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Safety in riding programs: a director's guide.

Riding programs, just like all other aspects of camp, need to be examined for liability and risk management issues on a regular basis. Although a comprehensive review of program and facility safety requires a certified equestrian consultant, camp directors can perform a basic safety assessment of riding program procedures with some fundamental information. Give yourself as much time as needed to review your camp's written policies regarding your riding program, then observe your riding program in action. Use the following list as an elementary risk management guide.

Have riders wear proper safety apparel

Ensuring that riders have proper safety apparel is one of the first steps in preventing accidents. Instructors should conduct a safety check of riders before allowing them to mount. All lose clothing should be removed or secured tightly. Riders should remove jewelry until they are finished with the activity.

Footwear

All riders should wear footwear that has smooth, hard soles; a heel that is at least one inch deep; and a hard covering. Hiking boots with thick waffled soles should not be allowed. Boots and shoes with heels prevent riders' feet from slipping through open stirrups and becoming trapped.

Riders who are wearing sneakers should never be allowed to use stirrups unless extra safety precautions are taken. All major horsemanship associations warn against this practice.

Because so many campers are in the category of single-experience recreational riders, camps may be hesitant to require participants to purchase special footwear. Some camps resolve this problem by having sneakered participants ride without stirrups. This practice eliminates the risk of foot entrapment but also reduces the riders' stability and ability to balance, thus increasing the risk of a fall.

There are better solutions to this problem. Purchase second hand boots from thrift stores and ask returning campers to donate old and outgrown boots. Riders without boots can then select a pair that fits from the boot collection. Safety stirrups, which reduce the risk of entrapment, are also available. Several horsemanship associations have endorsed their use. They come in several different designs and are available for English and western saddle styles. Although prices vary according to style, expect to pay between $24 and $35 per pair.

Helmets

Facilities should require that all riders use ASTM-SEI approved equestrian helmets. All staff should be trained in the proper fitting and adjustment of helmets and should perform this service for riders.

Make sure that your staff is vigilant about insisting that all riders wear the correct helmets with the harnesses fastened. The camp director or riding head should consult with authorities to determine appropriate types of helmets, based on the type and level of activity. Most horsemanship organizations can supply a list of companies that manufacture protective headgear that has undergone safety tests and met minimum requirements.

Remove all obstructions from your riding rings

Unless your camp only has a trail riding program, your barn probably has some sort of fenced enclosure for lessons. Make sure this area meets accepted standards. Posts should be placed on the outside of rails. Fencing should made of wood, vinyl, or pipes. Barbed wire and cable are too dangerous to ever be used. Fences should be a minimum of three and one half feet tall and should provide a definite visual barrier.

The riding area must also be free of all obstructions when it is in use. The only items that should be in the area are objects that are being used as part of the lesson, such as barrels, jumps, and cones. Some objects, including trees, water troughs, brick walkways, hoses, benches, and built-in jumps, may seem innocent enough, but a hose can cause a horse to trip, and a bench can transform a rider's harmless tumble into a painful crash. Arena obstructions also include loose fence rails and objects left lying on the fence, such as saddles, jackets, and blankets. These objects can be knocked or blown off the fence and may spook a passing horse. Riders could also catch a toe on the object and be seriously injured.

Eliminating obstructions may be as easy as moving the hose or, in the case of trees, be complicated enough to merit hiring a contractor. Once the large obstructions are eliminated, remind your instructors to do a quick safety check of the riding area each morning. The safety check will allow staff to identify and remove any small hazards before lessons begin.

Make sure gates and barn doors are closed

It's pretty common knowledge that horses like to run back to the barn - that's where the food is. One staff member should wait until all riders are ready to go, and then close and latch the arena gate before giving the signal to mount.

Require everyone to use lead ropes

Insist that everyone use a lead rope attached to the halter whenever leading horses. The lead rope should never be wrapped around a hand, arm, or any other part of the body, as this presents a danger of entrapment and injury.

Leading horses by their halters without lead ropes guarantees loose horses and risks broken fingers. Horses can move their heads with amazing speed and vigor, particularly when snapping at biting flies or plunging their noses into feed buckets.

Store equine medications in a locked cabinet

Just like medications for campers and staff, equine medications should be locked up and kept under the careful watch of staff. Even if your barn's medications are kept in a locked tack room, you should insist that they also be secured in a locked cabinet. This precaution ensures that the medications stay away from campers, even if the tack room is inadvertently left open. Be aware that some equine medications are quite toxic and are a serious danger to humans. Padlocks and lock boxes are inexpensive and absolutely necessary.

Ban smoking from your barn and paddock area

Barns are full of extremely combustible materials and are no place for lit cigarettes. After posting "No Smoking" signs, follow through on them. Don't allow staff or visiting parents to smoke inside the barn or just outside the doorway. If necessary, provide a smoking area and a sand-filled disposal bucket that is a safe distance from your barn. Have staff gently explain to visiting parents the volatile nature of the barn, and steer smokers to the safe zone.

As camp director, you may read this list and acknowledge that you already have written policies in place for many or all of these issues. But how well are these written policies practiced and enforced? Your barn director needs to be a relentless advocate of safety procedures and should insist that staff follow suit. Demonstrate your commitment to a safe environment by visiting the barn and observing the procedures in action. Impress upon your barn staff the importance of risk management and their responsibility to model good horsemanship for campers.

RELATED ARTICLE: Additional Risk Management Considerations for Riding Programs

Education

If you do not already do so, require that all riding staff be certified by a nationally recognized certification body. The majority of certification bodies include safety standards and programs for instructors to follow. Your riding director should be at least 21 years old, instructors should be 18 or older, and all assistants should be 16 or above. This requirement alone will greatly reduce the risks of incidents occurring in your camp's riding program. If the instructor is also certified by level of ability, you can be sure that he or she is capable of teaching the level of riding that you advertise. It is unsafe for instructors to try to teach skills that they do not understand.

Written procedures

Standardized written procedures for your riding staff should include all actions from the time the staff arrive at the barn in the morning until the time they leave at night. This practice eliminates the risk of incidents causing surprises and of staff forgetting to follow a routine safety procedure.

Safety rules, written clearly and in easily understood language, should be posted where the public can see them as they approach the barn.

- Dodi L. Stacey, president of CHA - The Association of Horsemanship Safety

Teresa Kpachavi has been a member of CHA-The Association for Horsemanship Safety and Education since 1984. As a CHA certified clinic instructor, she has taught several training clinics across the nation. In addition to doing occasional equine consulting and workshops, she is currently working as the youth ministry director at a Lutheran church.

For additional risk management and riding safety guidelines, camp directors can contact these horsemanship associations:

American Association for Horsemanship Safety, Drawer 39, Fentress, TX 78622; 512-488-2220; fax 512-488-2319.

CHA - The Association for Horsemanship Safety and Education, 5318 Old Bullard Rd., Tyler, TX 75703; 800-399-0138; fax 903-509-2474.

Horsemanship Safety Association, 517 Bear Rd., Lake Placid, FL 33852; 800-798-8106.

North American Horsemen's Association, P.O. Box 223, 114 Washburne Ave., Payensville, MN 56362; 612-243-7250; fax 612-243-7224.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kpachavi, Teresa
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:1482
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