Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Near Wreck



by Laura Crum

We had a sort of near wreck on our last beach ride, and though no people or horses were hurt (thankfully), it still got me thinking hard over what went wrong and how such things can be prevented. So today I’m going to share the story and see what you think.

First off, it was an awesome day for a ride. Sunny, sixty-five degrees, a little breeze. The horses all seemed to be feeling good, but showing no signs of acting up, as we headed off down the beach. The photo below shows Wally on Twister and my son on Henry and Sunny’s ears. Monterey Bay is on our right, the town of Monterey is in the distance.

We rode along for a couple of miles, our usual ride. Sunny and I waded in the water briefly—only ankle deep. I don’t like to go deeper because I have had the not-so-fun experience of a horse getting dizzy in the surf and almost falling down (this is very common, by the way), so I am cautious. Below you see Sunny starting in—I couldn’t take pictures after this cause I had to steer.

Wally rode Twister in deeper. Wally is much braver and more confident than I am, but this does not always work out in his favor, as the post will show. Twister has several times staggered and almost fallen in the waves, but Wally persists in making him go there. So below you see Wally and Twister.

My son has ridden Henry in the shallows before, but today was content to watch. It was a lovely day, bright and clear and warm. There was no one else on the beach. Many birds and sea lions to watch, and the light on the surf was just spectacular.

Anyway, all went smoothly and after a couple of miles we turned inland to take the path through the dunes back to the trailer. This is our usual “loop” and we do it partly because slogging through the dunes (for a short distance) is good for the horses and builds condition. Below you see Sunny following Twister down the trail. In the distance is the town of Santa Cruz and the mountain called Loma Prieta. (The local Native American name for it was Uminum, which means hummingbird.) This is the last picture I took, because after that things got a bit exciting.

Well…all of a sudden Twister stopped and stood still for a minute. No big deal. Wally and I both assumed he needed to poop or pee. But he did neither. My son and I caught up and were standing right behind him. Wally said, “Come on, Twister,” in a relaxed way, confident and unworried, as always. I wasn’t paying much attention, really, just waiting for him to go on, when I noticed Twister’s front knees buckling. He started to go down in front.

This caught both me and Wally entirely by surprise (as we discussed later). I wasn’t sure what was happening; Wally didn’t react much except to look puzzled. And Twister lay down on his side in a sand dune. Not good.

In another second Wally was coming off the horse and Twister was scrambling to his feet, and running off, obviously scared. My son’s horse and my horse were both spooked by these scary events and jumped sideways, away from the action. Fortunately both my kid and I were able to pull our always-reliable horses up quickly.

About a hundred thoughts ran through my mind as Wally landed in the sand with the horse on his leg. Would Wally be hurt, would he get hung up as the horse scrambled up, would the horse get hung up on the cable that bordered the trail, would the horse run off and …etc. Instinctively I did the only thing I could do. Pulling Sunny up, I said calmly (I hoped) to my son, “Just pull Henry up and hold still.”

This was easier said than done, as Twister was scrambling down the dune and running away as I spoke and our horses found this upsetting. But like the good horses they are, they held it together. Their eyes were big, their heads were high, and they snorted. But they stood still.

Our stillness was eventually observed by Twister, who coasted to a stop about sixty feet from us and looked back. “I guess I really don’t want to leave you guys,” was written plain on his face.

At this point I looked at Wally, who was still lying in the sand. “Are you OK?” I asked him, again, I hoped, calmly. Wally is 78 years old. The horse had gone down on his leg; I was afraid it might be broken.

“I’m fine,” he said, and got up and walked toward Twister.

“What about your leg?”

“He lay down right on my foot, but the sand’s so deep and soft it didn’t even hurt.”

Well, OK then. Wally caught Twister with no trouble, re-mounted and off we went. We had one minor setback when he realized he had lost his glasses in the fall and we had to go back and look for them. But we found the glasses and all was well. Glasses were undamaged and there was not a scratch or a pulled muscle on either horse or person.

But….obviously we were lucky. Both Wally and Twister could have been hurt. So I’ve done a little thinking about what happened and today I’d like to see if anyone else has any thoughts to offer.

First off, the biggest thing we were guilty of is complacency. Yes, we ride solid horses, yes, we’ve done this ride many times, yes, the horses were relaxed and quiet that day. But that still doesn’t mean we should go to sleep at the switch. Both Wally and I have seen horses try to lie down in loose sand before (they’ll also do this crossing water). We both know enough to get after a horse pretty smartly if he shows any sign of wanting to go down. But instead Wally simply sat there, doing not much at all, until Twister was already on the ground.

Now Twister has never done this before, or I’m sure Wally would have reacted quickly and firmly. But neither Wally nor I had any clue that Twister was thinking of this (he did no pawing), and when he actually started to lie down we both had the sudden fear (as we discussed later) that he was having a heart attack or some such thing. Wally simply didn’t think to give the horse a good hard boot and a loud “Here now!”, as he felt Twister’s withers start to drop. In hindsight, had Wally done this, Twister would no doubt have popped up and kept going and our near-wreck would have been completely averted.

In retrospect, hindsight being twenty/twenty, it seems obvious that Twister was itchy and wanted to roll. He is by far the hairiest of our horses and always gets very hot and sweaty on winter rides, while Henry and Sunny are just a little damp. In any case he showed no signs of a problem either before or after his little “lying down incident”, so he wasn’t colicked or in any sort of distress.

The ironic thing about all this is the fact that it happened the day I made a huge step forward in rider safety and being prepared for the unexpected. Yes, I’m talking helmet. Those of you who have followed this blog (and chided me) will be pleased to hear that your advice has had an effect. Several months ago I went shopping for a helmet and (when none of them fit) finally ordered one. After much delay (when the order was lost and then the helmet had to come from Europe) the helmet arrived last week—and it fit. This does not mean that I was thrilled with it—I am someone who never wears hats because they give me a headache. But I was determined to give it a try. Courtney King Dye’s story really hit home to me. Any horse can fall—I can’t prevent that. And I was beginning to have this niggling uncomfortableness with my bareheaded state on the horse. Perhaps because I am so careful that my son always wears a helmet. Who knows? But I actually felt a bit naked, though I have never worn a helmet while riding since I was a teenager jumping horses (and then it was one of those velvet hardhats). Still, it was this “feeling” more than logic, which convinced me I should get a helmet.

So for our beach ride last week, I strapped the helmet on (after whining that I didn’t need it with all the soft sand) and wore it the entire ride. And you know what? It felt good—like it belonged there. I think I’m going to be able to stick to it. However, one of my thoughts when Twister went down on Wally’s leg was “helmet wouldn’t have helped here.” Until I thought more about it and realized that if Wally had gotten hung up when Twister scrambled to his feet, a very real danger would be getting struck in the head by one of Twister’s hooves. A helmet would have helped with that, maybe. However, Wally is not going to be wearing a helmet any time soon. But I’m glad that I am.

Twister lying down unexpectedly like that illustrates the basic truth that even a solid horse can go down. Though Twister did not fall, any horse CAN fall. And though a helmet will certainly not prevent all serious/fatal injuries, it can prevent some. And the downside of wearing one is pretty small.

I did have a very tense moment when I worried that Wally’s leg might be broken. Twister was loose, and I still had my son and our two horses to take care of. How was I going to deal with all these things? As you can tell from the photos, there was no one else around. But I was carrying my cell phone and it gets a good signal at the beach. Though we were a couple of miles from our rig, we were actually not that far from another parking lot, and my husband’s workplace is not that far from the beach we were riding on. Here’s what I think I could have done. Called my husband and given him directions, let my son hold Sunny from Henry while I caught Twister, and then waited with all three horses by Wally until help arrived. Makes me realize how smart it is to carry a cell phone.

So how about you guys? Have you had a similar experience? Any one else’s horse ever try to lie down with them? How did you cope with it? Any other safety-on-the-trail tips you’d like to share?

31 comments:

Kate said...

I had a mare (Snow) when I was young who used to love to paw, lie down and roll in water - so I always had to be careful to keep her moving when we were crossing a stream! And there was a school horse in college who used to roll in the arena to get the rider off - and he could drop and roll from a trot.

One question about Twister - has he ever shown any signs of balance difficulties before? Instability and/or wobbliness can be a sign of a number of things - including heaves (COPD - where the horse may not be getting enough oxygen), or neurological things like Wobbler's or even the EPM symptoms my horses experienced? Lily used to trip and fall to her knees from time to time and we think her COPD may have contributed, and both Drifter and Pie got a bit odd in their movement when they were infected with the EPM organism, but neither one ever fell. Just a thought.

And congratulations to you, helmet-woman!

Francesca Prescott said...

Gosh, Laura, what a story! What an unwanted adrenaline rush you must have had. Ugh. Thank goodness Wally's leg wasn't broken, or that he didn't get kicked or anything. That was REALLY lucky.

I find it pretty amazing that you had the niggly feeling to wear your helmet that day for the first time. Strange how things go, eh?! Seriously, I'm happy you finally got a helmet; what brand is it? I'm just curious since you said you had to order it from over here (Europe). I was a moron and rode in a wooly cap yesterday, just because it's sooo damn cold here (minus 12 at the stables, and about the same in the indoor arena!), and my ears have been freezing in my helmet. I only wore the wooly cap cap because I wasn't going to work Qrac, just walk him since he'd been shod that morning and we had a big lesson the day before. But I felt so naked, so "in harm's way" (can't think of the proper word! Must be the cold!!!) that I won't do it again.


I'm glad everything worked out fine for you, and that "il y a eu plus de peur que de mal" as we say in French. The only time I've ever had a horse attempt to lie down on me was once when I was on Kwintus. It was summer, it was really hot, and we were cooling off, standing in the river after a workout. I let him splash for a while, and play with the water with his nose, when suddenly I felt him start to buckle underneath me. I gave him the biggest kick ever, which startled him, and we almost fell over anyway since Kwint wasn't the sturdiest horse on the planet, but we stayed upright and made it out of the river. Both of us were pretty wet, but he didn't get to swim!

Love your photos, wish I could ride with you there. Wear your helmet,and lots of love to all of you :)

jenj said...

That's a scary story. I'm so glad nobody was hurt and it all ended as well as possible.

I often ride by myself, out on the trails. The rule at my barn (well, 'cause it's MY barn) is that you don't go out without a cell phone. I've never had to use mine, but it's good to know that in an emergency, I could. And you're right about not being complacent - no matter how many times you and your horse have been down a trail, there's always the chance that on THIS ride there will be something different. It pays to be vigilant.

And congrads for choosing to wear a helmet! I know it's odd at first, but after a while you feel naked without it. As for it not protecting Wally when Twister went down, you're right, it would not have protected his leg. But if he'd hit his head on one of the pylons holding up the cable on the side of the trail? Besides, broken legs mend. Broken heads, not so much.

Stay safe!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--No, Twister has never shown any balance problems. That staggering in the surf thing happens to lots of horses--at least half the ones I've ridden in the waves have done that--they just get dizzy. Happens to people, too. And with the lying down in the sand--he didn't stagger or paw--he just lay down. Sort of like a camel, you know. He never showed an odd symptom of any kind before or after. His regular job is a team roping heel horse, where he must run flat out and turn hard every run, so I'm pretty sure we'd notice if he had balance issues. He's never fallen, even as far as his knees, in his life. I'm pretty sure this was itchy-and-wanted-to-roll behavior. He's a very solid, reliable trail horse, and has never done it before, so it caught us all off guard.

And you were one of the big reasons I bought (and wore) the helmet.



Francesca--Actually my helmetless state had been bugging me in a mild way for some time. To those who wonder why I've never worn one, just talk to any blogger from a western background (cowhorse, team roper, rancher). All of them can tell you that no one wears helmets in that world. NONE of my friends wear helmets. None of their kids wear helmets. I have been in an arena with two dozen kids riding, and my kid was the ONLY one with a helmet. We got some weird looks.

The truth is that it has been my exposure to horse blog world that has convinced me to wear a helmet. I hear about the wrecks of those who ride better than I do, I interact with so many who have justifiably pointed out the wisdom of wearing a helmet, and I realize that if I had brain damage similar to Courtney King Dye, it would be a real tragedy for my husband and son. I got the helmet. As for what kind it is--its in the barn. After I go feed I will report back on that. It had to be special ordered because I have a very big "oblong" head (how embarrassing). It is, however, pretty nice looking for a helmet, leather covered, not too bulbous. It does fit.

Laura Crum said...

jenj--I do carry a cell phone--every ride. Unfortunately, I usually ride in the hills--and the phone only gets a signal in the high spots. This truth forms an important element in the plot of my next book, "Barnstorming", which will be released this spring. Everybody's trail ride nightmare is the centerpiece of the plot!

Oh, and Kate and Francesca--it is so true about many horses wanting to lie down in water. We were crossing a creek a month ago and my son's horse stopped and acted like he wanted to paw the water. I was very quick to tell my kid to kick the horse up and keep him moving. Its so much easier to prevent them from lying down than to cope with the consequences of letting them do it.

Mikey said...

I'm glad everyone was ok and no one got hurt. It is scary when a horse goes down, no matter how or why. It's dangerous and always a big decision for the rider, stay in the saddle or bail and risk a foot hung up. That's my big fear.
My only story like this was riding a mare I've since sold. We went into the Hassayampa riverbed, all sand, no water. First time for her in big sand. We were going along just fine, bareback, when suddenly my feet were on the ground. She literally folded. No stop, no warning, no hole, nothing. Just folded up. I stepped off easily and she got right back up. My companions wondering what was that? I couldn't even tell them. Never happened again and to this day it's a mystery to me why she just laid down right there. She wasn't tired.
Keep wearing that helmet, cause you never know...

Laura Crum said...

Mikey--That is weird. And not all that different from what Twister did. He just laid down. No warning that he was going to. And I hear you about the big decision factor. Wally decided to get off, but it was awkward because the horse had gone down on his right side, so Wally had to swing the left leg over and it was pretty not-graceful. When Twister scrambled to his feet I had a really anxious moment. I was so afraid Wally would get hung up. But thank goodness it didn't happen.

Dreaming said...

Was Twister a little sweaty from his ride? Do you think he was itchy and was just dying to roll?
The reason I ask is that last week when I had Pippin at the clinic I had a hard time keeping him on his feet at the end. He kept trying to drop and roll because he was sweaty and itchy. After walking a bit to cool out, I got off of him while the instructor was making his closing remarks and asking for feedback. I kept seeing Pippin's knees begin to buckle out of the corner of my eye... so we'd step out and walk.
I sometimes get disoriented when the waves go in and out. It makes sense that would happen to horses, too. I'm glad to know that... just in case I have the opportunity to do some beach riding (yeah... in Colorado?!!)

Linda said...

In my experience, a horse will usually lower his head before he lies down or, at least, give you some warning. Maybe this was different for some reason.

I took a woman on a ride with us once and she was letting her horse lower its head all throughout. I try to keep quiet unless someone asks for my input, but I finally did tell her to control her horse because it was causing such a nuisance to everyone else. Halfway through the ride we went back to the trail head to pick up a late-comer and we went to the park's outdoor arena (sand) and her horse put its head down (she, of course, didn't correct it) and then sunk. She barely made it off its back! Then she got mad at her horse and started driving him in circles which really pissed me off. That one would have been EASY to avert. Not sure about yours...sounds like it came fast.

My horses always want to roll after a bath or whenever they get wet out in the pasture.

Laura Crum said...

Dreaming--Yes, Twister was sweaty and I think you are exactly right.

Linda--No, he didn't put his head down. He really didn't give any warning of what he intended to do. Both Wally and I would know enough to recognize the signs. However, in the future I think Wally won't let Twister stand still near some tempting loose sand. I also think Twister could do with a neck clip like Funder gave Dixie (see "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" on the sidebar). Twister grows a much thicker winter coat than our horses and is always very sweaty on winter rides. However, he has never tried to lie down before--and Wally has owned him for eight years.

Laura Crum said...

OK--I just got back from feeding--and looked at my new helmet. For those who are curious it appears to be an IRH helmet--which stands for "International Riding Helmet", I think. The gal at the feedstore ordered it for me--she said it would fit and it does. It is a "large oblong". I tried on at least a dozen "large" helmets that did not fit at all. This one is actually pretty good looking for a helmet.

Angela Baird said...

You have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award. Please visit http://twobairds.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/versatile-blogger/ for acceptance instructions if you are interested. You have been nominated by a fellow blogger who enjoys reading your blog! Congratulations!

Laura Crum said...

Angela--Thank you for the award nomination. I'll try to go check it out.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I'm very glad that everyone was ok following that incident. It reminds us that stuff happens with horses and it can happen quickly.

I had a horse fall on concrete with me when I was a teenager; my fault because I wasn't being smart and was riding across a basketball court at the boarding stable. I turned my horse too sharply and she slipped and went down onto her side. It happened so fast, I didn't have time to think or react. My leg stayed flat against her side as she rolled onto it. She popped right back up, my foot slipped out of the stirrup, and no harm was done, even on concrete. I've wondered since then, if I'd reacted and tried to jump off, maybe my leg would have been bent underneath her and broken. Sometimes we get lucky. Your experience is a good reminder to me to always be thinking and in tune with my horse and surroundings so I can be as proactive as possible when "stuff happens", even on the most familiar trail or home at the barn.

I'm glad you like your helmet and that it fits well and is comfortable. I'm so used to wearing a helmet, that I'd be uncomfortable without one, like I feel uncomfortable if I don't wear a seatbelt in the car. If we are fortunate, we'll wear our helmets the rest of our riding careers and they'll never be called into service, just like we hope to drive and never get into a car accident. But best to be as prepared as possible, just in case. I've been saved once by a helmet and once by a seatbelt. And we learn from every close call in between.

And that looks like a lovely beach ride. Great pictures.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Once Upon. I was happy with the photos, too. And it was a lovely ride, despite our small "incident." I know just what you mean about being uncomfortable without a seatbelt, and hope/expect I'll eventually get there with the helmet.

Funder said...

The very first time I rode Dixie in Nevada she buckled and went down like her legs just gave out. She was trying to roll on the wonderful scratchy sand, too! It took me totally by surprise with none of the usual telltales. I know just how surprised and bemused Wally must've been!

Grats on the helmet. If it really fits - and yours might, yay! - you won't even notice it's there. It doesn't prevent all injuries, but like you said, there's very little downside to wearing it.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--I was surprised by how little the helmet bothered me while I was riding. I would try it on and wear it around the house for a few minutes and say, "Yuck. It fits but I don't like it." But on the ride I just completely forgot it was there--except for the occasional smug, virtuous thought--and the fact that the visor thing shielded by eyes from the bright sun.

AareneX said...

First: I'm so glad everyone is okay, and that the horse really WASN'T having a heart attack.

My friend's horse is perpetually itchy, and will roll without notice. She is always aware and ready to pull him back up.

HELMET: Can you see me doing the happy-bottom-dance? I'm doing it all over the kitchen, and dang, that makes it so difficult to type!

For a while now I've been very concerned that you'll be out riding with your son and you will get hurt--even the best horse will buck if he's stung by a bee!--leaving the kid alone with nobody to help. I encourage my junior riders to always ask their sponsors to wear helmets for that very reason!

Also: dry sand is soft, but wet sand (near the tideline) is the consistancy of concrete. My friend David rode his horse into the ocean a few years ago, and the horse flipped (literally). David hit the wet sand so hard that his helmet BROKE. They ambulanced him out, and he said that it was more than a year before he felt like his brain worked properly again (David is a 3x PhD; his brain is very important in his work). The horse is a steady-eddie, I've ridden him myself.

And a helmet is also good protection from the sun, as you noticed. For those of us with fair hair, it keeps the scalp from sunburning, as well as protecting the eyes and face from glare. Important.

I'm still dancing. Can you see me dancing?

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--You always make me smile! And it is strictly because of you and other bloggers that I have (and am wearing) that helmet. No one in my real life wears one--and all my horse friends are experienced horse people who have ridden all their lives. As I'm sure you already know, most western riders are of this mindset. So it is because of my fellow bloggers, not least of all Courtney King Dye- an Olympic rider who suffered major brain damage when a horse fell with her- that I have become convinced that wearing a helmet is the sensible thing to do. At the same time, I want to point out that the MOST important thing you can do to protect yourself is to ride a steady horse and be cautious in what you do. A helmet will not protect us against most of the serious/fatal riding accidents I have known and heard of. And Arene, one thing I do to protect my child is to try to ride with another competent adult (this would be Wally) on most of our rides). Thus if one adult is hurt, probably the other will be there to cope.

OK--Aarene raises another really good point. I know my beach ride photos are pretty, but...please, everyone, be aware--LOTS of horses freak out when first faced with the ocean. Even steady eddies. And those that seem to handle it OK, frequently flip out when forced to wade in the waves. It is truly something to be aware of. Our horses have been on the beach many times and we know they are OK with it. I have very experienced friends riding solid horses that won't take them on the beach due to having a similar experience to Aarene's friend David (maybe not so extreme, but steady horses that flipped out). So please don't assume that your horse will be OK at the beach. Its best to pony a horse for the first time, or at least be following a very experienced "beach horse".

Linda said...

Looking back at my comment it sounds kind of know-it-ally--sorry about that. One of my pet peeves is arm chair quarterbacks in the blogosphere, and I didn't mean to be one. Wally sounds like an intelligent rider and the situation was not to be helped. I only related my story because it's the only time I saw a horse go down for a roll while the rider was still on its back, and in her case, there was a lot of warning..alot. The same rider had her face kicked in, literally, by that horse in another incident later....so it was truly an accident about to happen and very sad, but luckily she is still alive. She is a helmet wearer, but a helmet doesn't protect the front of the head. I know your philosophy for staying safe is riding a seasoned, well-trained horse. Mine is to never let them get away with the small things, like nipping at grass on rides, etc.--it's the small things that lead to the big things. I have been wearing a helmet more, too, though--probably because of the influence of bloggers and my group of riding buddies who ALL wear helmets.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I didn't think you sounded know-it-ally. It was a good point. Twister really didn't give any warning. But putting the head down is a real clue to make that horse move--NOW. I, too, agree about not letting a horse eat while being ridden, though I have learned that many horse bloggers--particularly the endurance riders--don't agree with this. But then, they have a good reason for it.

So many people's happy horse lives end, or are severely changed, by an avoidable accident. I try to do my best to make smart choices--thus I bought the helmet, despite my lifetime of safe riding without one (including on lots of very green horses). A helmet is surely not going to protect you from harm--making thoughtful choices is your best help there, but I figure it just doesn't hurt to wear one (not much, anyway), and it might help. Thanks for your comments--I always enjoy them.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Brena did flop down crossing a wet ploughed field last autumn, all of a sudden. Goodness, I thought, the mud is soft here. Perhaps I should get off and pull her out? (If she's going to cat-leap out, best to be on the ground.) Anyway I did get off because by then the mare was down on her belly. She caught a good shouting at, decided not to roll, and started to eat the weeds from a furrow - wich did make me laugh as she has an insatiable appetite. Next day she tried to repeat the manoeuvre. Her previous owner tells me that she tried the same trick the year before, again on two successive days, and also in autumn. Perhaps she was itchy with a changing coat? There was no harm done, I just felt a little foolish at getting caught. The rider with me laughed when she got down and did nothing to help, which was a little annoying.

Probably there is a lesson in all that about making assumptions. I thought "soft ground" not "horse about to roll". Now I know better because I have a fresh insight into her.

I have seen a trail horse drop down on a week-long trip because she was sleep-deprived. She'd been stalled and may not have been able to get down to sleep deeply. That event made me think some more about stabling horses so that they can rest properly - not a subject covered in the text books.

Now I shall be controversial. Please no-one take this personally.

Oh dear I smell a whiff of England where the "safety taliban" has taken over, where everyone "must" wear a helmet (and I have seen riders verbally abused by do-gooders for not doing so) and growing pressure is exerted also to wear a back protector and now an inflatable vest too. Soon you will be pressured to wear all these things too, whether you need them or not. (The inflatable vest might be useful if falling into the sea!) There is money in all this, and hard advertisng to take it from us - "Your child won't be safe without every one of these items! Buy them here." Then the English riders all too often go and ride like idiots because all that gear makes them "safe" (which I am sure none of you do, not being English). In the past I have written at length on this subject, and have been attacked viciously and ad hominem in blog land as a result. (One especially narrow-minded blogger misunderstood the pejorative "safety taliban" and ranted that she didn't wear a burka!) But reflect on experience from cycling where helmet wearing took off yielding lots of data - when I last checked, there was not a single statistically significant study demonstrating a lower fatality rate due to bicycle helmet use. However there is clear evidence of more reckless behaviour due to the perception of greater "safety".

When I ran a riding holiday centre, I allowed guests to wear as much or as little safety gear as they chose. The vast majority wore none. In fifteen thousand miles with on average five to six guests (with guides in the equation, over a hundred thousand trail miles) we had no head injuries, one broken collar bone and a groin strain (from opening a gate, in case you wondered). That excellent record is thanks to reliable horses, carefully planned trails, no jumping, and tailoring speed to terrain. Good horses are reliable and few regular mishaps lead to injury. It's human error and ambition that cause the majority of injuries.

Wear what safety gear you wish, that's your choice, but please don't believe that it will make a lot of difference to your wellbeing if you're not racing, jumping, hunting or pushing the boundary in some other way.

Now I suspect the cat is amongst the pigeons!

Laura Crum said...

White Horse Pilgrim--On the helmet thing, I have been saying EXACTLY what you are saying for a long time. Ride a steady horse, don't take silly risks or do overly "ambitious" things horseback, and you will go much further toward staying safe than you will by wearing a helmet. I totally agree. "Its human error and ambition that cause the majority of injuries." I second that quote and would like to add that choosing to ride green or unreliable horses contributes to a lot of accidents as well. And, as I have said in the comments here already, most of the serious/fatal accidents I have known would not have been prevented by a helmet. I also agree that helmet wearers have a tendency to think they are "safe" because of the helmet, and this causes them to err in their decision making. Remember, I am a gal who has worn no helmet for forty plus years. In that time I broke and trained many young horses, packed through the high mountains, and competed at cutting, cowhorse, and team roping events. I remain undamaged. So I totally get your point.

But leaving out the "helmet Nazi" perspective, in the end, I have to admit that it makes sense to wear the damn helmet. It really does no harm (if you can find one that doesn't give you a headache) and it might prevent some tragedies. Courtney King Dye's story, which I referenced, is very moving. A helmet probably would have prevented her fairly severe brain damage. She was warming a horse up in the warmup ring, she was a vastly more experienced rider than I will ever be, the horse fell, and she hit her head. So yes, a helmet might help you even if you are not racing or jumping...etc.

But seriously, I am so not the helmet police. That beach ride was the first time in my adult life I have ever worn a helmet. We'll see if it "takes". My feeling is (as Once Upon said) that its like a seatbelt in a car. A nuisance until you get used to it, then no big deal. I have never had a car wreck (knocking on wood), thus my sometimes bothersome seatbelt has done me no good at all. But I still wear it. And not just because its the law here. Because it makes sense.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

On the very first trail ride my ottb and I took, as we exited the beach to the sand dunes and woods part of the loop (same sort of ride but on the east coast), my horse suddenly dropped to his knees, preparing to roll.

I had never had a horse do that before, and was shocked, but luckily landed off to the side on my knees in the sand. Then I was like - my new saddle!!! and hauled him up. Lesson learned.

He had never been to the beach before, and though that sand looked especially nice to help his itches. And the water receding back into the ocean does make them very dizzy!

Good for you wearing your helmet! We need to do it for our loved ones even of we don't feel the need to do it for ourselves. :)

Laura Crum said...

CFS--That is exactly why I decided I needed to wear the silly helmet. I watched Courtney King Dye give a speech post brain injury and read her blog telling how she struggles to speak (in her own words) as well as a four-year-old. All I could think was how terrible this would be for my husband and son. I decided that the downside of wearing a helmet is so small that I truly needed to do what I could to prevent brain damage in the event of a fall. Now, of course, I'll hit my head while not horseback (and sans helmet). I'd better knock on wood again.

C in WI said...

I started wearing a helmet years ago to be a good example to the younger kids riding at the barn. I hated it at first (western rider growing up) but now feel undressed without it.

Francesca - I actually have a larger helmet just for winter riding that is big enough for a helmet liner or thinner cap underneath it. There are also helmet covers for the really cold climates. Sometimes I use both here in Wisconsin winters.

As far as a good horse going down. I did have that happen to me, no fault of my mare who slipped and totally went down in a flash. I had two bones (tib/fib)broken in my left leg, was riding with 3 friends and NO ONE had their cell phone with them. I laid on frozen ground for 45 minutes while someone went back several miles to call an ambulance. I will never ride without a cell phone or helmet again. Tough lesson to learn. The mare was fine, I took a while to heal, and we're both back on the trail again.

Keep wearing your helmet Laura. :)

Laura Crum said...

C in WI--Your story is a great example for all of us to remember. I'm so sorry it had to happen to you, but it sure points out the wisdom of the helmet and cell phone.

Nancy said...

Thank goodness no one was hurt (by no one I'm of course including your horses). I had mixed feelings reading the story:A) Jealousy that you get to ride on the beach in such beautiful surroundings, which has always been my fantasy and B)Horror at the thought of trail riding anywhere and having such an experience.

As a late bloomer, as far as becoming a rider, I've always been scared of trail riding. I wish I liked it, but I absolutely hate spooking and a lack of control. The idea of falling off my horse and having him take off to god knows where petrifies me. Of course in an environment like the beach, he would stop and return in all likelihood, but in a wooded area or near well-trafficked roads, not so sure.
Guess I'll just stick to the safety of my ring, my property and the occasional horse show. At my age, my best horse time is often just chillin' in the barn with my critters, playing music, sipping wine and listening to them happily munching their dinner.

Laura Crum said...

Nancy--I totally understand about the great horse time spent "chillin in the barn" with a glass of wine while the horses munch their hay. I love doing that, too! But don't write trail riding off as too scary. Its my single favorite thing to do on a horse--and I've done a lot. If you ride a horse that is used to going "outside" and you can ride with a companion on a similar steady horse, you will mostly have no drama. That beach ride I wrote about in the post? None of us felt it was too traumatic, honestly. Once we got over our near wreck moment, we all finished the ride relaxed and in good spirits. It was a lovely ride, and none of us, including Wally, felt that it was ruined by Twister's little faux paux(sp?) In truth, a loose horse will rarely leave the other horses. However, I do agree with you about traffic on the roads being very scary. That's the one thing I feel most anxiety about.

dunslidin said...

We ride along rivers a lot and you do get a feel of that sinking feeling but one day when we were riding in August MO heat my mare just laid down on a gravel creek bed in a 6 inch puddle of water, 6 inches across, with absolutely no warning. She had never done anything like that before and nothing after and she is 29 and still going. We had a bizarre incident happen this fall on the trail. My husband went from a 20 year old gelding that he had been riding since he was 2 (the horse not my husband), they were quite a pair to a 4 year old green goofy gelding that was spooky (normal) silly and just young. He's been riding him for 2 years and they have become a great team and my husband after 2 years of fussing about being careful had been getting pretty bold. He had been loping his big guy on easy clear trails, very wide and open and was enjoying his gelding's soft easy lope. They were ahead of me and my gelding and as his horse loped over a branch (about 3 inches across) he hooked it with his front left and it swung around and knocked his other 3 legs out from under him. There was no way he could save himself and he skidded on his head and left shoulder into a huge leaf pile, dumping my husband off about a foot from the ground. The scary part was when he went to get up and take off, then I realized my husband might be still attached. Luckily he came off clean and when his big guy got up just trotted over to us and put his head in my lap. All the damage the horse got was a skin above his eye and my husband was a little sore for the next 30 minutes of the ride. It has made him slow down a little but it made me realize how good our guys are and that all you can do is be careful. I drive in psycho rush hour traffic everyday and my chances of getting hurt or dead is much higher there than on my horse. My gelding stopped even before I reacted as soon as he saw what was happening, but he is so awesome I can't tell you. Lazy but awesome.

Laura Crum said...

dunslidin--Wow--what a story. Makes you realize that you just never can predict what will happen. My friend was riding with another friend one day, and one horse stepped on a long slender redwood branch on the ground--more of a long stick than anything else--and the sharp end of the branch was driven INTO the horse's belly, creating a serious puncture wound. Who would ever predict that?