We all have a choice when we mount up--to wear a helmet or not. The choice is up to the individual. Below is a handy quiz to help you decide if you should wear a helmet when you ride:
Answer the following questions as either TRUE or FALSE as they apply to you:
Now, tally up your responses: for every time you answered “true,” give yourself 1 point. For every time you answered “false,” give yourself 5 points.
Questions 1-3 – If you answered true to these questions, congratulations on your achievements! These three things will undoubtedly help you stay topside and therefore reduce the risk of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from a fall. Unless #7 is False—that significantly reduces the amount of safety your level of skill/experience provides you.
Questions 4-10 – yes, I’m being a smart-ass, but these are the things we don’t think about. If I had a nickel for every time someone implied they were somehow exempt from brain injury because they were (place ridiculous claim here), or how it’s their body, their choice (which is true, it is)—I’d have a barrel full of nickels to donate to the Brain Trauma Foundation. The fact remains, horses are unpredictable, people make mistakes, freak accidents happen, and gravity is a constant feature of planet earth.
Questions 11-15 – This is really the point of this little exercise—to raise awareness that your decision to wear (or not wear) a helmet is not only about you. Unless your answer to questions 12-14 is “true,” then…well, no still not just about you, because someone will have to take care of you.
Post TBI injury care can include (but is not limited to): teaching sufferer how to walk, feed self, wipe bottom, speak, move arms, move legs, grasp objects, write, and read—hopefully you will be able to relearn all those tasks. Otherwise you may need someone to clean and maintain your respirator, change your diaper, bathe you, feed you (or clean your feeding tube), turn you so you don’t get bed sores, etc.
A recent study discovered that the annual cost of treating/managing a person with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) ranges from $25,000-$81,000 every year for the life of the patient.
The daunting cost of treating/managing the TBI patient is compounded by the fact the sufferer of the TBI is often unable to return to work at the same level or in some cases, at all. The study further found divorce was not uncommon with TBI sufferers in the years following their injury, citing extreme emotional and financial stress as the reason for divorce or separation.
If you have no family, no friends, and no money, and/or not enough insurance, then your lifetime care will fall on the taxpayers and the welfare system.
You might now be thinking, “Well, why do anything risky? Why drive, why fly, why do extreme sports, why keep riding?” My goal is not to scare you out of everything fun. Have adventures, drive on the interstate, ride that crazy mare that hates everyone, jump the big jumps, climb the mountain, go to an Elephant rally wearing a Donkey shirt—do those crazy, fun, dangerous things if the thought moves you, but take the safety precautions available to you—buckle your seat belt, wear the helmet, learn how to tie good mountain climbing knots, and leave the Donkey shirt at home—or avoid the Elephant rally—whichever. It just makes good sense.
Oh yeah, scoring the quiz:
If you scored anywhere from 0-75 points: you should definitely wear your helmet.
76 points or more: check your math, and definitely wear your helmet. Every ride, every time.
Years ago I was watching a woman riding her horse over fences. Each time the horse landed after a fence, he threw his head up and bolted. The rider would then jerk the horse around in a small circle, pulling his head around until it nearly touched her boot at which point she would smack him with her riding crop and proceed to make several circuits of the arena at a brisk trot while see-sawing the reins so violently the horse’s head wagged back and forth.
After the horse had received this “training,” the woman once again rode him to the fence; he jumped it willingly but upon landing, threw his head up violently and bolted. The woman screamed at the horse and went back into her “training” mode. She yelled something to her companion who was watching from the ground, about the new, stronger bit not working. Then she proceeded to jerk mercilessly on the horse’s mouth while spurring him relentlessly.
It baffled me that this obviously kind horse continued to willingly approach and jump the fence while receiving this treatment from his rider. It further baffled me that the problem, which was clear to me after the second jump, seemed to completely elude the self-proclaimed trainer and her companion: each time the horse landed, the rider lost her balance and snatched him in the mouth. The horse was trying to escape the pain she was inflicting on him by her incompetent riding. She had failed to develop an independent seat, and her horse was suffering for it.
I wish I had been brave enough then to speak out in defense of the horse but I was young and lacked the confidence needed to approach this intimidating woman. I watched her ride toward the fence and yet again make the same mistake, then punish the horse for her incompetence. “Go get the martingale!” she yelled to her companion, “I’ll make him keep his head down!” My stomach churned and I whispered a prayer for the horse before turning back to my work.
That woman was not a rider, she was a parasite. A parasite, by definition is something that attaches itself to a host and harms it. The parasite is completely oblivious to (or perhaps just doesn’t care about) the harm it is causing the host. It only takes but never gives. There is not a reciprocal relationship; the parasite is the only one that gets any benefit.
Parasites come in many forms:
Captain Cram and Jam – holds the reins as tightly as possible while relentlessly kicking and spurring the horse in an effort to “get him in frame”
Inspector Gadget – this person is always looking for the next great training gadget to force her horse to do what she hasn’t prepared him (or perhaps herself) to do. Training staples include harsh bits, a martingale (or training fork), draw reins and side reins
See-sawer/plane flagger/goat milker –these are the individuals whose hands never stop moving – jerking up, jerking down, to the side, etc. These are easy to recognize as they are the ones riding the horse with the gapping open mouth, chin tucked in chest (usually preceded by nose pointing at the sky), and/or head wagging from side-to-side. These parasites tend to flock to “magic bits” selecting increasingly harsh bits as their horse’s mouth becomes scarred and deadened.
The Know-it-all – Usually this is the person who either has had a few lessons and won a couple ribbons and therefore is a self-proclaimed trainer or can take the form of a person who has decades of experience with horses but has yet to learn anything
The Blissfully Ignorant Weekender – this person takes old Frank out of the pasture once or twice a summer and sits crookedly in the saddle for a 4 hour trail ride on an out-of-shape horse.
Conversely, a true rider is not afraid to do the work it takes to become a good rider. She puts in the years of work it takes to develop an independent seat, she seeks to understand the horse, when a “behavioral issue” arises, she first looks at herself for a cause, then considers the possibility of a physical issue with the horse and lastly looks for an actual behavior that needs to be modified. A true rider wants to build a relationship with the horse; she works to ensure the horse is happy to do his work. She also works to understand the horse’s physical capabilities and to ensure the horse is physically able to do the work it is being asked to do. She doesn’t rely on training gadgets as she understands 99% of the time such devices serve only 3 purposes:
1. Cover up bad riding
2. Cover up holes in training
3. Force a horse that is not mentally and/or physically prepared to do the work it is being asked to do.
So, ask yourself the tough question: are you a parasite or a rider? The next time you run into a “behavior problem” with your horse consider the whole picture: is it something you are doing (sitting off balance, a poor cue, bouncing hands, etc.)? Is your horse in pain? Have you physically and mentally prepared your horse to do what you are asking him to do? Are you trying to ride above your level? Are you riding more horse than you can handle?
I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve made (and continue to make) mistakes, I’ve subjected horses to unfair training practices; I’ve blamed horses for my shortcomings. BUT in more than 25 years I have never stopped learning. I keep an open mind and am always working to improve my techniques, looking for ways to teach the horse in a way she understands, and always working to keep my horse comfortable, happy, and glad to do her work.
Our horses are a gift and most of them give of themselves until it hurts and even then, keep on giving. Learning to ride in a balanced, independent seat without relying on training gadgets to achieve artificial results is the least we can do for our horses. Pay attention to what your horse is telling you, and you both will benefit. You will connect with your horse on the deepest level and, by being a rider rather than a parasite; you can add many sound and happy years with your horse!
9/30/14 -- WOW! The response to this post has been amazing! I wrote this in-part because I was feeling quite alone in my horse training philosophy so I am thrilled to see there are so many like-minded people in this world! If you like this post, you may also enjoy these similarly-themed posts found HERE
Thanks so much for sharing!
Many people watch me work with my horse, Farletta and wonder why can’t their horse be the same? By that I assume they mean the version of Farletta who stands quietly, follows willingly, rides without a bridle and responds to the slightest shift of weight in the saddle or the most subtle of visual cues from the ground; not the version of the Perfect Princess when she loses her patience and succumbs to the “Four P’s” – pacing, pawing, prancing and (inappropriate) peeing.
What people don’t realize is it has taken years of work to get Farletta to be the horse she is today. And she is still learning, we both are. Sure, we have come a long way from the little mare who used to jump out of the arena, break her halter and run away, and lay down while I mounted her but it has taken hours upon hours of patience, consistency and flat out hard work. The change was gradual, it didn’t happen in six months or even a year – it is ongoing. Each time we crossed a hurdle, a new one would pop up. That is horse training. That is life.
Training a great horse involves cultivating a great relationship. Taking the time to work through the (sometimes seemingly endless) problems, learning to communicate in a way your horse understands, learning to actively listen (not just seek to be heard), and always approaching the relationship with kindness and a gentle but firm hand. You will take great steps forward and at times you will stumble backwards. That is horse training. That is life.
A horse is a living creature and just like people, they have different personalities, different learning styles, different physical capabilities and different mental capacities. It is your job to learn about your horse, how that horse thinks, how s/he learns, and how s/he communicates. Often behavioral problems stem from a lack of understanding on the part of the horse, and/or a breakdown in communication between the horse and handler.
A horse that has been abused or is being re-purposed has a special set of circumstances. If the horse was in an abusive situation for many years or a non-abused horse moving from a completely different environment with a different set of “rules” (such as a racing environment) then you must not only build the relationship but you must undo the negative the horse has already learned. This won’t happen quickly, if it took five years for the horse to develop the bad habits and behaviors it has today; is it unreasonable to expect it to take as long to undo the damage?
Building a relationship with your horse is a long term commitment. Just as in life, we all make mistakes and that is OK. This is how we learn. In a future post I will discuss different ways we can listen to what our horses are telling us. Until then, give your horse a carrot and a scratch on the neck from me.
It’s not so unusual, is it? Taking your horse for a walk? Farletta and I do it frequently. However, I have been hand-walking horses since I was a kid. I think it was in part a way to deal with the fear and uncertainty of working with young, green horses when I myself was quite young and green. Walking with the horse may have stemmed from a fear of falling but as I grew older and more connected with the horses in my life I realized there were several benefits to walking with my horse:
Unique bonding experience: there is something different about walking with your horse verses riding on top of her – there is a difference in the energy you feel and the connection
you have. It is hard to explain; you must experience it. It is not
the same as walking your horse to the barn or to the pasture for the purpose of moving him from one place to another; hand-walking your horse is a deliberate activity with the sole intention of spending time with, learning about and bonding with your horse.
I enjoy watching Farletta walk next to me – watching how her muscles move smoothly under her skin, the fine arch in her neck, the intricate details of her face and the locomotion of her legs and hooves as they navigate the terrain.
Build your horse’s confidence: I have repeatedly encouraged clients and friends to hand-walk a horse for their first trail riding experience. Unfortunately, many do not take the suggestion, over-face their horse (or themselves) and end up having to rebuild confidence of both horse and rider which can be a very long and difficult process.
Exposing a horse to a new situation from the ground (vs. from the saddle) is not unlike using ground work to start a horse
under saddle –few people use the old “cowboy” method of jumping on and bucking a young horse out anymore as we’ve learned it is much easier on the horse and the rider to slowly expose him to things he must learn to be ridden before you ask
him to carry a rider. By removing the rider from a scary situation and instead being a supportive person from the ground, the horse can learn to navigate difficult situations without the added stress of an unbalanced or inexperienced rider. If you are a rider who is nearly impossible to unseat and can approach a scary situation with rock-solid nerves you will likely have success either way. However, if you have a less-secure seat or any anxiety riding a spooky horse, you and your horse will benefit greatly from hand-walking into new situations.
When Farletta was young and green I moved her from her home farm in Kentucky to visit another farm for a month. Unlike our home farm, this other farm had nice riding trails and a large outdoor arena. Farletta and my friend’s mare, Phoebe moved together for the month. Farletta had been very calm and quiet at her home farm and seldom spent time with Phoebe. However, when she moved to the new farm she became a different horse. She was nervous and fidgety
and would scream when she couldn’t see Phoebe. I had never seen Farletta like this. It was like she had no confidence in her ability to take care of herself. So, I put on her rope halter and a long longe line and took her down the trail. First I led her but
gradually I lengthened the line and let her walk ahead until she was leading me. Before she knew it I was behind her and she was in the lead all by herself. She tried to turn back but I encouraged her to continue forward, to be brave and lead me. The strategy worked and soon Farletta was back to her old confident self.
Good exercise! I often find it difficult to find the time (or motivation) to go to the gym for a workout. If I put a halter and lead on Farletta and head out to the trails with my dog Boedy off-leash I can exercise all three of us at once! Additionally, it is helpful for Farletta to get used to Boedy crashing around in the woods so that she is confident when we see (or hear) deer and wild turkeys! I make a point of hand-walking Farletta to warm her up before her ride and for the cool-down period. Sure, it’s more work for me but that is the point. Might as well take my calorie burn where I can find it!
Ground manners! Lots of people wish their horse’s had better ground manners but few people enjoy working on them. It takes time and effort to get your horse to walk at your shoulder, stop when you stop and go when you go. Does your horse crowd your space? Does he push or pull or refuse to move? Take him down the road (if it’s a safe road!) or down the trail and work on it. It takes a little effort and a lot of consistency but you will never regret the time you spent teaching your horse to respect you and listen to you from the ground.
So, grab a halter and lead and hit the trails! Spend some time bonding with your horse. Gain a new outlook and view the trail
from your horse’s perspective. You will find a new dimension to your relationship, and increase mutual respect for and trust in one another. Your horse has a gift to offer you; it is the gift of the relationship. We need only to take the time to seek and accept it. Taking a walk with your horse can help you get there.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!