BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
This was the subject of a conversation I had many years ago with a woman in her 30’s. She was very typical of a person that rode in their teens but gave up for all the usual reasons such as university, getting married, having a career and raising a family.
Some of us do all that yet still keep horses, those that do not often yearn for their own horse again. Thirty-something always seems the most common age to re-enter the equestrian life. The kids have become more independent, plus the finances are looking healthy, and more importantly, the passion for horses still remains .
These conversations always, literally always, go the same way. The person worries about taking care of their kids should anything dire happen to them. Who will run the home? How will they survive without a second income etc?
My response to her was You are more likely to slip in the bath and break your arm than hurt yourself falling off a horse. A week later the same lady fell from a chair hanging fairy lights and broke her arm in several places. Yes, several places. Not a hairline fracture, not a nice clean single fracture, but in several places.
Five strikes and you’re out
That’s how I think of horse riding, handling and anything pertaining to horses. To explain, let’s think about the lady hanging fairy lights. The first strike came from using a chair instead of a ladder. The second strike came from over-reaching, or reaching too high, the third strike is exactly why the first and second strike occurred – bad planning and lack of preparation. She has 2 strikes left, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out the odds are now stacked against her. I wasn’t in the room with her, I can only guess where the last two remaining strikes came from. But once those strikes became 5, she fell.
Horse riding is about not stacking those odds against you and not gaining those 5 strikes. Even then, I have to tell you, something that you could have never imagined planning and training for may still happen.
But that will be just one strike. You already know those strikes, I don’t have to tell you what they could be. There will be something you already know that will affect your horse on a hack, or in the show ring, or when loading and leading. Those that know those strikes but carry on regardless…then yes, for those people horse riding is dangerous.
Some forms of riding will definitely be more risky than others such as point to point, cross country and racing that are potentially more hazardous than dressage, or a hack around the local woods. Add speed, and add jumps and the potential for a fall increases, yet the people that partake in such sports do so fully aware of the risks. Some people are risk takers, others are not. The average horse rider is not a risk taker, they have more in common with the fairy light lady than Oliver Townend.
Riding and being around horses is as safe as you want it to be. The training and level of experience of the horse needs to be appropriate for the work it’s doing, it also needs to fully accommodate the ability, level and experience of the rider. Training is something an owner needs to be doing all of the time and striving to continually learn. The most common falls I have seen have been the result of the horse shying sharply or bolting. But it’s not necessarily the cause, in both cases the actual reason people fall is because they lose balance during such an episode. Yet the more a person rides, the less likely a fall will occur, simply because they are improving their seat every single time they ride. Those losing balance on spooky, bolting horses…shouldn’t be on spooky, bolting horses, right?
While I don’t believe any horse will be absolutely 100% bombproof, there will definitely be horses that are less likely to spook through competent training. Yet a novice rider is already at one strike, simply for being unbalanced, riding a spooky animal is 2 strikes, what else is it going to take before the balance between safe and dangerous is looking unfavourable?
The novice rider will be safe with one strike but only on the appropriate horse, and in an environment and situation that particular horse is comfortable being in. So know your level, understand the level of experience and training the horse has had, continue to improve your own knowledge, training and experience so that when something unexpected does occur, it’s just one strike, not one of many, this will keep the balance in your favour.
Some will argue there will always be an element of risk when riding a horse, and you will have no argument from me. But no more risky than driving a car, walking down the stairs, being on a plane, crossing the road…or even hanging fairy lights.