by Laura Crum
I’ve written before about fear issues, but today I want to write about something different. Today I want to write about how genuinely dangerous horses are, and how most of the time we ignore or forget about this.
Yesterday a good friend of mine called me and told me that a mutual friend, a very experienced horseman, had come off a horse and broken eight ribs, his shoulder, and a leg. This man had just recovered from a horse wreck several years ago that had broken his leg in three places. He is in his sixties. Its easy to say that he shouldn’t be riding horses that might dump him, but, in fact, the horse that off-loaded him was a gentle horse that just hadn’t been ridden much lately due to the lousy weather. It spooked at a cow—and he came off hard and landed badly.
Boy oh boy did this hit home with me. My gentle horse has sometimes been livelier than usual when we ride—because he hasn’t been ridden more than one or two days a week on average all winter and spring—it just keeps on raining. Still, I make the basic assumption that all our broke horses will behave reasonably well—they always have. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But they’re just horses, after all, and any horse that is feeling good is capable of dumping the rider. The trouble is that being dumped can be so serious.
Jami posted awhile ago about Courtney King-Dye, the Olympic caliber dressage rider who came off the young horse she was schooling, hit her head, and was in a coma for many weeks. I’ve been checking Courtney’s website for the updates her husband reports. Last I read, Courtney could speak, but had great difficulty walking and using her right hand. No one knows how long it will take or how much she can come back from this. As much as I admire this woman’s determination and positive spirit, I can’t help feeling the extent of the tragedy.
Easy to say, again, that she should have worn a helmet. But a helmet wouldn’t have helped my old friend, whose injuries were not about his head. And we all wonder how much this older man will be able to come back and lead a normal life. The friend who told me the story, another man in his sixties who has ridden all his life and is currently having his knee operated on due to being bucked off six months ago, said, only half jokingly, that he might never get on a horse again.
Helmets are certainly a good idea (says me who doesn’t wear one), but the only child I knew who was killed by a horse was killed in an English riding lesson, in an arena, wearing a helmet. A ridden horse kicked at the horse she was on and broke her neck. Christopher Reeve broke his neck while wearing a helmet. Helmets will not protect us against all horse related injuries.
Every single time I contemplate how many people get seriously hurt and/or killed on horses, I wonder why in the world I continue legging my little boy up on his horse. Maybe we should just take up soccer, like the rest of America.
And yet, I have ridden my whole life and never so much as broken a bone, let alone anything worse (knocking on wood). I’ve come off maybe a dozen times in my life (mostly back when I was training colts). Nothing more dire happened than I had the wind knocked out of me. I was out cold once when my first horse kicked me in the head. That about covers it.
Now days I stick to riding gentle, reliable horses, and, of course, this greatly reduces the odds of getting hurt. But as yesterday’s phone call illustrates, even a gentle horse can spook. And if you happen to come off wrong, the consequences can be dire.
My little boy has come off once in his life. He has been riding non-stop since he was two—first in front of me in the saddle, then on his leadline pony, then riding alone on first the pony and now his horse. I spent a lot of money on the older gelding that he rides, who is the single most reliable horse that I personally know of. My son has covered lots of rough country, loped many circles, gathered cattle, had his horse be a touch fresh. He came off when Henry spooked slightly one day. Ironically, it was when we were rehabbing the horse from colic surgery and I was hand walking him. My son was riding bareback and lost his balance. My little boy had the wind knocked out of him—nothing worse. Knocking on wood. Cause it could be much worse.
I truly believe that owning and riding horses has been a great blessing for my child. He’s learned coordination, determination and compassion, let alone enjoyed the delight and thrill of being carried along by a horse that riding gives us all. I’ve been told that horseback riding is the number one therapy for kids with developemental issues. I believe it. And if so, think how theraputic it must be for all of us (and I have certainly experienced this). But the downside haunts me.
Just yesterday we had another little boy over to play. I asked the mom if she would like me to give her son a ride on Henry. She hesitated. Then she said, “We have a thing about horses in our family. My older sister was killed when she fell off a horse. She was twenty-two.”
Well, OK, then. I immediately said that there was absolutely no reason for her to put her child on a horse and that I wouldn’t mention it to the kids. But she decided that she did want her son to ride Henry. Her boy wore a helmet, as does my kid, and both had a wonderful time. I’ve never seen such lit up eyes. Henry behaved perfectly for both boys, walking and trotting quietly for my little boy, and also for our visitor (this time on the lead rope—I am truly very cautious with beginner kids), who had never ridden before. My son demonstrated a half dozen circles at the lope, which Henry did beautifully. I was tickled. But still…the dire consequences of the downside of horses were driven home to me once again.
There is no particular answer to this conundrum. I love horses; I love to ride. I’m not ready to quit. My son and I had a couple of great rides this last weekend. It was sunny for once (though its raining again now), and both horses were perfectly behaved. Nothing could be farther from tragedy than our smiling faces, loping along in the spring sunshine, with all the roses in bloom and the air full of that sweet scent. It seemed idyllic. But it is a truly dangerous sport. No more dangerous than driving down the highway, my horse loving friend tells me. Well, maybe that’s true. I don’t know the statistics. So, I’m here to ask you. Does anyone else struggle with this? Or am I the only one who is sometimes “boggled” by the downside of horses? Especially when it seems that so many around me, some much more accomplished horsemen than I am, have been so badly hurt. And especially when I think of my son. Any thoughts?