too, as long as it is an experienced one. (A frightened horse just raises the social temperature.)  Another person on site is best.  If that can’t happen, make a phone buddy–call and tell you partner you will be up for X amount of time and will text or call when you are done.  (Remember to do so!)

7. Wear your helmet.  The chances of an accident on a green horse,  jumping, or trail riding are very much larger than riding a very schooled and  predictable horse in a flat arena.  But why take the chance?  Get a very good one and put it on every time.

8. On your cell phone have at least two vets on your speed dial.  And as a second entry, have their emergency pager numbers.  You do not want to have to remember that second important number in an emergency, with nothing to write and and too much going on already.

9. It is hard to take in the big picture when something “not nice” is happening.  But there really is always time to think.  Make sure you do.  Is the $5,000 colic surgery really a good idea?  How old is the horse?  What can you really afford–without losing your house?  What is the likely outcome?  Are there other things you could do–IV fluids? If in thinking of this beforehand you would “do anything possible in all circumstances,” then get health insurance for your horse.  $5,000 worth of coverage can go a long way.

If not, then just like when you approach a traffic light likely to turn, have a solid idea of the moment where you are committed to go–too late to stop–or you will stop with certainty.  This really helps.

I am sure there are scads more–if you have a favorite of your own would you please offer it below in comments?

Have a nice weekend!