by Mitzi Summers
We all know from reading, our own personal experience and listening to others that horseback riding can be a perilous sport.
For years I have been aware of the absolute importance of safety in riding and working around horses. It is the express responsibility of a trainer and /or instructor to teach their student safety along with the regular curriculum.
Regular incident and accident reports need to be kept especially in a riding school situation. Any instructor should at least have basic CPR and First Aid training. Every student needs to be asked before every lesson if there has been any sort of injury to them or their horse since the last time you taught them.
One of my worst injuries from riding was from being thrown by a Welsh Cob stallion. I had worked with his owner and him before but always in an indoor ring. His being a stallion was no problem, but he did not receive regular work from an experienced rider.
At the time I had a manager who insisted that I not go to teach this lesson. I had been on a 5-week solid round of clinics, traveling from state to state, and was noticeably exhausted. I did not follow her advice and left to give the lesson anyway. My manager was so concerned that she called the student and made her promise that I would not ride the horse, that I would only teach her.
When I got there the student wanted me to ride her stallion because she said her wrist hurt. We had to ride him, for the first time, in an open field as he had recently been moved. I agreed and got on him. The first thing I noticed was that her stirrups were too small for my feet. All of the proceeding safety warnings became a clear warning for me to get off! I ignored this feeling. Never ignore your “gut” feeling.
The stallion was bucking at the canter. This was 20 years ago and I now would have done things differently, but at that time I cantered him slightly uphill and when he bucked I just tapped him gently with a dressage whip and he went forward. We did this successfully twice and he was good. This was when to stop! The horse had improved, he understood the lesson and it ended up with more positive them negative reinforcement. As soon as he went forward I petted him and told him “good” I was just getting off and her husband came out and wanted to see the canter one more time. I agreed to do it and this time he bucked so hard that they said his hind feet were over his ears. I landed on hard ground. Thank goodness I was not dragged.
I ended up with a broken pelvis, shoulder, and collar bone and could not teach or drive for about six or more weeks.
So we can see this accident coming. Taking any of the elements out of it and it probably would not have happened.
Another accident, which happened to me, was off a horse. I worked at a few main barns, not free lancing and traveling quite as much as I do now. One of the barns had a slanted aisle leading from the indoor ring to the stalls, which were to the right and to the left of the ramp. One day when I appeared to teach I noticed that a large stack of shelves had been added to one side of the aisle to serve as a storage space. This made the aisle, where horses were led to and from the indoor ring, much too narrow for safety. I spoke to the owners and they promised to fix it in a few days.
In the meantime I had acquired a horse who was a wonderful school horse to ride. She was gentle when anyone rode her, had wonderful movement and gaits, and was very smooth. She was known to kick at times, but I thought as long as I was the one who handled her and I made certain that no students or horses came near her haunches, that it would be all right until I had worked with her to eliminate the kicking entirely.
On the day the accident happened, I had had a group lesson of about five students. Sassy, the aforementioned school horse, was one of the group but she had performed admirably. The owners had not removed the shelving from the side of the aisle. I did not have an assistant. As they led the horses up the aisle to their stalls, one student, in spite of my directions, let Sassy get too close to the horse in back of her. I was on the side of Sassy and I was afraid that Sassy would kick the other horse so I chose to go in back on her as I had no room because of the shelves to go in front of her. We are all taught to go either around the front of a horse, ‘way away around the back of a horse, or really close and maybe hold the tail so that if they do kick it will not hurt as you are so close.
I am proof that one of those scenarios is not a good idea. Do not have a student or you go close around the back of a horse if you feel there is any chance that they may kick. I went very close to the back of Sassy, holding her tail, she kicked, I was so close it did not hurt but it PUSHED me far enough away to kick me again. This time she had range, and I received a hard blow to my chest and thigh.
If I had been shorter, she might have been able to kick my throat or head. I did have to go by ambulance to the ER , but I just turned out to be badly bruised.
So the lessons learned is are:

  1. I should not have had Sassy in the program yet, until the tendency to kick had been rectified.
  2. I should have insisted that the owners remove the shelving before any more lessons were given in the indoor ring.
  3. Possibly I should not have been quite so quick to put myself in harm’s way to potentially save a horse from being kicked. Sassy may have decided not to kick this horse. It could have ended differently.

Any accident that happens should have a report written up with statements from any witnesses. This can be important in the future for legal reasons. If you own a riding school with more than one instructor, any falls need to be discussed by all employees to see how they may have been avoided. Granted, with horses many things happen that just cannot be prevented or foreseen, but learn from every occurrence.