The illusion of safety – it’s not about the horse!

20121015 HIM 063 Humans are the most incredible of species. We are so creative, inventive and full of fantastic ideas on how to make, fix or improve things that it’s almost mind-boggling. You’ve only got to pay a visit to the nearest tack store to see evidence of this……bits and training aids for all occasions, books full of handy hints on how to fix your horse and train him to do what you want and for almost every unfortunate mishap that has ever prevailed itself upon the poor human, we have all sorts of safety aids and devices to protect us. And yet, even with all of this wellintentioned advice and equipment, unfortunately everyday somewhere in the world, people are still getting hurt and killed around horses.

Studies show that in Australia alone there are more than three thousand serious injuries each year, just related to actual horse riding, not including horse-handling injuries like biting, kicking and crushing. That’s more than eight people per day. More than twenty of these result in death and seven hundred result in serious brain injury!

For the ever safety and security conscious human, it seems that almost every month there is some new device invented that will control or contain the horse in some way and failing that will protect us if the worst should happen. And each thing seems to take us further and further from our dream of freedom and exhilaration, that only the magnificent horse can bring us. Perhaps then, we should content ourselves with riding a push-bike or perhaps just watching videos of other people enjoying their equine partnerships!

For all of us horse true lovers though, this is not an option is it! And of course, we all want to be as safe as we can around our horses for both our sake and theirs…..after all, who gets the blame when things go badly for horse and rider; whose reputation is tarnished once again?

Current trends support supposed safety measures that contain the horse and protect the rider from physical harm and no one can blame the powers that be for doing so……something must be done. How much better though, if we put this large brain that we have and all its powers for fixing problems, to the issue of achieving real and consistent safety for riders by equipping them with by far the best safety tool available…..true knowledge!

Real safety is knowledge, not wrapping yourself up in protective clothing or body armour, which may even give you a false sense of security.

Through our journey to achieving horsemanship, we have discovered that you can try to control the horse, his environment and circumstances as much as you like. Don all the protective gear you can find, take every precaution and while you will certainly be better off should some mishap occur, you are still far from guaranteed safety. In fact, knowing what we do about how the horse perceives emotions, particularly fear in the rider, you are more likely to cause something to happen with your very expectations. I agree that we should take every safety precaution possible and helmets and vests do make a difference, however it’s not enough. And wearing protective gear can, as I’ve mentioned already, give the rider a false sense of security. Far too many people are still getting hurt. So how then do we increase our chances of being safe around horses and even better, enjoying our time with them?

Knowledge, pure and simple is the key. Even now after many years of ‘natural’ horsemanship being available to riders, common sense around horses is still largely based on the human perception of the world. Looking at things from the horse’s point of view, understanding his behaviour and why he does what he does, is still not commonly considered. His actions and reactions are still interpreted from a human perspective and dealt with accordingly, which more often than not simply makes the situation worse. The results of which then sadly become just accepted behaviours and beliefs about horses. In the eyes of many, they become creatures that are flighty, highly strung, unpredictable and potentially dangerous, when in actuality the opposite is closer to the truth. You have only to look at a herd of horses in the field to see their true natures. For the most part they are quiet, peaceful creatures content to graze and socialize. For only a small portion of the day do they play and on occasion, when they perceive danger, do they run and express postures of fear and confusion. And yet, all around the world every day, there are horses interacting with humans displaying the latter far more frequently than the former. And still we, the intelligent species, have not quite managed to make the connection.

We already have a natural barrier between us, that of predator and prey. Treating a horse like another predator, a dog for instance, is more likely to create an adverse reaction than a favourable one. Reprimanding a horse for not standing still – for example growling at it, yanking on the lead rope, or trying to make it stand still – will only cause the flight-response prey animal to feel even more fearful at being in the hands of a predator. All of these actions portrayed by humans, are those of a predator. So even if the horse was initially feeling only slightly uncomfortable, his fear could quickly escalate into something more serious and more dangerous, when treated this way.

We’ve all seen what a horse can do if he desperately feels the need to escape. Freedom to a horse, is even more important that the risk of injury and they will often hurt themselves and any poor human who happens to be in the way, in the process of achieving it. The big problem is that the horse then gets labeled naughty or crazy, which is our human perception, rather than more truthfully seen as simply being scared. We reprimand the horse for misbehaving, the horse gets more scared, we reprimand him some more and again he gets more scared until the whole scenario ends up being dangerous for both horse and human and of course the horse gets the blame for our lack of understanding.

True knowledge and understanding about what makes horses tick, why they do what they do and how to influence their behaviour in a positive way that is beneficial to both horse and rider, is the only way to increase safety and security for both. This is the ultimate case of prevention being far better than cure, as only with this true understanding can a huge proportion of horse related accidents be avoided and in many cases be prevented altogether.

A little bit of knowledge goes along way, however until we set the standard of seeking this knowledge and educating all horse riders to truly understand horses, nothing will change. While we continue to accept the current methodology and beliefs about horses and try to use traditional forms of control and containment, people will continue to get hurt.

Meredith Ransley
co founder Quantum Savvy

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3 Responses to The illusion of safety – it’s not about the horse!

  1. Gina Rossdale-Smith says:

    Hi Meridith,
    I enjoy your articles. When I joined QS and attended your Summer course this year, I received 4 modules each with week 1,2,3, 4. I was working through them albeit slowly and then one day they were deleted from my in-box all but Module 1 week 1!
    May I have them back please as I am still a gold member!
    Many thanks
    Gina( Your RFT course in Ockham UK was fab)

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