Many of you will be aware that British Eventing have, in the last few days, changed their rules regarding competitors who fall at an event. These changes have been made in light of ongoing research with regards to concussion and they bring BE in line with the FEI rules which have been in place for the last ten years.
Previously if you toppled off in any phase of your event you could get back on and continue the rest of your day, as long as you were unhurt. With this new rule if you fall that will be the end of your event on that horse, as all riders who fall will be eliminated. The important caveats to this are that if you fall in the warm up you can still compete or if you have more than one horse you will still be able to ride your subsequent horses, provided you get the green light from the event doctor.
If you have been lucky enough to have never suffered a fall at an event an important point to remember is that it is your responsibility to ensure that you are seen by the doctor before heading home. As an event doctor myself I can tell you that hunting for riders in a lorry park is a total nightmare, especially once you take your number bibs off!
I know that some riders are frustrated by these new rules but they stem from recent developments in guidance on managing concussion, and although it often appears mild, concussion is a serious business. We are now much more aware of the risks and long term effects of concussion and although you might think you’ve just bumped your head if not treated properly if can have long term effects on your cognitive functioning. Take the advice of medical staff seriously after even a mild concussion and of course reduce your risk as much as possible by never getting on a horse without a helmet. Ensuring no further head injuries occur, staying well rested, and giving your brain some “off” time (i.e no phones or TV) are ways of helping concussion to recover and avoid more serious long term effects.
Your brain is fragile, protect it and protect yourself.
As it says on the tin, this is a personal blog about the journey Archie and I are taking in discovering the world of eventing. Archie is a 6 year old Irish gelding, and I am a 26 year old horse addict. I didn’t grow up in a family with horses, and Archie was the first horse I ever owned, having loaned for over 20 years. I hope that we can show other riders who perhaps don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams, that anything is possible!
Re-published by kind permission of Journey of an Amateur Eventer|Blog
I learnt the hard way that you can never be too careful when on the ground around horses. One day when I was at the yard on my own, I crouched down next to Chief, my very cute 2 year old Shetland, scratching his chest. Suddenly, something spooked him, and before I knew it he had cantered right over the top of me, leaving me in a dazed heap. I was incredibly lucky that it wasn’t any worse, especially since I had a hoof shaped bruise right on my head! However, this was a hoof shaped reminder that horses and ponies, however laid back or small and cute, are unpredictable, strong animals and issues such as barging and pushing on the ground can become very dangerous.
So, if we want to stay safe on the ground with our horses, we must first understand why they might do things like pushing, shoving and nudging us. To find out I got in touch with Grahame Frank, also known as ‘The Horse Mind Doctor’. For years he has studied horses and their natural behaviours, working to find solutions to behaviour issues. He stresses that horses are ultimately herd animals, and that so many of their actions result from how they would behave in the wild around each other. He said, “In the herd, each horse is constantly trying to improve its social position, usually by force”, and this suggests that a horse barging a human mirrors this attempt to climb the ‘hierarchy’. It is therefore linked to a lack of respect, and represents the horse trying to have power over you.
I also spoke to Felicity George, a Horse Behaviour Consultant who works to solve problems between horses and their owners. She believes that poor behaviour on the ground can also result from a horse being in pain. She told me, “I once worked with a horse who was very bargey on the ground. He was very dull in his outlook and did not respond to any kind of punishment or reward, making it difficult to teach him that what he was doing was wrong. However, it turned out that he was actually suffering from Cushing’s disease, so his behaviour stemmed from him being ill!” She added that changes in a horse’s management can also be a factor leading to pushing and shoving on the ground. She said, “I worked with a horse who’s owner had recently started at college, meaning his turnout was reduced to just two hours a day which wasn’t enough. As a result, he started to push humans around on the ground, but this was because his needs weren’t being met.”
So whilst barging and pushing might often be a result of testing boundaries and lack of respect, the possibility of a horse actually being ill or distressed should not be ruled out either.
How can we manage this behaviour?
As my experience with Chief showed me, we need to teach our horses to respect us on the ground to prevent things from becoming dangerous and to ensure that everyone is kept happy. Renowned horseman and foundation trainer Jason Webb refers to the idea of ‘personal space’ between horse and human. He labels this so-called personal space as “an area in which the horse can’t influence you”, and suggests that we should always maintain a distance of an arm’s length between us and the horse. Jason believes that seemingly harmless behaviours like sniffing and nudging can actually lead to far more serious issues, and in order to prevent them, the horse must learn to act independently. To create this independence and respect for personal space, we must maintain a kind of ‘bubble’ around us, never allowing the horse to enter this bubble unless it is on our terms. Jason says that a simple way to do this is to create energy by moving the horse around you – this will teach the horse to focus on you, and to realise the appropriate distance to maintain between them and you.
Felicity George also stresses the importance of personal space, although for her it isn’t necessarily about maintaining a certain distance. She said, “I was once told that I should keep a space of about 3 feet between my horse and I, but for me this didn’t work. I personally see having personal space as just not allowing my horse to push me, but really it comes down to each individual.” However, for Felicity one of the most important training principles is to be consistent in what you ask for. She said, “Horses are like children, so in the same way that a parent might teach a toddler the difference between right and wrong, we must be consistent with our instructions and really mean what we say.” She pointed out that if for half the time we allow our horse to gently nudge us and then suddenly tell them off for doing so, they won’t understand what you want from them. She said, “Make it clear how you want the horse to behave around you, and then stick to it.” If you don’t want your horse to push you around, then make sure that you never let him – this is the only way they will learn.
The Horse Mind Doctor also warns against giving horses too many treats, “People tend to spoil horses in behaviour and treats – don’t, because the horse will simply take advantage. A low, calm but firm voice and posture will soon teach the horse which one of you is in charge (you) and this goes for all movements around the horse”. He suggests that the over-use of treats can also be a cause of pushing and bargey behaviour, and that other reinforcement methods should instead be opted for. You as the human must assert yourself as leader of the ‘herd’, and giving treats isn’t always the best way to do this.
Staying safe in the stable
One of the areas in which bargey horses can really become a problem is in the stable. The last thing anyone wants is a horse who tries to shove past you out of the stable, or even a horse who behaves threateningly by pinning you against the stable wall. In order to prevent such behaviours from developing, Felicity suggests that you should avoid doing jobs like mucking out when your horse is in the stable too, and instead recommends turning them out or moving them to another stable. Felicity explains, “When we are doing jobs like mucking out, we aren’t giving the horse our full attention. As a result, the horse might nudge you without getting any kind of response, leading them to think that it is okay to do so. Keep the stable as a place for training, and make sure that when you are in there with your horse, you make it clear how you want them to behave.”
It is often suggested that we should tie our horses up at all times when we are in the stable with them, but is this really the solution to our problems? The Horse Mind Doctor suggests that actually, it is not always necessary for your horse to be tied up in the stable. He says that it can be beneficial to leave your horse loose, explaining that “It might lead to a better relationship if your horse could walk around you and feel more relaxed in your company.” Similarly, Felicity suggests that in the long term, it is better if your horse stands in the stable without being tied up. She says that when a horse is tied up, they aren’t free to show something is worrying them by moving away which can consequently lead to behaviours such as kicking out. By leaving them loose they are able to move around and relax more easily, preventing them from becoming panicked and lashing out.
Leading our horses
Another potentially problematic area is leading horses – we do it every single day, but are we really doing it safely? What if your horse suddenly shies into you or decides to gallop off?
Felicity advises that we always lead a horse at the shoulder to avoid such disasters. She says, “The shoulder is definitely the safest place to be. Never pull the horse along from the front, since here you are at far greater risk of being run over. Also, think back to the horse in the herd: they herd others from behind, so if you are walking in front of your horse he might actually think he’s herding you which would put him in charge!” The Horse Mind Doctor also suggests leading with as slack a rope as possible can be a good idea, since this encourages the horse to relax and follow you willingly.
Both Felicity and The Horse Mind Doctor stress the importance of leading with a hat and gloves on – although it might seem over the top, your horse could kick out at any time, so it is far better to be safe than sorry.
Felicity also adds that leading our horses should be treated with exactly the same importance as riding them. When we ride our horses, we wouldn’t let them get away with not listening to us, so why shouldn’t the same apply for leading? She recommends doing exercises like transitions, and bending and neck flexions with our horses when we lead them – this way, we can ensure that we have their full attention and that they’re actually concentrating on where they’re putting their feet! “Heavier horses in particular will often barge into you simply because they are unbalanced. They’re on the forehand and are paying you no attention, meaning that when you ask them to stop they find it really tricky. Lead them out to the field as if you are riding an advanced dressage test – keep everything engaged and balanced, and lead your transitions as if you would ride them."
So, behaviours such as pushing and shoving are ones we shouldn't ignore and should work hard to prevent for not only our safety but the horses as well.
Before we begin... I am a qualified doctor currently training in Anaesthetics and I have an interest in equestrian events medicine and trauma. This blog does not aim to replace first aid training, and I would recommend that all those spending time around horses gain formal training.
Horses are inherently unpredictable and therefore there is always a chance that when you are spending time with horses an accident could happen. That’s a fact, and one that we can’t change, but what we can change is our knowledge of how we manage the situation when things go wrong. This is the first in a series of blogs on what to do if someone is hurt or injured around their horse.
As an Anaesthetic trainee with an interest in equestrian events medicine I am passionate about teaching people what to do when someone is seriously injured. This may seem basic to those of you who have had some first aid or medical training but it is the simple things that can save people’s lives. What I aim to do in this blog is to explain what you need to do if someone has a bad fall.
So here is the first scenario...
A rider falls from their horse and is lying on the ground. They are awake and talking but saying that they have pain in their back or neck. What do you do?
1. Do not move them and encourage them to keep their head and neck as still as they can. Do not let them get up if they have pain in their back or neck. Spinal injuries are common in horse riding related falls, and keeping someone still is vital to ensure that they do not develop any further spinal cord injury.
2. Call an ambulance urgently and inform them that the patient is conscious but has pain in their back or neck. Relaying this information and details of any other injuries accurately will allow the ambulance service to allocate the correct resources to you.
3. Keep them warm. In patients who have undergone significant trauma, staying warm is key and lying in mud or on wet sand can make people cold very quickly. Horse rugs are great for this!
4. Keep them talking. This will allow you to recognise when/ if they become confused or drowsy indicating a potential head injury.
5. Keep a timeline. Try and keep track of the timing of events, and if there are any changes in the patient's condition make a note of when they occur.
So what do you do if someone is unconscious following a fall?
If someone is unconscious you must first of all check that they are breathing. If you are confident checking for a pulse then do this as well, but if not then there are three things you need to do:
• Look – see if their chest is moving as they breathe
• Listen – put your ear to their mouth and make sure you can hear them breathing
• Feel – put your hand lightly on their chest and see if you can feel it moving
If they are not breathing and there is no pulse then you need to commence CPR immediately. (I will not cover this in detail but more information can be found at https://www.resus.org.uk/resuscitation-guidelines/adult-basic-life-support-and-automated-external-defibrillation/#sequence)
1. Once you have determined that they are breathing, do not move them. In particular make sure that you do not move their head and neck in case they have an injury here. Keep a close eye on their breathing as their condition can change very quickly.
2. Urgently calling an ambulance, keeping them warm, and keeping a timeline of events apply in this situation also.
Other things to consider:
• Does anyone there know anything about their medical history? Allergies, known medical conditions and medications are again very helpful for the ambulance. If these can be written down and given to the crew this will help on arrival at A&E.
Have you ever taken the time to think about what would happen if you were to have a bad fall when you were at a competition? In particular out on a cross country course falls can cause serious injuries and prompt effective help is something that you want, and you want it quickly.
When competing in unaffiliated events it is important to know what services will be available for you and your horse if you were to fall. As one of the most dangerous sports in the country, with a significant number of spinal injuries associated with riders falling, the first time you wonder if there is a doctor at an event might be when you desperately need them. British Eventing requires a doctor and a vet to attend all their events, and there are rules in place regarding when you are allowed to ride again following an injury. In contrast unaffiliated eventing will provide medical cover at the discretion of the organisers, which may mean that there is not a doctor or a vet present.
Depending on location a medical trauma team can usually attend an event relatively quickly, either by helicopter or by road. They can provide any urgent medical care and transfer the patient to the nearest appropriate hospital. That means that whilst they are making their way to the site of the accident, the first aiders or paramedics who were covering the event will be responsible for stabilising anyone injured. I certainly feel more comfortable when I leave the cross country start box at British Eventing events knowing there will be a doctor who will be with me in minutes if I have a fall and need their help.
I would recommend that every horse rider know some basic first aid, and what to do if someone falls and is significantly injured. Next week’s blog will cover some top tips for you to brush up on your first aid knowledge and key things to remember in an emergency. In the mean time check out what cover the events you enter have and make sure if you have any medical conditions or allergies that you wear an up to date medical armband.
Head trauma evidence in Australia has convinced researchers that children should always wear helmets around horses, even when not riding.
The study team analysed data in relation to all patients presenting with any horse-related trauma to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane between January 2008 to August 2014.
They delved into patient demographics, length of hospital stay, the mechanism of injury, safety precautions taken, and diagnoses and surgical procedures performed.
The research conducted by the University of Queensland’s Centre for Children’s Burns and Trauma Research Group is one of few recent comprehensive studies of paediatric horse-related trauma in Australia.
Lead author Dr Jane Theodore looked at 187 incidents in children aged up to 16 years, and most resulted from falls while riding horses, Theodore said.
“Traumatic brain injury was the most common injury sustained, with riders who wore helmets having significantly less severe traumatic brain injuries and shorter stays in hospital compared with those who did not.” ...READ MORE
Essex road users are being urged to be more aware of horse encounters as new statistics reveal the county has the highest number of horse and rider road incidents in the country.
The British Horse Society (BHS) is heavily supporting Road Safety Week (November 21-27) after Essex witnessed 160 road incidents involving horses last year.
Of that figure, an alarming 12 instances resulted in the death of a horse, while on two occasions, a rider tragically died.
The national week-long event, run by road safety charity Brake, aims to prevent road deaths and injuries by raising awareness through schools, sports clubs and other organisations.
The BHS launched its campaign, 'Dead or Dead Slow?' in March – calling for greater protection for horses and riders using the UK's roads... READ MORE
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They conjure up a world of plump girls urging their equally plump ponies over the jumps at their local gymkhana.
But it now appears that life is increasingly imitating the much-loved cartoons of Norman Thelwell.
Vets and animal welfare officials have warned they are increasingly concerned by the sight of riders who are simply too heavy for their steeds.
Experts believe the problem is caused both by riders becoming too fat and choosing the wrong size horse to ride.
British show jumping authorities have now launched a study to determine the maximum weight a rider should be in proportion to their horse.
That would allow show officials to disqualify or exclude riders who are clearly too heavy for their animal... READ MORE
From the 1st January 2018 British Eventing will no longer permit the use of BETA Level 3 body protectors with the 2000 label.
No garments with the BETA 2000 standard have been produced since 2011 making any body protector with this label a minimum of five years old. Following discussions with the BE Risk Management Committee and advice from BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association), body protectors with this 2000 label will not be allowed for use at BE competitions from 1st January 2018.
Competitors will have until the 1st January 2018 to replace any 2000 label items with a BETA Level 3 body protector made to the 2009 standard or any later revision to the standard.
Claire Williams (Executive Director of BETA) commented;
“I commend British Eventing on giving riders plenty of notice that the rules will be changing. BETA 2000 has served us well since its introduction in 2000 however now there are garments potentially being used that are up to 16 years old, so well past their “use-by” date. General wear and tear over long periods as well as falls can have a detrimental effect on the ability of a garment to offer the protection needed so the change to the BE rules is welcomed.”
More information on BETA safety standards can be found HERE.
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Forgive me for stating the obvious here, but our heads are pretty important, and because we can't grow another one (yet!), it seems logical that we look after it. So it really irritates me when I see people riding without a riding helmet. As equestrians we're often made painfully aware, how risky riding can be, and sometimes when we least expect it. However good natured or well trained they are, horses are powerful, unpredictable animals. The consequences of falling and hitting your head, or being kicked in the head when around horses, are potentially very serious, so what I don’t understand is why people think riding without a helmet is worth the risk.
My rant, comes from personal experience. A couple of years ago I was out cross country schooling a 16hh thoroughbred; a lovely horse, but very green and pretty unpredictable. We had successfully popped over a couple of fences, but as we were coming up to jump, a fairly straight forward trakehner, he took out a couple of strides and put in a huge leap, sending me flying and landing right in front of the fence. I'm not definitely sure what happened, but we think his hooves clipped the back of my head, knocking me out for a couple of seconds. Thankfully, we were both fine, just a little bruised, but when I took off my hat, it completely fell apart! The impact that this little clip had on my hat was huge, and highlights how crucial riding hats are; had I not been wearing the hat, who knows what would have happened. And it could have happened if I'd taken a tumble in the school or out hacking. The fact that my hat fell apart from the impact of the fall (a good quality, fairly new hat) also serves as a reminder of the importance of replacing your hat after a bad fall. Although the damage may not always be evident, you never know if the impact from a heavy fall has damaged the inside of your hat. Whilst riding hats are of course pricey, the old cliché goes that you can’t put a price on safety and after all, we can’t buy a new head!
Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro, Dressage Training, Rio 2016 ©Richard Juillant/FEI
So, I was really pleased to read that the British Dressage Team at the Rio Olympics are all wearing hard hats with chin straps, rather than the top hats that FEI rules allow them to wear at that level. This is because they felt with so many people watching and looking up to them, it was important to set an example-something of course Charlotte Dujardin has been doing for a while. So, a big hats off to them for setting a hats on example!
Also, this year the British Horse Society launched their campaign ‘Hat Hair? Don’t Care!’. Let’s be honest, not wearing a riding hat usually comes down to vanity and yes, no-one is a fan of hat hair. Especially during summer, or after a particularly energetic schooling session, removing your hat isn’t always a pretty sight, or at least for me it most definitely isn’t! However, hat-hair and a bit of sweatiness is a tiny price to pay for the protection that a riding hat offers, and one that the vast majority of riders don’t even think twice about. Whilst a riding hat cannot be guaranteed to prevent head injury completely, what is for sure is that it greatly reduces this risk.
So, keep your head, wear a riding helmet and show that as an equestrian you care more about what you do than how you look!
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Martin Clunes and The British Horse Society are encouraging riders to post selfies of their hat hair in order to raise awareness of riding hat safety. Let's face it, especially in the summer our barnets don't always emerge looking their best when we remove our riding hats, and some riders can be tempted not to wear one for the sake of vanity. But surely it's cooler to have hat hair than a cracked skull! So, let's prove that we equestrians are more into what we do and having fun rather than how we look all the time! Anyway, over to Martin, for more info ...
I nominate you!
The British Horse Society have nominated me to do a #hathairdontcare selfie... but it looks like I've been photo-bombed in the process!
Now I'm nominating you to show your support for hat safety! I think most of us have been in the position where we or someone we know has thought 'thank goodness for my riding hat!' after a fall or accident. Let's make sure everyone has the chance to walk away thinking that.
1. Take a hat hair selfie after you’ve been out riding
2. Upload it to social media
3. Use the hashtag #hathairdontcare
4. Nominate three friends to post one too.
We need you to get on-board and campaign for riding hat safety! You can load it onto Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #hathairdontcare and tag The British Horse Society. Nominate three friends to do the same and let's be proud of our 'hat hair'!
We all know how important wearing a hat is when riding but did you know that:
• You should replace your hat after a fall or impact – this can damage the hat and make it less effective
• Your hat has a shelf life – we recommend changing your hat every three – five years
• It should meet safety standards – check if yours does now
• Your hat is more effective if correctly fitted, a free service offered by many tack shops – never buy a child a hat ‘to grow in to’, get it correctly fitted for both children and adults
• You should always do up the chin strap
• The ruffled ‘bed hair’ look is all the rage, let’s show the fashionistas who’s boss with our hat hair – sometimes, even accessorised with hay strands – a look unique for us – the equestrian chic!
Did you see us at Royal Ascot? We kicked this campaign off on the opening day of the Royal meeting with an embellished Patey Protector, kindly donated by Patey Hats.The Patey Protector is a newly developed hat that meets the European safety standards – it’s great to see everyone embracing the need for standardised protective head gear.The hat was designed as well as modelled and managed all by BHS staff and it really turned heads – we got so many compliments, smiles and great pictures as well as mentions in the press too! We had to dust off the hay strands and scrub up to get through the gates of the Berkshire racecourse and Forever Unique did a fab job of dressing our model, kindly donating a very British themed outfit to complement our hat!
Now it’s your turn! We need you to support the campaign and help us raise awareness of riding hat safety. All you need to do is post a selfie on social media and that’s it! Let’s make this go far and wide!