A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Safety While Riding

This is what I asked for as my birthday present this year.  A nice riding helmet, with ventilation, neutral color (preferably light) that has a quality harness.  Many of my riding helmets are getting older, and the harnesses have stretched out making them not fit as securely.  I'm hoping I get the exact model shown here!

I don't have a strict view on helmet use.  I feel that for children, it is their parent's responsibility, not MINE to choose whether or not that child should wear a helmet when riding.  Since I have always heard how "you don't have children, you can't understand" I have learned that well... I don't have kids, and I don't understand.  So I'm not the right person to tell ANY parent how to do ANYthing with their child.

I also vary in my helmet use.  I'll gladly hop on a horse with just a lead rope and halter, and head off across the pasture.  I do ride barefoot, I have ridden in tennis shoes, and I own 5 different pairs of riding boots, but sometimes the horse is there, and I decide to just hop on.  It's true, I'm not always very safe when working with my horses.  It's also true that I know my horses well, know which I can be less safe with, and I accept the fact that my choices could lead to injury.  As an adult, I can do that.  As a child, I had to do what my momma told me (although I wasn't always good at that either!)

My personal feelings though do not fit into a cut and dry formula for when to wear a helmet and when not to.  I do feel that it's never my place to tell any one else that they need one (although, I think that making people aware of the benefits of a riding helmet are always good).  My stable laws are actually set up so that riders can make their own choice.  My release form states the use of helmets is a good idea, and those who choose not to release me from all liability from harm. There's no law to wear helmets, and I don't feel it's my place to tell others how to be safe.  I do feel that as someone with experience in horses it is my responsibility to make riders aware of the potential risks of horses, and possible bodily harm they can cause.

I often listen to the riding helmet debate, and wonder why we are so worried about our heads, and nothing else.  Body protection is just as important.  During my time working in an ER, I saw  plenty of horse injuries.  Every August the rodeo came into town, and I would see cowboys rushed into the ER with their sternum broken, punctured lungs, heart issues from forced compression (it's really not good when a horse jumps on your chest).  Many of these riders had been wearing no protection at all.

And yet, we rarely head people discussing the benefits of wearing body protection while riding.  Why not?

My limited experience with dirt bikes left me checking out all of their available protection, and thinking how well it translates to the horse world.  Check out that body armor!  Protection for your arms as well, with range of motion kept in mind.  Often these body protectors have oodles of ventilation to keep the rider from getting too hot, and to encourage the use of the protection.  How cool is that? (No pun intended)

Of course, when I had a dirt bike, and actually rode it, again, I wasn't always as good about putting on my protection as I should.  Yep, I wore a helmet, but that was from speed.  I also wear a helmet every time I plan to canter, jump, or ride a horse that might decide to do those things on their own.  I'm a slacker, and I openly admit it.

Here's some interesting data:

...there were 5,033 visits during this time span. The average age was 30.0 +/- 17.0 years; 66% were women. The injuries occurred at home (36%), recreation/sporting facility (30%), on a farm (19%), and other public property (12%). The injury was due to a fall (59%), thrown/bucked from the horse (22.0%), and while riding the horse (9%). The most common injuries were contusion/abrasions (31%), fractures (28%), sprain/strains (18%), traumatic brain injuries (12%), and lacerations (6%). The body area injured was the head and neck (24%), trunk (29%), upper extremity (30%), lower extremity (16%), and multiple locations (1%)....

So, there's twice as much of a chance of a fracture, as there is a traumatic brain injury, and a hair more of a chance of a body injury then a head injury.  The natural argument here is "But if you hurt your head, it's worse".  Not really. Most injuries resulting in permanent loss of motion were to the torso (spine) and could have been prevented by wearing body armor like I posted above!  Most injuries resulting in death were to the head.  Ideally, riders should be protecting BOTH.

My point is NOT to say that it's ok to go without protection.  My point is that it doesn't make sense to encourage the use of helmets when so few of us are wearing body armor to keep our legs working after a serious fall!  What we need to be doing is encouraging the use of all protection, and educating the horse owners out there.  That is my goal with this post.

And after knowing all that, I still ride without a helmet (occasionally) or body armor (almost always) I really don't see how I can say anything to any one about what protection they choose to use.   It's also a pretty well known fact that the best protection against injury on a horse is riding lessons.  The more knowledge, muscle training, and experience with balancing and controlling a horse that a rider has, the lower their incidence of serious injury.  No, that does not mean that the chances of getting hurt goes away!  I'm also not currently taking lessons... although I AM working on finding a good instructor.

My better half and I have had many discussions over the "what ifs".  If I get killed riding a horse, I have explained to him exactly what I expect to happen.  The first thing I said was that NOTHING should be done to the horse.  If the horse can not be re-homed into a quality home, then my family is responsible for it, in my memory.  We have discussed what should happen if I am seriously disabled from riding, and the consensus was that we should place/sell the horses who would not be suitable for driving, as that would become my next sport.  I honestly feel that my life wouldn't be as good without horses in it, even if that means it could be shorter.

Having helped my instructor recover from a broken back, having broken an arm in a horse related accident as a child, and taking many many facers off a horse, I am under no delusions that the sport I prefer is very dangerous.  I still can't seem to pull myself away from these animals.  I feel that safety is very important when handling horses, and I work hard to teach people how to interact with a horse in the safest way possible. 

I do wish though, that encouraging the use of helmets and body protection while riding is something that could be done in a more pleasant manner.  I think in our (equestrians) zeal to enlighten others, we often accuse rather then teach.  This confrontational manner often has the opposite result of what we want.  Too often I have talked to people who don't like helmets because of the way they were introduced to the idea.  As those who have been to my farm know, I always mention helmet use. 

Lisa made a wonderful example of encouraging helmet use in the comments to Rover's new home:
"Sure wish that little cutie gal on his back was wearing a helmet and some boots with a heel though.
Horses can spook and be unpredictable and it only takes a second for someone to get seriously hurt. That little sweetie has a lifetime ahead of her and it would really stink if it was spent in a wheelchair."

It's not confrontational, it's enlightening.  I hope we can all encourage our fellow equestrians to be safe like this, and not make new riders feel like they are being run out of town because of their personal choices.  I would also love if we could encourage the use of body armour - although I need to convince myself to use it too.

Note to readers:  I decided to make this post based upon a few coincidences, not because of the comments on my previous entry.  After reading a forum where someone was seriously harassed over not using a helmet (adult rider), I had to vent a bit.  So, for everyone that wants to vent, please feel free to do so here.  We all have different ideas about what is enough, and for me, it's interesting to see where everyone stands on the issues.

And now, I'm going to go wash a draft horse, without a helmet, but with proper footwear, and try not to get over heated in our lovely Texas sun.

17 comments:

  1. Another excellent post!

    I admit that my helmet is out at the barn but I hardly wear it anymore. Bad me. I wore it everytime I rode my big hot draft mare, but not with my slow poke haffie. I also wore it when I first started riding again this spring, but now that I am used to my horse.

    I guess I grew up riding in tennis shoes, I have been known to handle my horses barefoot~ something that happens when they are at home.

    Yet after Courtney King-Dye's story, it has made me think more.

    It is also a culture thing. I am at a private barn and the few of us that board there don't wear helmets, the owner's don't, etc.

    Good food for thought about the body armor, I can't even imagine riding in all that though.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A very thoughtful post, but I completely disagree with some of your statements...

    Two summers ago my best friend and I could have been the poster children for the typical horse-crazy girl. We were carefree and we loved every second that we spent together with our horses. We rode for hours on end doing things that were neither safe nor smart, but we never thought about it. We were having a good time with the animals we loved, and that's all that mattered. Mattered being the key word...

    I remember the day like it was yesterday, unfortunately such things seem to forever remain in your mind. It was a Sunday, later in the afternoon and I got a call. I had been to the barn eariler that day without my dearest friend. I had a violin recital and didn't have time to ride with her. Her mom called my mom sobbing. apparently my friend had been riding her horse and jumping without a helmet (as we usually did back then) when her horse spooked at gosh-knows-what and sent her catapulting towards one of the jump stands. She hit her head smack against either one one the stands or the ground. Either way she was knocked unconscious.

    Her mom was watching and called 911. The doctors told her mom the her brain was bruised and bleeding. That was when her mom called me; the doctors told her mom that there was nothing to be done, the arena and amount of damage was too severe. My bestest friend in this entire world died 7 hours later.

    She wasn't wearing a helmet. Could one have saved her life? I don't know. Maybe, but then again maybe not. I'll never know. My life shattered that day. I almost gave up horses forever, though part of me knew that they would always be a part of me. I'll tell you one thing. I will never get on a horse without a helmet again. I'm not invincible. I can live with a broken arm or leg, I can't with massive head trauma. Being 12 years old and loosing a best friend is beyond the hardest thing and maybe just maybe if she had been wearing a $20 piece of equipment on her head she might still be here to call me her bestest friend until the end.

    So until you've been through what I've been through, it might be hard for you to convince yourself to wear a helmet, but so that you don't have to go through what I went through, please do wear one. Next time you want to just "hop on a horse" please just take a couple extra seconds and grab a helmet. It might not for sure save your life, but it for sure can't kill you.

    -M

    ReplyDelete
  3. I always, always, always wear a helmet when on top of a horse, and sometimes when doing groundwork where things might get dicey. It is possible to be severely injured or even killed while wearing a helmet, but it reduces the odds and it doesn't interfere with my mobility or ability to work with the horses and the new models aren't even uncomfortable.

    Body vests are required at sanctioned events to ride cross-country, and my daughter wore one when she was a junior competing in jumpers.

    So, just like seat belts in cars, it just might save you from death or serious injury and is easy to do once the habit's established -so why not just do it?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have to say that I encourage folks to wear helmets, but tend to teach rather than preach.

    On my place, I can blame it on the insurance company. But in my safety talks at school (primarily with kindergartners and first graders, but sometimes older kids) we talk about "brain safety", not only on horses but on bikes, skateboards, four-wheelers, scooters, skis, whatever. I point out that broken arms and legs will heal, but broken brains often will not.

    Growing up I had two examples of this in my life: the mother of a friend had her perfectly quiet, predictable horse slip on the asphalt, crossing the street, and suffered a brain injury that severely changed her life. And a cousin's placid trail horse suddenly spooked, and she too suffered a TBI--she, who had been a promising architect, had to learn all over to talk, walk, eat, write, etc.

    I need my job to keep my horses; I need my brain to keep my job. I also set an example for 460 youngsters, many of whom attend the same 4H shows I go to for schooling my young horses. So I wear my helmet EVERY time I mount up.

    It's interesting to note that the worst head-bangs I've taken have been while I was on the ground: the most recent one when my Maddie swung her but towards me and I couldn't get out of her way, 'cause she had stepped over onto my foot--I fell backwards and hit HARD! I'm actually starting to think I need the helmet on any time I'm in the barn...

    ReplyDelete
  5. As Heather can attest, I always wear a helmet. I feel the few brain cells I have that survived the 1960s deserve to be protected. I never know when I may need them.

    In an eerie coincidence, the one day I considered not wearing a helmet, my friend Nita (who never wears one) reminded me to put mine on. I did. That was the day Poco tossed me. Although my head didn't take an impact, the little visor saved my face from being seriously abraded.

    Nice helmet, Heather. Hope you get it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great thought provoking post. I'm a convert to helmets, mainly because I make my kids wear one, and I like to do what I preach. But also because 17 HH is a long LONG way to fall!!!

    I actually went out and bought a new helmet, it's a really nice helmet that is very light, has lots of ventilation, fits very well and covers the back of the head.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Kate, you all but described my problem in a nutshell. The habit is definitely not established. It's not vanity for me, it's just not thinking about it, or getting over heated from my antiquated brain bowl.

    For me, it's like being on a diet. I really know I should, but in the spur of the moment I forget. I say "oh I'll do it next time".

    Now, riding on a hard surfave (concrete) I ALWAYS remember, that's a personal fear of mine. But jumping on a horse I've had for years, that's when I make excuses.

    I'm really excited about my new helmet... I am REALLY hoping that it reminds me to actually PUT IT ON.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I always think about reminding you, but your barn, your rules. I can if you want me to.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Good post! Well said.

    I would never tell any adult to wear a helmet, but I do find that I try to encourage every child or teen that I meet to wear a helmet. I used to be a child and I do know that safety is usually the last thing on their minds...it was for me, too.

    But children have a lifetime ahead of them, even though they tend to live for the moment. Adults know better and can make their own choices....sometimes children just need more guidance.

    But sometimes even adults forget that children need more guidance or just plain forget to remind children about safety.
    I have to admit that on one occasion I let my 7 year old daughter ride Apache in the arena without a helmet. I just plum forgot to put her helmet on even though it was in the car.

    Granted, she was on a lead line, but even on a lead line....accidents happen(from this post by my neighbor friend:

    http://fantastykvoyage.blogspot.com/2010/08/every-moment-of-youth-part-2.html

    Thankfully the Mom was able to grab her child off of the horse as it bolted. But that just goes to show that a horse can still do something unpredictable...even in the safety of an arena or round pen...and even while on a lead rope.

    Oh yeah, and I live in cowboy country here and helmets are a rarity. I've been picked on and teased for wearing a helmet quite a few times.

    I've even had someone tell me that only people who don't know how to ride, wear helmets.


    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  10. Leah, DO remind me. I'm working on it, honestly! And I'm never offended at a nice reminder.

    Haven't you noticed that my helmet is now hung at the door of the barn? It's my latest attempt to remember to get the thing on my head!

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  11. Since everyone has weighed in on the helmet issue, I'll leave it alone. But body armor? The vest I can see, but riding with all that motorcross gear would be quite a trick.

    I've had a mild head injury from a previous sport - rock climbing. I was lucky and don't want to play those odds again.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I am a clinical researcher studying recovery from traumatic brain injuries at a busy trauma hospital. I have seen plenty of injuries caused by horses. I wear my helmet WHENEVER I am with a horse; while riding, in the barn, even just walking through the pasture. Ever been on the losing end of a horse who spooks in the barn or in the middle of a jealous dust-up in the pasture? It's not that hard to develop the habit of putting the hat on as soon as you get to the barn. Just saying.

    In addition, I wear an airbag vest. Every time. http://www.air-vest.com/hit-air-testimonials.htm
    I even got my trainer to start wearing one. I have been thrown while wearing the vest and didn't feel a thing - not even the next day, when you really notice those aches & pains. Yes, it is hot. Yes, you may feel funny at first. But the bottom line is that you only get one spine (and one head) and it needs to work for a lifetime. I cannot recommend this vest highly enough.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Since everyone has weighed in on the helmet issue, I'll leave it alone. But body armor? The vest I can see, but riding with all that motorcross gear would be quite a trick.

    I've had a mild head injury from a previous sport - rock climbing. I was lucky and don't want to play those odds again.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good post! Well said.

    I would never tell any adult to wear a helmet, but I do find that I try to encourage every child or teen that I meet to wear a helmet. I used to be a child and I do know that safety is usually the last thing on their minds...it was for me, too.

    But children have a lifetime ahead of them, even though they tend to live for the moment. Adults know better and can make their own choices....sometimes children just need more guidance.

    But sometimes even adults forget that children need more guidance or just plain forget to remind children about safety.
    I have to admit that on one occasion I let my 7 year old daughter ride Apache in the arena without a helmet. I just plum forgot to put her helmet on even though it was in the car.

    Granted, she was on a lead line, but even on a lead line....accidents happen(from this post by my neighbor friend:

    http://fantastykvoyage.blogspot.com/2010/08/every-moment-of-youth-part-2.html

    Thankfully the Mom was able to grab her child off of the horse as it bolted. But that just goes to show that a horse can still do something unpredictable...even in the safety of an arena or round pen...and even while on a lead rope.

    Oh yeah, and I live in cowboy country here and helmets are a rarity. I've been picked on and teased for wearing a helmet quite a few times.

    I've even had someone tell me that only people who don't know how to ride, wear helmets.


    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  15. As Heather can attest, I always wear a helmet. I feel the few brain cells I have that survived the 1960s deserve to be protected. I never know when I may need them.

    In an eerie coincidence, the one day I considered not wearing a helmet, my friend Nita (who never wears one) reminded me to put mine on. I did. That was the day Poco tossed me. Although my head didn't take an impact, the little visor saved my face from being seriously abraded.

    Nice helmet, Heather. Hope you get it!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I always, always, always wear a helmet when on top of a horse, and sometimes when doing groundwork where things might get dicey. It is possible to be severely injured or even killed while wearing a helmet, but it reduces the odds and it doesn't interfere with my mobility or ability to work with the horses and the new models aren't even uncomfortable.

    Body vests are required at sanctioned events to ride cross-country, and my daughter wore one when she was a junior competing in jumpers.

    So, just like seat belts in cars, it just might save you from death or serious injury and is easy to do once the habit's established -so why not just do it?

    ReplyDelete
  17. A very thoughtful post, but I completely disagree with some of your statements...

    Two summers ago my best friend and I could have been the poster children for the typical horse-crazy girl. We were carefree and we loved every second that we spent together with our horses. We rode for hours on end doing things that were neither safe nor smart, but we never thought about it. We were having a good time with the animals we loved, and that's all that mattered. Mattered being the key word...

    I remember the day like it was yesterday, unfortunately such things seem to forever remain in your mind. It was a Sunday, later in the afternoon and I got a call. I had been to the barn eariler that day without my dearest friend. I had a violin recital and didn't have time to ride with her. Her mom called my mom sobbing. apparently my friend had been riding her horse and jumping without a helmet (as we usually did back then) when her horse spooked at gosh-knows-what and sent her catapulting towards one of the jump stands. She hit her head smack against either one one the stands or the ground. Either way she was knocked unconscious.

    Her mom was watching and called 911. The doctors told her mom the her brain was bruised and bleeding. That was when her mom called me; the doctors told her mom that there was nothing to be done, the arena and amount of damage was too severe. My bestest friend in this entire world died 7 hours later.

    She wasn't wearing a helmet. Could one have saved her life? I don't know. Maybe, but then again maybe not. I'll never know. My life shattered that day. I almost gave up horses forever, though part of me knew that they would always be a part of me. I'll tell you one thing. I will never get on a horse without a helmet again. I'm not invincible. I can live with a broken arm or leg, I can't with massive head trauma. Being 12 years old and loosing a best friend is beyond the hardest thing and maybe just maybe if she had been wearing a $20 piece of equipment on her head she might still be here to call me her bestest friend until the end.

    So until you've been through what I've been through, it might be hard for you to convince yourself to wear a helmet, but so that you don't have to go through what I went through, please do wear one. Next time you want to just "hop on a horse" please just take a couple extra seconds and grab a helmet. It might not for sure save your life, but it for sure can't kill you.

    -M

    ReplyDelete