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!

Tack cleaning








Dale Forbes

Photo: A number of years ago, my good friend Sally Sovey and I, at a World Cup qualifier.  (She was foolish enough to sign on as my groom.)   As you might imagine, there was a good deal of scrubbing involved.

Well after that, we had too much wine one night and thereupon decided to promote a new product: Wooly Washers–which are great, by the way, but that’s not what I am here to talk about. (My editor Joanie is going to just LOVE that sentence. . . every punctuation problem you can imagine. Knock yourself out! ) [Note from Joanie: Thank you. I have done so.]

But anyway, I am here to redirect you to an article I wrote a number of years ago about tack cleaning, which, though not rocket science,


some of you may be interested in:

Go Visit:


The object that looks like a dead cat toy above is actually a Wild Wooly Washer (felted saddle soap), which we invented and still sell.  When used enough, these items cause visitors to declare, “Ewwwwwww!” on spotting them in the bottom of your tack box.

I have never understood this sort of person.  Dead mice phobia.  We hang out in barns. A dead mouse is rather a good thing. Okay, maybe not in the tack box.  But anyway, the “Ewwwwwers” are probably  the same folks who find the trail of “poo over ice” that we do up here in the north to get to the indoors in two pieces–one horse, one would-be rider–gross.  I’ll get you a photo later.  It is impressive.

And while we are at it, here is a tack cleaning item you should not be without.  You literally can’t get it anywhere else outside of Germany, so prick your ears:


Fabulous for places that tend to get wet–like cheek pieces.  You can get it here:

More generally, this small tack shop has all the good stuff.  Why?  Because they listened to what we wanted and went to the ends of the earth to get stock.  They are great.

On the page after the one you are directed to above, there is also some information on how to break in tack and adjust a double bridle.  I’ll give that info in another post.  Many people don’t know how to do it. Enjoy the ride!

Snake Oil


Dale Forbes

According to Wikipedia, this is what Snake Oil is made of:

Mineral Oil

1% Fatty Oil (presumed to be beef fat)

Red Pepper



You may be relieved to hear no snakes were harmed in the production of this product.  And probably not surprised to hear there are still a lot of people out there selling it–except most of the time now there is not even a product to go with it!

Webster’s definition of “charlatan”:

“A charlatan is one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.”

I am going to tell you my bias right up front.  I love alternative medicine–quackery, if you will.  In the right hands and in moderation, it can have a great effect.  In the wrong hands–well-intentioned or not–it is not a good idea.

Do I like and use: Homeopathics?  Yup.  (Get the right one and it’s great.) Massage therapy?  Absolutely. Been Rolfed probably 100 times and I am a certified equine massage therapist. Took the course.  Energy work?  You bet.  I have trained through level 2 Reiki, which means I think I can direct energy through my hands as well as send it over distance. Chiropractic?  Wouldn’t want to be without it.  Acupuncture? Ditto.

But if I am in an auto accident I want none of these and I do want an emergency room, hopefully with a skilled staff ready at hand.

I have a vet, three of them in fact, and I use them as the basis for my routine with my horses and my pets.

In my humble opinion, there are quacks with and without a DVM behind their names; but you tend to see them less often in the truly professional fields because I think to get through medical school you have to have some significant humility.  And the actual practice of medicine reinforces that.  Sometimes things do not go as planned–often, in fact.  And it is very obvious when they do not. This breeds humility.

If there is one thing horses teach us, it is humility.  Think you are a pro?  Try to catch a Shetland Pony.


(If this photo does not make you feel helpless, then you have never been a child in a field with one of these things.)

So humility, observable results,  genuine care for the creature, AND the well-being (financial and otherwise) of the human involved are all important.

Here are some important examples of quackery:

Problem: Horse arrives at barn with $400 “corrective shoeing,” consisting of four non-shapeable, front foot, nylon-shock-absorbing-spongy things.  (Is understandably finding it difficult to walk.)

Cure: Take “the sneakers” off, trim and balance his feet, and quit “correcting.”  He’ll be better off for it.

Problem: The Local Witch Doctor proclaims, “He has trouble in his neck because he cribs! The nuchal ligament is in terrible shape!”  Hmmmmm. . . Diagnosis contained a word you had never heard so you are ignorant.  But you have had horse in the barn for months and never seen him crib.  (His teeth are rounded on the front from grazing too close a pasture. Noted on pre-purchase.)  But, is there really any trouble in the neck?  Not that you noticed, but you COULD be wrong. . . Seeds of doubt equal transfer of cash from your account to that of Local Witch Doctor.

Cure: Take a deep breath (this is not horse abuse) and say Thanks, I’ll keep an eye on that.

Problem: Vet in large dressage barn populated by uber-rich riders with imported horses  comes once a month to inject eight joints in each of twenty horses, “because they all need it.”  All of them?  Really?  Shouldn’t you be doing that too?

Cure: Accurate diagnosis of condition that would warrant such invasive and risky “care.”

Problem: Horse “not quite right” under saddle.

Cure: Do the basics. Go to your trainer first (before Snake Oil Salesperson).  Check the fit of the saddle, the girth, the horse’s teeth.  Get a vet out, do flexions and see if he is actually lame.  (I know you don’t really want to know he is lame: that diagnosis is expensive and has no sex appeal.  But do it anyway.  Modern equine meds are a darned sight more effective than Bute these days.  If you are really strapped for cash, ask your trainer to help you do it. It’s a place to start.)

Once you have ruled out these actual problems you can basically go one of two routes:

1. The body work route: Employ and pay vast numbers of “helpful professionals” to work on your horse.

(Or, with healthy skepticism, dip your own toe into alternative therapies–slowly at first, by finding a good, certified massage therapist.  Alternative therapies can be helpful–like most things, in moderation and with a grain of salt.  Consider being Rolfed.)


YOU!  Not the horse.

2. The ride better route: After you have gotten connected to your own body, employ a very good trainer who knows something to help you improve your riding.  Because, yes, riding better is very often the key to problems on the “other side” of the saddle.

The Germans do know this–you can’t buy your way out of learning to ride.  (Please see post on Saddle Sores. .  .)

Take-home message: Be very wary of people who want to envision (and perhaps profit from) an invisible, undiagnosed problem with your horse.