Complacency (...less about me, more about the horses)

There was a terrible tragedy at an endurance ride a couple of weeks ago, two experienced riders raced for the finish, and then for whatever reason, kept running. The camp was a distance away, on the other side of a paved county road. The two horses hit a car. Both horses were killed, the car was totaled. One rider got an ambulance ride, the other rider and the driver were care-flighted out. This kicked off a flurry of safety posts on the horse-lists and someone found a news article that quoted statistics that said more horseback accidents land people in the hospital than motorcycle accidents, and that the average injured rider is someone with over 27 years of experience, on a well-trained horse, on a bright sunny day in an open field.

On the surface that seems crazy. But, thinking about it, a couple of things occur to me. Mainly that a rider may be more likely to survive a horseback crash than a motorcycle crash. And also that it seems to boil down to the laws of probability. There have been years of my life when I rode four or five hours a day on a regular basis. Even now, I ride, usually, at least a couple hours, three or four days a week. Consider that many horseman might ride, at most, on weekends and maybe a couple of nights a week ... I'd say most only ride a few hours a month. And in view of all that, it stands to reason that the person who rides 500 hours a year is more prone to injury than the person who rides 20 or 30 hours a year.

and, I suspect, that the main problem isn't the hours, but that we get complacent. I know I do - and that's when injuries happen. I got stepped on this afternoon, and not just a little 'oops', but a real honest-to-god tangled up foot under the horse and nothing to do but wait until he got his balance and moved.

I was in the training pen working with GWAIHIR on his tricks and trying to tune up his bow because he's gotten a little lazy about it and I stepped in too close to encourage him to a deeper bow. He was trying to do what I asked and I was in the way. He needed to move his hind legs back and his left hind hoof landed square on my right foot. It's not a good idea to use violence or harsh language in these cases because for the horse to leap away, they have to 'shove off' (the ground) and it's better if you can get them just to lean away and lift their foot off yours. In his case, because he was down in the bow, he had to rock his entire weight back on his rear end before he could step off. and, yeah, it hurts.

But the thing is, someone who isn't accustomed to horses tends to be, on the whole, more careful. So in the case of a character in a novel, it wouldn't be unusual for an experienced horseman to do something inane in a moment of inattention; to walk up behind a skittish horse and get kicked, or to be too casual around them and get stepped on. Many horses will step (sideways) toward you when you tighten the girth and it's not uncommon for them to catch a foot if you're not paying attention.

Another common mistake would be to underestimate a horse that they don't know well, or to overestimate the abilities of a young or untried horse. For example; many horses will cross a very wide creek or wade into river, but refuse something that's narrow enough to jump. Many young horses have no problem leaping up a steep bank, but won't easily go down a steep incline, especially into water. Remember the Man from Snowy River and his mountain horse? It's something they have to learn because going downhill with a rider, especially with any speed, takes a lot of balance and strength that has to be developed if it's going to be in the horse when the hero needs it. I'm waiting for the day they film a scene in which someone is captured because their horse refused a long downhill slope.


Cathy said...

Of course, belated congrats for your certificates! Yea!

And you are on the money, as always, re: horse accidents. %s being what they are - maybe it's a good thing I quit while I still had a head. ;-)

Anne P said...

How true! Cathy and I were also chatting about the fact that a lot of times, the accidents happen because you have gotten to where you trust a particular horse, it's a nice day, you are enjoying the company of friends, and aren't paying the same amount of attention you would....say... with a youngster that needed 99% of your focus. Stuff can happen so quickly!

Becky Burkheart said...

That's exactly right. We had a serious injury here two years ago, an experienced rider on a good horse that she'd been riding for a year or more. The mare can be a little bit of a handful at the canter, she'll give an exuberant buck sometimes, but it had never been a problem before. It just took an instant of being off-sync to land on the ground instead of back in the saddle.