“It takes 100 per cent of your focus, you must be feeling well to go riding.”
– Robert Moshenko
Robert Moshenko has seen and worked with a lot of good horses in his time, but he hasn’t found one yet that fits the often used description of “bombproof.”
“Horses all have individual personalities, but quiet horses can sometimes be the most dangerous,” he told about 30 young 4-H’ers and their leaders at a recent seminar. “That’s because you let your guard down and you take things for granted.”
Moshenko stressed riders must always understand that when something unexpected happens, the horse’s instincts as a prey animal kick in to high gear – no matter how good their training. “No one can train a horse not to be a horse,” he warned. “There is no such thing as a bombproof horse.”
Moshenko, a quarter-horse breeder who holds a masters in science and who is a member of the American Association for Horsemanship Safety, noted equine sports are among the top three most dangerous sporting activities, next to racing cars and motorcycles. Sixty per cent of horse-related injuries are head injuries and 75 per cent of those could have been prevented by wearing a helmet.
HELMETS A NO-BRAINER
For him, helmets when riding and even when working around horses on the ground are a no-brainer. Yet when he asked the seminar group how many riders routinely wear helmets, fewer than half put up their hands.
Another hazard particular to the up-and-coming generation of equine enthusiasts is the cellphone. While it’s OK to bring one along, Moshenko said it should be turned off. Even in the vibrate mode, it can make enough sound to spook a horse.
It’s not a good idea to buy a horse expecting a child to “grow into it,” or to buy a young horse thinking the horse and child can grow up together, Moshenko said. A horse that will be ridden by youth should be a size the youth can manage and it should be mature and well trained.
He believes having dogs around when working with horses adds a degree of unpredictability that can be hazardous. The same goes for riding in areas where there are loose horses.
“Safety is about awareness,” Moshenko said. He said safe riding is about taking stock of the potential risks, assessing them and taking action to address them, whether it is noticing things along the trail that could spook the horse, checking before going out to ensure the tack is properly fitted and in good working order, or deciding whether the weather conditions are conducive to safe riding.
Most horse-related accidents come down to one of two things: either bad judgment or a lack of skill. “Either you don’t have the skills or your horse doesn’t have the skills.”
Building trust in your horse is about providing them with security and comfort. That means conditioning through repetitive training in a safe environment before exposing them to new sights and sounds on the trail. Many of the things riders ask their horses to tolerate, such as loud noises or even lifting their feet, are counterintuitive to horse behaviour in the natural environment. So it takes time and practice to make them comfortable with it.
Safe horse handling means working with your horse often – every day if possible, he said. Underworked and overfed horses can be a bad combination. However, if the rider is feeling stressed, rushed for time, tired or upset, it is not a good day to be riding. “It takes 100 per cent of your focus, you must be feeling well to go riding.”
Likewise, if your horse seems “off ”; save the riding for another day.
It’s always best to ride with a buddy.
Moshenko said when on a trail ride, the rule of thumb is to ride single file and spaced far enough apart that the riders can look between their horse’s ears and see the hooves of the horse in front of them. [email protected]