Redefining the Riding Accident
In nearly 25 years of riding and numerous unplanned dismounts; I can cite only 4 incidents in which I was actually hurt beyond just shaking it off and moving on. Up until just last year I never understood that there really can just be a riding “accident”. I had always just thought a fall was a fall, regardless of what the ultimate cause was. My two most recent experiences redefined the term “riding accident” for me. I now refer to a riding accident as one of which neither you, nor your horse has any control over the ultimate outcome. The lack of control fundamentally changed the way I feel about riding. It is not just the rather rude introduction to fear on a level that I am not particularly familiar with, but also one of enlightenment in better understanding that a riding accident really can happen at any time for any reason.
A learning experience
In both occasions two well trained and obedient horses, which had been in regular work suddenly wiped out while working at the canter. Last year’s fall was with my then 6 year old horse. I never had falling while competing in the dressage phase on my radar. My anxiety always surrounded the possibility of a fall out on cross country. It was a great example for rule book roulette. It turns out that in USEA eventing dressage you can choose to continue if your horse falls (EV136.1.d). The fall was dramatic but it was on grass and I did not take a direct hit to my head. I was scared more so than hurt and worried more that my horse may have suffered any injury than myself. In the next few rides I felt anxiety to canter on a 20 meter circle and was hyper aware that my horse just did not seem quite right. He underwent a full lameness evaluation with the veterinarian and we came up with a plan based on his individual needs which included corrective shoeing, a change in primary discipline and additional therapies to help him gain strength in areas where he was lacking.
A bad fall
I have never had anxiety on hunting mornings, the way that I had experienced anxiety running cross country. Just three weeks ago I suffered another fall at the canter. I had been learning some of the ins and outs of Whipping-in for foxhunting and wanted to train my aged mare as a backup should my primary horse be unable to hunt. The hounds hit a line and we were cantering down a trail keeping an ideal position along with them. The trail was hard packed dry dirt. There was a very gentle curve but I did not notice any roots, rocks or other obstructions that would raise any sort of concern. My horse was balanced and comfortable when out of nowhere her hind end slipped out from under her. In what felt like minutes but in reality mere milliseconds, the right side of my face was being scraped against the dirt of the trail. For a moment I was being bent in half backwards, then, as quick as I had been face down I was jerked back up off the ground and dumped directly onto the top right side my head. There was a sickening crackling and popping sound all down the left side of my neck and upper back. I saw a flash of the blue sky through the tree’s and distinctly remember wondering if this is how it all ends. Everything went still and quiet. I thought of my young son. I thought of my husband. I thought of what would happen to my horses. I then realized that I was still thinking. Despite a hard knock to my helmet I was awake and able to move.
Afraid to see what state my horse was in I rolled up onto my hands and knees and found her standing quietly in the trail with a calm but confused look on her face. I climbed up onto my feet and tried to take a few breathes to calm myself while doing “inventory” on my horse and then quickly checking myself over. There was nothing obviously broken. There was a little blood from lacerations on my face and nose but nothing serious. I had lost a contact lens but knew my glasses were back in my truck. I had a heaping helping of dust and dirt in my mouth but no missing teeth. I grabbed up the items that had scattered about the trail including my new hunt whip. I took my horse by the reins and started walking down the trail in the direction where the rest of the field had been headed.
The long walk home
Upon reaching one of our joint masters, we briefly discussed what had happened. I was told that I was white as a ghost and that it was best for me to head back to the trailers. That was emotionally the hardest part after realizing that I was fundamentally “ok”.
Many of us are taught from the beginning, to get back on when we fall off. The option of not being able to just “kick on” was difficult even though I knew it was for the best. Granted I did indeed get back on, but doing so as a means to get back home is just not the same as continuing on with your day. When I arrived back to the trailers I was greeted by one of our members who was acting as a road whip that day. He had asked me a few questions which admittedly were not exactly easy for me to answer. One that a vividly remember was “Do you know what day it is?” my answer was “The first day I fell off hunting?” yeah not exactly the answer he was looking for but good for a chuckle. I managed to keep my emotions relatively in check while untacking and preparing to leave. But you know, it’s really tough on us girls to fall off, I definitely had a good cry on my way home.
After getting my horse put away and into street clothes I stopped in at the urgent care and was promptly turned away after describing the details of my fall. I then had a visit to the Emergency Room and after evaluation and imaging I was released with thankfully no serious injuries. My next stop was to the chiropractor for a round of therapeutic snapping and popping which thankfully helped to significantly lower my pain level right away. I most definitely owe my good fortune to my choice of wearing an approved safety helmet. I could tell that I had been addled. Answering questions and critical thinking were noticeably more difficult. In days that followed I felt as If I had been run down by a truck. I looked the part as well with lacerations in my mouth, a black eye, bruising and road rash on my face. All of which mostly resolved within the first week. Some lingering back pain required another follow-up with my General Practitioner to make sure we did not miss something at the ER, but time will heal what is left.
My horse despite not having any lacerations and walking out fine in the days that followed; developed a hematoma on her chest and was a bit sore in her hind end. Obviously the fall was just as tough on here as it was on me. Since my horses are both my partners and friends, I think it is really important to express to them that everything is “ok”, so that emotionally the understand that I am not mad at them for what had happened. Recognizing the difference between an accident an disobedience is a key factor here. The look on her face after the accident told me that the ordeal scared her just as much as it did to me. I was extra attentive to her needs and with love and supportive care she was back to her usual self in no time at all.
Costs and Considerations
The hospital bills will come later but my poor helmet! My Charles Owen AYR8 was one of my most favorite features of my foxhunting turnout! Despite being scraped down the trail and suffering a HARD direct hit, my helmet does not show any outward damage. Unfortunately riding helmets are not designed to protect against multiple impacts and as such it has sadly been retired to an article of apparel until I can replace it with the same model. In the mean time I have switched to wearing my Charles Owen 4Star Helmet, which I purchased last year in anticipation of moving up to Novice level eventing.
Many of the top helmet manufacturers offer accident replacement programs. These programs are designed to help ease some of the costs associated with purchasing a new helmet in the event that your helmet was involved in an impact. Considering that many of the manufacturers have strict pricing policies, taking advantage of this program can allow you to get a replacement right away. Depending on the manufacturer, the policy may only apply to helmets purchased with the past 12 months or on a pro-rated rate up to as many as 3 years. With any new helmet purchase I strongly encourage you to send in that registration card, retain the receipt and documentation along with your other important documents. Though helmet registration is not required as a pre-req to replacement with most manufacturers; the vast majority do require a dated sales slip in order to qualify.
Celebrating the Helmet
If you have been dragging your feet on replacing your current helmet, here is your chance! Many manufacturers are allowing special sales in celebration of International Helmet Awareness Day on September 16th and 17th, 2017. This means Big Dee’s Tack is going to be having a Great Big Helmet Sale! This special celebration dedicated to riding helmets was a grass roots movement by riders4helmets that has gained international momentum! IHAD reminds us to #MindYourMelon not only is it a great time to pledge to wear your helmet #everyrideeverytime
IHAD also serves as a great reminder to evaluate your existing helmets. Look for manufacturing dates and general wear and tear that could interfere with the effectiveness in the event of a fall. It is strongly suggested by most manufacturers that you should replace your helmet every 5 years even if it has not been in a fall. Dates can frequently be found on a sticker mounted to the inside of the helmet. While looking over your existing helmets be on the lookout for missing pieces such as internal liners, broken buckles and missing stabilizers; all of which can cause even a good helmet to not perform as expected in an accident. If your helmet is missing the manufacturing date and you can’t remember when it was purchased it is probably a good sign that it is time to replace it. As always, don’t leave your helmet in a hot vehicle and steer clear of used helmets. When it comes to protecting your brain it really is best to know your helmets history.
My message to other riders
The costs of a serious fall are as varied as the horses we ride. It is easy to take minor falls for granted. Some of us have had accidents that leave us with extended healing times at best, while others sadly pay the ultimate price. I consider myself
really fortunate in that, much like wearing a seat belt has become second nature when riding in a car; I automatically wear a helmet every single time I ride. I can buy a new helmet, I cannot say the same for a new brain. With this second unexpected fall I have realized that anyone can have a riding accident at any time, for any number of reasons. It does not matter how experienced you or your horse is. It doesn’t matter what discipline you participate in. Even those who have never left the walk, are not immune to having a serious fall. If you love riding it is in your absolute best interest to protect yourself. It is hard to imagine all of the pain and suffering my family and horses would have gone through if I had not been wearing my helmet. This accident has given me an opportunity to re-evaluate my safety gear. In addition to replacing my helmet I hope to soon add an air vest as well. I hope for the sake of your horses and those who love you please consider wearing an approved helmet #everyrideeverytime.