Is This You? Suggestions For Riding Safely

They say “It looks easy” and “It’s not hard, anyone can do it”. I’ve often heard people say about riding horses “You just get on and kick them to go and pull on their mouth to stop”. When I was in the Horse Guard (the oldest living Calvary in the US) many years ago, it was a military operation with horses. Rank was huge and Sergeants and Lieutenants were to be respected. The only problem with this was that everyone in the outfit had day jobs and many “of the good old boys” would come to the Guard and bring their swagger with them. Ignorant men to the sport of riding (don’t want to offend anyone but) many of these men could not ride to save their lives. But one thing they did have that the women did not was superior strength. However, no human is stronger than a horse because most horses are roughly 10 times our size.

Horses are large, strong animals with the brain of a nine year old. They understand verbal and non-verbal cues and most of all they remember things like an elephant. If they have a bad experience it will stay with them forever. It can be very difficult to get them over the hurdle in their mind of someone being cruel or short with them and they associate old issues even down to the clothes you wear. My horse gets very upset when I wear a baseball hat because something bad happened to him with a man wearing a similar hat. He also had a hard time with cowboy hats and boots with spurs. Because he is large (17.1), he was manhandled and his trainers thought he was “big and dumb”. Nothing could be farther from the truth but he was pushed and whipped when he was afraid not reckless.

The point here is that if the line above “It’s not hard to ride a horse, anyone can do it” were true, we (those of us who have dedicated our lives to these animals) would all be FANTASTIC RIDERS!!! Instantly! We would never get hurt and we would float across the ground and it would be simple, elegant and we would never have to practice! IF ONLY IT WAS THAT EASY! The real truth is that when you see someone ride a horse (especially at a high level) and they make it look effortless, as though they are doing nothing but somehow the horse and rider are in perfect sync, that is the sign of a team that has spent long, long hours working together on these very “simple” moves you are watching.

Many riders aspire to that level of achievement and that type of synchronicity with their horse. I am a perfect example of a pleasure rider getting hurt. This year I broke my finger in three places by lunging my horse and needed surgery. Then again in October I fell off and broke 6 ribs! I have been riding over 20 years and have had Zeus for 5 but things happen so fast with horses. No matter how long you have them and no matter how much training you do with them, at the end of the day they are still wild animals – and smart ones at that. Being prey animals they are always watching out for danger and when they feel afraid they may run for the hills and THEN TURN AROUND and see what the threat was. Meanwhile you feel like you are on a ride with everything around you becoming a blur. They move fast even if they don’t always know where they are going except they are getting away from the perceived threat.

This Christmas I am giving myself the gift of an inflatable vest. I am getting the hybrid vest which is the one that has a canister and blows up when you are falling off but it also has some bulk to it. All these years I’ve been riding I have NEVER ONCE CONSIDERED A VEST for safety. Yes, I always wear my helmet (because my husband said “Please for me just do it every time”. It’s a good habit to get into and there isn’t anyone I know that rides without a helmet. I always thought vests were for those who were at high levels of competition, not for an amateur rider who rides for pleasure like myself. This year has convinced me that I NEED THAT DAMN VEST!

They are expensive ($200-$800) but they last a lifetime (kind of like a custom saddle made for your horse). A friend at the barn said Murphy’s Law – you will get the vest and never fall off – hey, I’m OK with that. No matter your age (but especially if you are ughh “middle aged”) it can save you from having broken bones. The last 2 months I haven’t been able to ride at all and I am itching to get back on. This time I want to make sure that Zeus has been lunged and is super tired when I get on. When you are in your 20’s, falling off a horse is usually no big deal – it comes with the territory. When you are ahem, a little older, you don’t bounce like you used to and sometimes things break that take a very long time to heal. If safety is THE most important thing you DON’T have to think about when you ride, this should be an added bonus so you can concentrate on the task at hand, keeping your 1,000+ pound animal in line. Or at least keeping them cooperative to your requests.

Most vests protect you from your neck down to your tail bone and if they are inflatable, they hook onto your saddle. When you fall, they unhook from the saddle and blow up for 15-20 seconds so that you basically hit the ground on an air bed. Some vests that are less expensive and don’t inflate may be good options to but I have always been an all or nothing type of girl. I want the most coverage I can have and the maximum amount of protection if I fall. Speaking from experience and breaking 6 ribs at one time has made me realize that the cost is definitely worth its weight in gold.

Have you ever considered getting a riding vest and if not do you think it would be a good option for you? I have many friends who have been injured on the trails “just having a good time and pleasure riding” vs other stable mates who consistently competitively ride and hardly fall off in their whole career. We all want to be good riders and have a great relationship with our horse. It’s kind of like wanting to pet and play with a Tiger but the Tiger will always be wild and can turn on you at any time. That’s the whole thrill of being around these animals, knowing that they can turn their backs on you at any time but 99% of the time they really like us and want to be with us. Just consider the 1% rule and proceed with not only caution but preparedness. Don’t wait to break bones before you begin to consider that staying healthy by taking precautions could not only keep you out of the hospital but on your horse and happy in the saddle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, please let me know what you think!