Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Things Go Wrong, They Go Wrong Fast

Some of the most important keys to self-preservation around big, fast, flight animals are not necessarily intuitive, but they do start to feel that way over time.  In fact, when I got back into horses, some safety practices were so deeply ingrained in me that I pretty much assumed that anyone would do them. But then, I saw that my husband wasn’t automatically doing certain things to protect himself, and I had to teach him.

One that I forgot to teach him was the speed at which one needs to move one’s feet around horses to protect one’s toes, and he ended up with a black toenail because of it.  I have learned to recognize the circumstances that could land a hoof on a toe and my brain reacts in micro-seconds, pulling the toe to safety, just in time.  He just didn’t know that he needed to be alert for this, and I still feel bad that I didn’t think to teach him in time.

Pretty, but I wouldn't hold it that way. (Borrowed photo)
In watching him learn to be around horses, I realize that I could write a book about this type of danger, listing all the common ways that people get hurt by being near horses on the ground.  One of the most critical ones is another of those that is not intuitive.

“When I have a new student,” my friend, Wendy, mentioned one day, “the first thing they want to do is wrap that lead rope around their hand.”

Wrapping any part of the body with something that is attached to a horse is extremely dangerous, yet, just as Wendy noticed, inexperienced people want to do it right away.  Somehow, they think that having that lead roped wrapped around their hand will give them the grip they need to hang onto that horse.  Well, yes, it does.  But they don’t realize that, when trouble comes, you DON’T want to be hanging onto that rope at all, and having it wrapped around your hand is a great way to 1. Get dragged; 2. Break your arm; 3. Lose some fingers; 4. Get stomped on; 5. Take your pick.  Plus, your hanging by the hand from the lead line will panic the horse and make everything that much worse.

What is surprising is how easy it is to get yourself entangled unless you are constantly checking your safety.  For instance, when I use the longe line, I’m careful to make sure the line is folded, not looped.  Yet, as I work the horse, I’ll check and notice a loop that wasn’t there before, the very loop that could get caught on my hand if the horse took off, all of a sudden. 

Likewise, when I’m ground driving: Managing the lines and the whip AND the horse is not easy, and I’m constantly making adjustments to protect my hands from the accursed loops that seem to form on their own.

And now, a true story about when this went wrong for me.   

Ground driving Starlight...safely!
This occurred when I was first working Starlight.  I had been longeing her and working her toward ground driving, and this particular day I was going to ground-drive her for, perhaps, the second time.  We were working in our arena, which was rather too deep in sand (which I was soon grateful for, as you’ll see if you keep reading.)

I had the lines on her and was standing behind her, when she decided to turn and face me.  This caused one of the lines to wrap around her butt.  But worse, somehow, despite my excruciating awareness of line safety, I noticed that one of the lines was under my leg.  

This is probably a good time to mention that, when I first started working Starlight, she had a tendency to rear.

I was trying to stay calm, but I had to get my leg out of that line.  Starlight tossed her head up and started to back up.  The line moved up my leg, so it was behind my hamstring.  I was desperately trying to get untangled when the pony went up.  She reared high.  God only knows why I didn’t get dragged along with her, but the tension on the line, now that she was up, freaked her out.  She tossed her head higher and as I watched, the pony went right over on her back.

Thank god for that deep sand.  I got loose and she stood up.  She seemed shocked, but appeared to be unhurt.  I checked her over, talked to her quietly, rubbed her down gently across the withers and neck, and we started over again.  This time we were successful, and I have to say, the mare has been very hesitant to rear again, so there was a small silver lining to this potentially disastrous situation.

It just goes to show you, that when things go wrong around horses, they go wrong very quickly.  I was lucky not to get flipped over and dragged in this situation, or get tangled up in her legs, and I don’t actually know why that didn’t happen.  It must be my guardian angels (who sometimes have to work overtime for me) were watching out for us that day.

So, no moral to this story, I suppose.  Just a reminder to keep a sharp eye out for your own safety and especially, for those who visit your barns, so they don’t have to learn the hard way.

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