Horse Tip Daily #34 – Julie Goodnight On Trailer Safety

Horse Tip Daily #34 – Julie Goodnight on Trailer Safety


Safety Concerns: When To Do An Emergency Dismount Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: I had an interesting question recently from one of my good Facebook friends: “If you want to stay on, at what moment does the rider decide to execute an “emergency dismount”?”

Answer: This is a good question and one to which there is no definitive answer, except, “it all depends on the circumstance.” In general you are usually better off and safer staying on the horse if it is at all possible. Even teaching the emergency dismount is somewhat controversial for two reasons. First, practicing the emergency dismount is risky and injury-prone; when vaulting off a moving horse, it’s easy to fall down, sprain an ankle or worse. So practicing something that you may or may not ever need but may cause injury just by practicing is questionable. Of course, you could certainly argue the opposite that if you were to ever need it, having practiced it may make you less prone to injury. When I taught kids, I had them learn and practice the emergency dismount routinely. Now that my student base is middle-aged and older adults, I don’t teach it at all—because of the potential for injury in the practice.

The second reason why it is controversial to teach the emergency dismount is because you may end up with a rider that bails off the horse for no good reason when they should have stayed on and this can cause a lot of problems. Again, you are usually safer on the horse than off, because once you come off you are probably going to hit the ground (or some other hard object) and you may become a victim of the horse’s hooves. However, like everything with horses, there are exceptions to the rule.

In my entire riding career, I have only voluntarily come off a horse a few times. I have certainly had plenty of “unscheduled dismounts” through the years, but those weren’t by choice. Most of the time I have come off a horse, I have realized that I couldn’t stay on because I was too out of position or out of balance and I came off knowingly but not exactly executing an emergency dismount—more like being ejected. It’s funny how time seems to be suspended in those moments and usually there is time to think about the fact you are going to come off and how and where you might land, but not enough time to execute an emergency dismount.

The few times I have voluntarily done an emergency dismount, there have been some extenuating circumstances, and these are probably the only situations in which I would do it. In both instances I can remember, the horse was running away with me, out in the open—not in an arena– maybe bucking maybe not, but I had already tried my best to regain control and I determined I couldn’t do it. Running away, in and of itself, is not enough to make me bail because the one thing about a runaway horse, which I learned riding race horses, is that eventually he will run out of oxygen and stop. In both cases that I did bail, the horse was headed for something dangerous, like a barb-wire fence, with seemingly no concern about his own well-being. Running away is one thing, but when the horse is in such a panic that it loses its sense of self-preservation, you’re in trouble. And BTW—this is a good thing to remember—when the horse is willing to cause injury to himself, he is way beyond rational control and both of you are at great risk.

There are probably a few circumstances where in hind-sight I should have bailed off but didn’t. But my tendency is to stay on board if at all possible. I think that if a rider is too quick to bail off, not only is she risking injury in the dismount but there will also be times when she would’ve stayed on if she had tried. But a controlled crash-landing is usually better than an uncontrolled one. I do think there is some value in learning how to take a fall—tuck and roll. And I think it is valuable to know the process of an emergency dismount.

There are two really critical factors when you are coming off a horse– whether it’s an emergency dismount or not. First, you have to get your feet clear of the stirrups ASAP. You’d be surprised how many people, in a panic, go to dismount and forget to take their feet out. The potential disastrous results are obvious. Secondly, DO NOT hold onto the reins—let the horse go! You’d be surprised how many people try to hang onto the reins when they fall, in a last-ditch effort to maintain control, and then end up pulling the horse down onto them or breaking an arm or dislocating a shoulder. If you are coming off a horse, voluntarily or not, get your feet out of the stirrups and let go, pushing yourself as far away from the horse as possible.

It is an unfortunate characteristic of the sport that things sometimes do not go according to plan. And even with the most docile, steady horse, there may be times when bad things happen. Keeping your wits about you and continuing to think through the crisis are the most useful tools you have. The emergency dismount has its time and place, but it should be a method of last resort.

Here’s to hoping you always stay on the topside!


Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Safety Concerns: Should Toddlers Be Riding? Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: My niece is 4 years old, and small for her age, but loves horses and riding. We would sit her on a horse from the time she was able to sit up, being held by an adult for a short lead-line ride. When she was two we got her a toddler helmet and adjusted it to fit her head well, and someone would lead her around while I taught her how to hold her reins, correct leg position, and steering. At three she began competing in shows, assisted, of course, did well and won some ribbons. My question is this: Was doing this unsafe, and should I stop? I hate to make her stop riding now that she is addicted; nor do I want to do risky things.

Answer: I think what you are doing is just fine. While I cannot go so far as to say there is no risk or that it is a safe thing to do, you are mitigating the risk as much as possible and therefore doing it as safely as it can be done. You are knowledgeable and experienced and have looked at every avenue you can control and made the best decisions on horse, equipment and support.

Unfortunately not everyone has this much judgment and experience, so you can see why we can’t come right out and say, “sure, it’s fine for your toddler to ride, you go right ahead.” There are many great instructors that specialize in riding and horseplay with young children. The most critical factor is that it is at least one-on-one and for children under five, there should be at least a two-to-one ratio of adults to child. At its best, riding is risky and for toddlers and children under six, it is even riskier because of their size and vulnerability and lack of coordination and judgment.

We take many risks daily around horses. What is important is that first, the risk is a worthwhile risk that we are benefiting from it in some way; and second, that we mitigate the risk as much as possible. For instance, while riding without your hands on the reins may be a worthwhile risk when certain safety considerations are met; it would be a pointless risk to not have a hand on the reins when you are standing around waiting for something. If there is not a direct benefit, don’t take the risk. And if you take the risk, mitigate it by riding a safe horse, securing the reins, wearing a helmet, riding in a confined area, etc. Riding without reins certainly increases the risk to a rider but if we address the potential risks first, the fact that it will make a better rider of you makes the risk worth taking. Having enough experience to have the judgment to determine what the potential problems are in the first place is the part most people are lacking.

I must confess that my son started as a toddler, well, as a baby really; but like you, I looked at every possible risk. Except there was that one time when he was about three and we carefully planned out his first “trail” ride. Two people tacking one horse is never a good idea…. Sure enough, whichever one of us was supposed to tighten the girth before we hoisted Hunter up, didn’t (and we routinely left the cinches loose when we first saddled, and waited until we were ready to mount the rider to tighten). With my trusted protégé ponying Hunter on his very nice older Welsh-Shetland cross, I was riding directly behind Hunter on my trusted mare, with the eyes of an eagle on its prey (or should I say, on its offspring).
Hunter squealed with delight on the ride and chattered and sang the whole way (one of the great joys of life is to watch a young child on their first ride bubbling over with joy). Approaching our first little hill, I ran my eyes over the pony to check the gear and to my horror, there was about two inches of daylight between the cinch and the horse’s girth. Luckily a steady, smooth gaited and balanced pony kept the saddle from slipping and I rectified the situation post haste. It was a stupid mistake that could of caused a wreck but we got away with it. Anyway, the short answer to your question is, yes, you are doing it right. Good job! Keep it safe.

Post-script: Literally five minutes after finishing this article, I received a phone call from a woman who was looking for a horse for her daughter and was told I might be able to help. When questioned further, I found out that the family had never owned or really ridden horses other than at a trail barn and that they were looking for a horse for their three-year-old daughter to start barrel racing on. No kidding. You can see why CHA has to stick with the statement that toddlers and small children should not ride!

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.