Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- On Guard!

After 14 years working with horses, it finally happened... the e-mail from my friend CG began. It continued with a detailed description of how she got -- rather badly -- hurt.

She'd been lunging a Haflinger mare that she knew well. Now that it's officially Fall in Michigan, the horses have been feeling their oats and kicking up their heels a bit more than usual.

She saw it coming. But she didn't move fast enough. The end result was that the Haflinger firmly planted both feet on my friend's chest. CG threw up her hands in an unthinking, instinctive move to guard herself, they got kicked, too -- and she has a fractured knuckle to prove it!

She's just started a specialized training program and has a two-year old little boy, in addition to the various animals in her menagerie. Taking care of her dependents with a cast on while the fracture heals isn't going to be a cakewalk.

When you work around horses all the time, it's so easy to get sloppy or to let your guard down. It happens to the best of us. But it only takes a split second for the horse's instinct to triumph over years of domesticity... and for someone to get hurt.

This past spring, a woman in our county was feeding her friend's Belgians while the friend was gone. When the woman was late coming home, her husband went to check on her. He found her in the pasture where she'd been kicked in the head and trampled to death.

Earlier this year, my friend PF was feeding her 20-something year old mare when the horse turned on her. This mare had been used as a therapy horse for handicapped students for over 15 years. She was the quietest, calmest thing on the planet. PF still doesn't know what set the horse off. But the mare attacked her, got her backed into a corner -- and probably would have killed her, if a neighbor hadn't heard the commotion and come over to help.

A few short months ago, my farrier hyperextended his knee when a young horse he was trimming moved suddenly and lashed out at him, catching him off guard and off balance.

And just last month, my friend, the wonderful equine photographer Charles Hilton, moved closer to the horse during a photo shoot so he could show the rider the latest shots through his digital camera. The horse cow kicked and blew Charles' knee.

Now that the snap of cool weather is in the air, it can invigorate even the most blase of old geldings. No horse is so quiet that a sudden movement won't startle it. No horse is so calm that it can't move quickly and step on your foot.

Just a word to the wise as winter approaches -- be aware, and be prepared for anything.