Incidentally Speaking

Hanging High & Dry

By Julie Goodnight


Cheryl loved Sunday mornings at the barn. If she got there early enough, it was quiet and peaceful, no other boarders to bother her, no dogs and kids running crazy. Some of her best rides happened at this time and a Sunday morning ride was the highlight of her week.

As usual, Cheryl got her mare out, groomed and tack and decided to ride in the arena and do some specific schooling on some of the maneuvers she had been trying to learn. The barn was some distance from the owner’s house and the only other person around was the Charlie, who was in the back barn cleaning stalls. She virtually had the whole place to herself.

There was a little chill in the air this early in the morning so Cheryl was dressed in her favorite barn jacket, a fleece-lined, nylon shell zip-up. After a lovely ride, Cheryl sat on her horse, reflecting on the great things they were achieving. She was riding Western this morning and without thinking Cheryl dropped both feet from the stirrups and vaulted off her horse, as she was accustomed to in the English saddle.

As she swung her leg over the horse’s rump, she leaned forward, snagging the bottom of her jacket on the horn. By the time she realized what had happened, she was already hanging by her jacket from her 15.3 hand horse. Fortunately, Cheryl had done hours of ground work with her mare, so the horse stood perfectly still, even though having a human attached to her and hanging was a new and somewhat disconcerting feeling to the mare.

Cheryl hung for a few moments, with her toes barely able to touch the ground, but not enough to bear her weight. She immediately realized the dangerous predicament she was in and could visualize the outcome, should her mare decide to spook. First she tried to get enough contact with the ground to jump up and release herself; to no avail. Then she tried calling Charlie, yelling repeatedly as loudly as she could; again to no avail. Realizing that she was in an extremely dangerous and precarious position, Cheryl recognized that she was going to have to rescue herself; no one else was coming to her aid. Suddenly she missed the normal hustle and bustle of a regular day at the boarding barn.

Next, Cheryl spied an old bale of hay in the corner of the arena and she toyed with the idea of trying to get her horse to walk over to the hay bale so she could stand on it. But even though Cheryl had done plenty of groundwork with this horse and her manners were impeccable, she was reluctant to ask the mare to move, realizing that once movement began, she might not be able to control it. So she abandoned the hay bale as a possible means of escape.

Then it occurred to Cheryl that if she could unfasten the cinch, the saddle would slide off and release her jacket. She tried and tried to get this accomplished but since she had one hands on the reins to control the horse if she should try to move, and she was not willing to release that grip, she was unable to make any progress with the cinch.

Finally Cheryl realized that she had no way out and she knew that she couldn’t wait forever for someone to appear, sensing that the mare was starting to get impatient. With one last effort, knowing that it could make the difference in whether or not she lived to tell this tale, Cheryl made one last attempt to jump up and clear the jacket from the horn. Miraculously it worked and Cheryl’s’ feet hit the ground solid; she was once again free to stand on her own two feet and she had escaped a near-disaster.

The Analysis

Another crisis averted and lesson learned! It was immediately obvious to Cheryl that her nylon jacket, while great for baseball and other sports, was inappropriate for riding. As she did a little exploring, she discovered that most jackets made for riding horses have snap closures, the purpose of which is to pop open if you get snagged on something; made specifically to avoid the type of problem Cheryl had. Her new favorite riding jacket, purchased later that very day, has snap closures and a gathered waist, to prevent the snag on the horn to begin with.

But there were some other more subtle lessons to be learned from the near-miss incident. Cheryl had to rethink her Sunday morning routine. Perhaps it was better to ride when others were around to come to your aid if needed. On the outset, it didn’t seem like Cheryl was alone and she certainly wouldn’t go out on the trail by herself. But having Charlie in the back barn and the farm owner some 400 yards away in her home, was clearly not enough presence to render her aid if needed. From then on, Cheryl made the commitment to only ride when there was at least one other person in or around the arena.

Although Cheryl was already a firm believer in ground work, now she had a whole new perspective. Her control over the horse from the ground was perhaps the one thing that really kept this from turning into a total disaster. The hours she had spent developing this kind of control over her horse paid off in spades because she had the ability to make her stand perfectly still when it was critically needed. Not all horses would have been so cooperative, especially with a strange thing hanging off them.

Finally, Cheryl’s decision not to ask the horse to move toward the hay bale was very smart. Once you start a horse moving in a situation like that, you would probably lose control. As the horse moved, it is quite likely she would become anxious about the weird thing attached to her and as a horse’s anxiety builds, her desire to move her feet to flee would increase. With limited means to exert control from her precarious position, Cheryl may have ended up being drug around and seriously injured.

There are countless stories about being hung up on the horn of the Western saddle and this one had a happy outcome. Remember when dismounting English or Western to slide down your right hip as you can also rip your breeches on the stirrup keepers in an English saddle.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Frivolous Lawsuits and What You Can Do About Them

By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law

“Can I be sued if I do this . . .?”

People ask me this question all the time, hoping that some special action or precaution will forever insulate them from the burden, aggravation, and expense of a lawsuit. Unfortunately, despite every precaution we take, we live in a society where a person or businesses can be sued for virtually anything. Right or wrong, the fact is that anyone can file a lawsuit against you. Merely because someone has sued you, however, does not mean the case has merit. This article discusses frivolous lawsuits and shares ideas about how to protect yourself and what to do if you are targeted with one.

What is a “Frivolous Lawsuit”?

A weak lawsuit is not necessarily a “frivolous” one. Frivolous lawsuits are typically cases that have no legitimate factual or legal support and are not even based on a good faith argument for the extension or reversal of existing law. Frivolous lawsuits are sometimes brought for an improper purpose, such as to harass someone. Examples of lawsuits deemed frivolous are those sometimes brought by people against the government claiming that the government has no legal authority to assess and collect taxes. “Frivolous” is not always used to describe baseless lawsuits. The term “frivolous” is occasionally used to describe equally baseless defenses that are sometimes asserted in defense of valid litigation.

Fighting Back Against Frivolous Cases

If you have become the target of a lawsuit that you believe is frivolous, you will need to defend yourself effectively. Never assume that a judge will, on his or her own, discover the weaknesses of a case or defense. Consider taking several possible actions. Your options will depend on the applicable law, your litigation budget, and the nature of the case. Here are a few:
Ask the court to dismiss the case. At the appropriate time, you can ask the judge to dismiss the case completely before it ever proceeds to trial. Lawyers call these requests “motions for summary judgment.” In bringing these motions, lawyers will very carefully organize each of the claims in the lawsuit and compare them to the facts and the applicable law. Through this analysis, the motion will explain to the court in writing why the case has no merit and should be dismissed outright.
Demand that sanctions be imposed. Under state and federal court rules, judges have discretion to order the party who brought a frivolous case (or defense) against you and/or that party’s lawyer to pay financial penalties that are sometimes referred to as “sanctions.” In my experience, judges rarely do this, but a few will. Consider making an appropriate request and letting the judge decide.

Seek to recover costs, where allowed by law. Lawyers know that applicable law might allow for taxation of costs through which the winning party can, at a minimum, recover certain costs and expenses from the losing party. The financial benefit might be minimal, since taxable costs tend to be limited in scope to deposition transcript costs, filing fees, or subpoena fees. Nevertheless, you might have the satisfaction of imposing extra expense on the one who wrongly sued you.

Bring a suit or claim for “abuse of process.” If you believe that a lawsuit was brought against you for an improper purpose, you might have a claim of “abuse of process” against the one who sued you. Your lawyer can discuss this with you.

Sue for “malicious prosecution” after you defeat the frivolous case. After you have successfully defeated a frivolous case that was brought against you, you might have a basis to sue the one who brought that lawsuit under the theory of “malicious prosecution.” To bring a valid case for malicious prosecution, however, usually requires proof that the suit you defeated was brought with malice and had no probable cause.

Avoid Liability

To protect yourself against lawsuits of any kind – frivolous or otherwise – you can consider the following:

Liability insurance:

Liability insurance will not prevent lawsuits from being brought against you, and insurance policies cannot protect you against every type of lawsuit. Nevertheless, if your insurance policy provides coverage for a claim or lawsuit against you, the insurer will hire and pay a lawyer to defend you. This would spare you the out-of-pocket expense of hiring a lawyer.


As I have written for many years, well-written contracts can help prevent disputes and lawsuits. Contracts in the equine industry can include sales agency agreements, sales contracts, training contracts, boarding contracts, and liability waivers/releases. Effective contracts can also include “attorney fee” clauses in which the other party agrees to pay your legal fees if a dispute arises (where allowed by law).

This article does not constitute legal advice.
When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

About the Author: Julie Fershtman, a lawyer for over 20 years, is one of the most experienced Equine Law practitioners in the United States. She has won numerous courtroom victories around the country for her clients. She has drafted hundreds of equine contracts. Contact her at (248) 851-4111, ext. 160, or visit her websites, and Let Julie Fershtman’s books help you avoid disputes and understand your rights. The books, MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense and Equine Law & Horse Sense, are easy to understand. Order both books on the CHA website shopping cart at

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Small Arena

By Tonya Rossman


I am well into my second season as a CHA Certified Riding Instructor with much success. The other day I took a 5-year-old for a pony ride on my 12 hand pony inside a 60 x 80 arena at the Community Fairgrounds where I operate. I was leading her around on my pony who will tolerate just about anything, well except moose.

As I was leading the pony around against the rail with a side walker on the right side, I decided to cut across the arena as this was her first ride and she wanted to be close to her parents standing at the end of the arena. Just then we heard a snap and whoosh in the thick alders beside the arena and the pony crow-hopped around to see the tail end of a moose. I was able to get him under control with a good Whoa, but not before the rider lost her balance and slid off the opposite side of me. She had a well-fitted helmet and boots and landed on her side. She was shook up but brushed herself off and got back on. It could have been much worse.


There are several factors which could have prevented or decreased the chance for this to have happened. Where was my side walker? When the pony spooked, he was trailing along behind the pony with a confused look. Although young, he has done plenty of side walking but he never had to react to a quick incident before. I also did not have a back cinch on the pony saddle, although I have one on order. Also, the alder trees created a safe haven for moose (or anything else) to hide, the pony did not see it but heard and smelt it first. I will have them cleared all the way back to the next property line and choose more experienced side walkers. In addition, although all my lesson horses are gentle, older and have many miles, spooking is always a possibility for any horse or pony. I only put small children on small ponies with their legs at least reaching half-way down for balance. Had she been on my 14 or 15 hand horse and fell, it probably would have been much worse.

About the Author: Tonya Rossman is a CHA Certified Instructor from Haines, Alaska. She runs Small Tracks Stable & Saddlery.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Chain Lead Shank Tragedy

By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law


It was a routine day at the barn and after finishing with her lessons, Karen had some extra time to ride and enjoy one of her own horses, a solid, tried-and-true gelding. After a wonderful ride, Karen proceeded with her normal routine to untack and groom her horse and put him away.

After unbridling the horse, she put on the nylon halter and looking around for a lead shank to lead him back to the barn, all that Karen could find was a shank with a chain. The horse had just been ridden and was tired, so he certainly did not need the chain over his nose for control, but since it was the only lead handy, Karen decided to use it anyway. She ran the snap of the chain through the bottom ring of the halter and snapped it back on itself, doubling the chain, as most people do in order to shorten the chain and make it stronger when the chain is not needed over the horse’s nose or under its chin.

Enjoying the afternoon and savoring the excellent ride she just had on her gelding, Karen walked the horse slowly back toward his stall, deciding to offer him a treat and allow him to graze on the fresh green grass on the way back to the barn. Having used the chain lead shank in this manner dozens, if not hundreds of times before, Karen had no idea that she had created a noose for her horse and by letting him graze, she was setting the trap.

Within a moment of having his head down in the grass, Karen saw the gelding’s hoof in the loop of the chain. In a split second, before Karen could take any corrective action, he ripped his head up and reared; his leg was trapped in the chain and the horse began to struggle.

Tragically, the chain did not break, but the horse’s neck did. The horse could not untangle himself and in his struggle to get free, his neck broke and as he collapsed to the ground, he also broke his hip. Within an hour of their last ride together, Karen held her fine gelding’s head in her lap as he was euthanized.


Most of us have used chain lead shanks in this manner for years without incident and without thought. I think of how many times I have seen people snapping the end of the chain on the halter and corrected them, making them double the chain up, all the while thinking to myself, “What a geek!” Now I know better.

There are many lessons to be learned from this tragic accident and I am grateful to Karen for having the courage to share it with us so that we can re-assess the things we routinely do.

Obviously with the chain doubled, it is much stronger and when attached to a nylon halter without a breakaway, there is not much that could make either one break. If it is not safe to double the chain and it is not effective to leave it long, then the lesson is, use the right tool for the job. If the chain is not needed over the horse’s nose or under his chin for control, then a regular lead shank should be used.

Another lesson to be learned is that just because there is an accepted way of doing things and/or methods that we have been using for many years without incident, it doesn’t mean it is the best way or that an accident can’t happen. It pays to question everything that we do and consider all the possibilities, even if it seems like a remote chance. Horses have an incredible capacity to hurt themselves on seemingly benign objects.

With horses, it pays to always assume the worst case scenario. If it is possible, a horse will find a way to turn it into a wreck. Whether it seems likely or not, we should always operate based on the worst case scenario and take the necessary actions to prevent the wreck from happening, no matter how remote the chances are.

Breakaways are always a good idea with horses. Whether it is for cross ties, trailer ties, hay bags, reins, water buckets or anything that a horse could possibly get a foot hung up in, it is best if there is something that will break. Even just adding a loop of bailing twine to the object that will give way should a horse struggle is a great device.

A final lesson to be learned is from Karen and it is her selfless act of sharing this story, her courage in admitting her mistakes so that others can learn and her devotion to horses that will help ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen to another horse. Thank you Karen and I know I, for one, appreciate learning from you.

If you have a story to share that others can learn from that will help keep humans and horses safer, please contact Julie Goodnight at (800) 980-1410 or .

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Cart Before the Horse

By Christy Landwehr


Zippy Farms was busy that Saturday afternoon. It was snowing outside, so everyone was in the indoor arena trying to get a ride in. Samantha was driving her new horse around the outside of the rail in her new cart while Carrie was teaching a lesson to an amateur adult rider in the center of the arena on a circle around her. All of the other riders had left the arena when the horse and cart had entered the arena, but Carrie was almost done with her lesson and thought it would be safe in the center of the arena.

As Samantha was driving her new horse and equipment around, the belly band and wrap strap that prevents the shafts from rising up suddenly came disconnected and the cart started to tip. Sam jumped out and hit the arena wall. Then the cart fell over completely and her horse launched into panic mode and started running wildly around the arena with the damaged cart being drug sideways behind it.

Being of herd instinct, the panicked horse thought a safe haven might be with the other horse in the center of the arena, so it started galloping straight for Carrie and her student. Carrie quickly had her student dismount and told her to let go of her horse and run to the arena gate.


The saddled horse panicked when it saw the horse and cart coming towards it and ran to the other side of the arena. The driving horse ran with it and stopped at the other end of the arena, giving a moment for Samantha to get her horse under control, bringing a rather frightening incident to a close.

Very lucky. In this incident, the only injuries were to Sam’s horse and her equipment. The horse had a few scrapes and bruises from the cart banging on its back legs; the harness and cart were beat up as well. Fortunately, Sam, the other horse and rider and the instructor were fine.

This scenario could have turned out significantly worse. A thorough safety check prior to driving the horse would have revealed the faulty harnessing. This incident illustrates how a wreck with a harness horse can quickly escalate into pandemonium. Safety for harness drivers is of big concern these days and this is one reason why CHA is working to develop a harness driving certification program.

Many saddle horses have never seen a horse and cart before and can become very unnerved by the sight. Not to mention when that cart is tipped sideways and the horse attached to it is panicking.

If at all possible, horses should not be ridden in the same arena as someone practicing driving. Ideally, there should be a separate arena for harnessed horses to work; if not, the arena time should be divided so that harness and saddle horses are not using it at the same time. Also, do not teach a lesson to someone while someone else is driving. The two should be separate activities.

Busy arenas are dangerous places; simple rules should be followed to keep everyone safe. Without a driving horse in the arena, riders should try to track the same direction; if that is not possible then it is necessary for riders to follow the left shoulder to left shoulder rule for passing. Horses working at higher speeds should use the rail while horses walking or cooling out, stay toward the middle. Whatever the arena etiquette is at your facility, it should be taught to all riders and posted in the rules.

You also should not longe a horse in an arena where horses are being ridden. The potential for collision or for someone to run into the longe line is too high. If longeing must occur in an arena where horses are being ridden, make sure that the horse is longed in the direction the riders are going and far enough off the rail for the riders to have plenty of room to work. Follow these simple guidelines to keep everyone safe.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Helmet Safety


It was a perfect day for a family picnic out at the ranch, and Kay Silva’s whole family had gathered to enjoy the beautiful fall day in the high desert of southern California. After a delicious lunch and some family fun and games, Katy decided to saddle a couple horses and take her young niece out for a short trail ride.

Katy is an experienced rider, having owned horses and ridden on a regular basis for about 20 years, but her niece is a very novice rider. Katy saddled an older reliable horse for her niece and a younger, less seasoned horse for herself. Although Katy always wears a helmet when she rides, on this occasion she had only brought one helmet and decided that it would be better for her niece, the less experienced rider, to wear the helmet. Fortunately, at the last minute, someone else offered an extra helmet to Katy so she left on the short ride with both riders properly helmeted.

Katy and her niece had an awesome trail ride through sagebrush and red shank trees in the high desert (4,000 ft. elevation). As they were returning back to the ranch, they approached a telephone pole lying across the trail and Katy advised her niece on what to do if her horse chose to jump it. The experienced horse with the novice rider walked gracefully over the pole and Katy congratulated her niece on doing such a great job. All that was left was for Katy to negotiate her greener horse over the pole and then they were home free.

Katy decided to guide her horse around telephone pole instead of over it, since she wasn’t sure if the horse was accustomed to walking over obstacles or would try to jump it. However, just as Katy thought the horse would willingly go off the trail to walk around the obstacle, the horse suddenly veered back and leapt over the pole like a deer. Taken by surprise, Katy was caught off balance and as the horse landed, Katy slammed hard onto the horse’s back, causing the horse to explode into violent bucking fit. Katy felt that there was no way she could get the mare’s head up to recover from the bucking and the mare was bucking so hard that she started to fall. Katy decided to bail off to the left and at the same time the mare gave a buck which somersaulted Katy so that she landed hard on the ground on her helmet, neck, shoulders, and upper back, with the rest of her body flopping over as she hit.

As Katy fell, the horse also fell, scrambled back to her feet, and continued bucking. Katy scrambled quickly out of the way, not knowing that she had suffered a serious injury. Family members had seen the niece’s horse begin to trot back toward the telephone pole, so they were alerted that something had gone wrong. Katy’s brother-in-law arrived just in time to see Katy on the ground and the horse falling.

Katy’s family helped her back to the house and sat her in a gliding rocking chair with a high, straight back since she was complaining that her neck hurt. She thought that she may have suffered severe whiplash and she had the good sense to sit still for a while. Since the pain did not subside, Katy thought it would be best to have a family member take her to the emergency room or nearest fire station, because it didn’t seem serious enough to call 911 just for a sore neck. Luckily for Katy, circumstances changed.

Through a crazy series of events, another person at the ranch was injured about 15 minutes later and was knocked unconscious, so someone called 911 to attend to him. Since a rescue crew was already coming to the ranch, Katy sat and waited for them to check her neck after they had attended to the other injured person. At the hospital, the medical staff were stunned to discover that Katy had broken her neck-fractured C2 in 2 places to be exact– because she showed none of the classic signs that are usually related to a broken neck: loss of consciousness, tingling, loss of feeling or weakness in the limbs, or nausea.

In the hospital, Katy was fitted with a halo that was screwed into her head in 4 places, which she was to wear for three months while her neck healed. The follow-up treatment would include a neck brace for one month and physical therapy to rehabilitate her neck muscles and allow her to move her head again safely. Soon Katy will be released to ride again and she is eager to get back to her horses.


Katy learned many important lessons from this event that nearly cost her life and she is eager to share the lessons she learned with others. First, she learned not to take things for granted, especially her helmet, since it saved her life and reduced the potential severity of her injuries.

According to Katy, she has learned to, “Make every riding day a Helmet Day…no matter how ‘bomb-proof’ the horse, how soft the ground I will be riding on, how hot the day, how much I may not like having “helmet hair,” or how confident I may feel in my riding abilities. Even though I have always worn a helmet, I now realize that a helmet can make all the difference.”

Other lessons for us all to learn from Katy’s story is to take any injury seriously and deal with it carefully, since we never know what may be damaged. If the mechanism of injury indicates the possibility of damage, treat the person as if the most serious injury possible was sustained.

Katy will soon be healed up enough to get back to riding and she has a brand new helmet, just for the occasion. Katy has been working hard to share her story with riding clubs and youth groups in an effort to promote the use of helmets, “every time, every ride.” We appreciate Katy allowing us to share her story with our members and we hope that you all, in turn, will share this story with your students.

We wish Katy the best of luck and a speedy recovery. If anyone is interested in contacting Katy about sharing her story, please email her at

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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My Hands are Tied

By Julie Goodnight


A family reunion is an excellent time to share your life with those dearest to you, get caught up on all the news, see how much the kids have grown and kick-back with your family and friends. It is not a good time for a life-threatening injury.

The weekend was perfect with clear, sunny days and crisp, starry nights. Kay was so happy to have her family around her, especially the grandchildren. She loved to spoil the babies and she eagerly waited for the day her first grandson would be old enough to ride. She could teach the grandkids to ride on her push-button, mature gelding, Prince. It was arguable who was more spoiled, the grandchildren or Prince.

The afternoon was perfect for a BBQ and while the coals simmered, the guys played football out in the field, and Kay decided to take Prince for a ride. As she groomed and tacked the gelding, Kay’s daughter-in-law and her grandson wondered up to watch the process. Little Bobby squealed with delight to be close to the horse and clamored to reach the horse’s alluring muzzle, giggling wildly at the feel of the horse’s warm, sweet breath on his face.

The gelding and the grandson were so enchanted with each other that Kay ran back to the house for her camera. After posing for a few shots holding the baby up close to the horse, Kay got the great idea to get a shot of the baby up on the horse, since Prince was already saddled.

Kay was very safety conscious and had done her research on when the grandchildren would be old enough to ride. She knew that the child needed to have the strength to pull a horse’s head up, the coordination to balance and the cognizance to control the horse. She was smart enough to know she could not put the 18-month-old up on the horse by himself since a fall from 8′ off the ground might kill an adult, let alone a toddler. She knew that even though he might be big enough to hold onto the horn and be propped up on the horse, that he wasn’t old enough to be properly fitted in a ASTM approved equestrian helmet; therefore he was too young to ride. Kay also was smart enough to know that it is not safe to ride double with a small child, since in the event of a fall, the chances of you falling on the child and crushing him were unacceptably high.

The baby was just too young to ride and she knew she would have to wait until he was six, but since she already had Prince saddled and he wasn’t going anywhere tied to the rail, it would be easy enough for her to step up on the horse and hold the baby for a quick shot that would be a family memento for generations to come. Baby’s first ride.

With only the baby’s mother to shoot the picture and no one to hold the horse, Kay decided to leave the gelding tied up to the hitching rail where he had been standing for the last hour, while she hopped on for a quick snap of the shutter.

Kay sat with her young grandson cradled in both arms and as she sucked in her stomach and put on her best smile for the camera, the horse bowed his back in two and started bucking like a bronc and squealing like a stuck pig, while tied up to the hitching rail.

Kay was propelled form the horse with the second kick of the heels and flew off at a great velocity, thrown even higher into the air, with a death grip on her grandson. The gods were with them that day because Kay was able to cushion the fall for the baby who was totally unhurt; suffering only from the indignity of having his first ride also be his first buck-off.

For Kay, it was a different story. The fall broke her back; two vertebrae broke clear in two. Again, the guardian angels were watching that day and Kay suffered no spinal cord impairment. She was properly treated at the scene, not moved and stabilized until the paramedics arrived to put her on a back-board. Xrays revealed her fate and she would spend the next three months flat on her back in a body cast. Thankfully, she had full movement and feeling in all extremities.


This incident involves some cardinal safety issues:

Never mount a tied horse
Never mount a horse without the means to control him
Never ride double with small children
Riding is not a safe or appropriate activity for very young children
It is never safe to mount a tied horse. We have all seen what happens when horses are startled and pull back in a panic attack. Every tied horse is capable of this behavior. Anything could spook the horse or trigger a panic attack and whether the halter breaks, the post breaks or the horse remains tied; you would be at extreme risk of injury or death to be mounted on a horse fighting the tie. The chances of the horse falling on you or slamming you into a wall, fence or tree are huge.

It is not safe to do anything unusual to a horse when he is tied, for the fear of causing the panic attack that ensues when a horse feels the need to flee and suddenly discovers that flight is not an option. The pullback episode is dangerous enough to people on the ground around the horse; being on the horse’s back would be a nightmare. The risk of injury to the horse in any pull-back episode is equally high.

We will never know what caused Prince to pitch a bucking fit at that moment; perhaps it was something about the saddle or perhaps he was sick and tired of standing there. The point is, horses are unpredictable, so you have to plan for the worst-case scenario and always keep yourself in a safe position.

For similar reasons, it is never safe to get on a horse without the means to control him. You need the reins or a mecate in hand to deal with any situation that may occur such as spooking, to running off or bucking. Even if someone is holding the horse for you, it is foolish to get on a horse with no means to control him. There is no one I trust enough to hold a horse for me while I mount without reins.

Considering the possibility that at any moment my horse could spontaneously combust, I’ll take reins every time. And while I may not need the reins at every moment I am on the horse, I’ll still keep one hand on the reins all the time, just in case I might suddenly need them. By the time I have grasped and fumbled to pick up the reins, my ride could be over.

As mentioned in the story, riding double with small children could be a death trap for the child. Even if the fall does not hurt him, the weight of the adult rider could crush him or ram him into a solid object, like the ground. Also, a rider needs his or her hands to communicate with and control the horse; holding onto a child seriously impairs the rider’s ability to influence the horse. The point is, at any moment a horse can trip and fall down, spook, bolt or become difficult to control. It is not worth the risk to the child for an activity that the child will not really benefit from.

Young children really do not mix well with horse sports. CHA is constantly asked to recommend a minimum age for a child to ride. We specifically do not publish a number because there are so many mitigating factors that influence this decision, like the staffing, the horses and equipment, the environment, the programming and the purpose for riding. For example, the potential for benefit in therapeutic riding may well exceed the potential for harm when specialized equipment, specially trained horses and knowledgeable and experienced professionals are employed.

Every riding operation should have a written policy on the eligibility of riders, which is determined by all of the factors listed above (this is a safety standard published by CHA). The eligibility policy should always include a minimum age, among other factors such as maximum or minimum weight, minimum height (sometimes height is used as a determining factor rather than age, since height cannot be lied about), physical capabilities needed, etc.

In my position as program director for CHA, I have the opportunity to be familiar with the polices and procedures of many large riding operations, a lot of which are virtually “incident free.” In general, I have found that the most common minimum age is 10 years old for trail riding, 8-10 for group arena lessons and 6-7 for private lessons. Children five and under should only be considered for riding with extreme caution.

There are also the individual characteristics of each child that would influence the decision on when he or she is old enough ride; such as size and strength, attention span, endurance, ability to follow directions, eye-hand coordination, maturity and desire, just to name a few.

It is easy to get over-eager to introduce a young child to riding, in the hopes that she will learn to share your passion and be a young protégé. The reality is that there is little to gain by introducing a child too young to riding; and there is much to lose.

As it turns out, Kay did her three months penance flat on her back, followed by intensive physical therapy and about six months later she was able to get on her horse again and now she is riding normally. She learned some important lessons about safety around horses and she is in no hurry to put her grandson back up on a horse, until he is ready to takes the reins, so to speak.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

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Got Kicked by My Horse

By Christy Landwehr


It was a beautiful fall day in Colorado. The event was the second annual Trail-A-Thon benefit ride for Front Range Exceptional Equestrians. The ride was held in Lory State Park, a nearby foothills and mountain park with varied terrain. It was well planned with different trails selected for riders with disabilities, hikers, and other riders. For the safety of the riders with disabilities and their families and caregivers, trailers were parked well away from the staging area. After Judy rode, she grabbed a quick bite to eat and then took her tired horse, Sparky, back to the trailer for water and to load up for the trip home.

Judy removed Sparky’s tack by the door of the truck and tied him to the side of the trailer. Then she climbed onto the rear bumper of the truck to get his water bucket — a full 5-gallon bucket with a tight lid — out of the truck bed. As she wrestled the bucket over the tailgate and went to step down, she caught her heel in the electric cable between the truck and trailer and fell flat on her back, flinging the 40-pound bucket into Sparky’s rear end as she did so. It was a pretty good mountain lion attack simulation and Sparky responded with a kick. As she was landing hard on her back and head, he was landing a hard kick to her upper right arm. Judy saw stars for about ten minutes, having struck her head. Fortunately, she had not yet removed her helmet so was not knocked out. Surprisingly, Judy’s arm didn’t hurt immediately and she was able to water the horse, load her tack and horse, call for help, and get Sparky home and put up before being in too much distress. Judy was lucky and sustained no broken bones or a concussion, only insignificant separation of the shoulder joint.

The Analysis

There are several lessons to be learned from this mishap. Although it was a good idea to park trailers away from the foot traffic of riders with disabilities at this event, there was some risk that a horse handler could be injured while alone at the trailers. In Judy’s case, she was not visible to other participants and, had she been seriously injured, she could have been unaided for some time; this is both a personal and organizational concern. Judy could have mitigated this risk herself by asking one of her fellow riders to accompany her back to her trailer and then she could have handed the water bucket to that person.

Judy could have opened the tailgate of the truck to take the water bucket out instead of trying to dead lift it over the closed tailgate. She also could have had her water supply in the trailer’s tack box instead of in the truck bed or could have had the water in numerous smaller containers.

The fact that Judy was wearing her helmet while working with her horse on the ground was a very positive aspect of this scenario. Often, we think about putting our helmet on after we are done grooming and tacking and before we ride and then taking it off immediately after we dismount. Many youth programs have riders wear their helmets from the moment they step onto the stable grounds. This is a good idea for all ages and abilities of riders as incidents do happen on the ground around horses as well.

Editor’s Note: CHA wants to thank CHA member Judy Jaffe of Wellington, CO for her submission of this incident that we can all greatly benefit and learn from. If you have an incident that you would like to share for possible submission, please contact the Editor of The Instructor, Christy Landwehr, at .

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Feeding by Yourself

By Julie Goodnight


It was a typical afternoon feeding; I had a bridal shower to go to; so I had my mind on getting the feeding done and getting out of there. The farm owner and I loaded up the hay bales in the back of the tractor’s trailer and headed out to the fields to distribute the hay.

My horse, Red, is an older, docile, gentle gelding who has never been known to kick anyone before or since. My 4-year-old niece rides him and he is very popular with my younger riding students. He is excessively cute, and people-oriented. That morning my farrier had been by to trim his hooves, and we both noticed he was very grumpy; pinning his ears and “sulking”. The weather had been gloomy, and having to compete with 12 other horses in his field, even though it is a large field, I think, was taking a toll on his usually happy nature. Red is a bit spoiled and prefers one – on – one attention and feed also.

I got out of the tractor to fill the 100 gal. water tank, which sits next to an open gate that connects two fields. As I headed back to the tractor, my horse, Red passed through the gate. As he did, I reached out to pat him on the butt, without thinking. The next thing I know, I was in at the emergency room with my Mom, who was telling me that my beloved horse had kicked my face in.

Apparently, as I reached out to pet my horse, he kicked out, hitting me in the mouth, sending me flying through the air onto the back of my head. I had a concussion, deep, multiple lacerations to my mouth and lips, and four damaged teeth. I spent all night and the next morning in an ambulance and two different hospitals, having my face surgically repaired.


Of course, there is so much that could have been done to prevent this from happening, and as one who preaches safety to my students all of the time, I felt really dumb for not doing something about my unsafe feeding habits long before:

Keeping the horses out of the field I was putting hay in by closing the connection gate and opening it after I was done. It requires an extra step, but it is the conscientious and safe thing to do.
Not approaching my horse from behind and surprising him; knowing that a horse’s natural instinct is to kick out when surprised from behind. Horses can be touchy during feeding times, and it is even easier to startle them when their focus is elsewhere.
I am reconsidering feeding by myself in the mornings. If it had been a morning incident, it would have been hours and hours before I was missed and discovered. Although there may be times when feeding by yourself is unavoidable, I’ll make sure that I am extra cautious when that happens.
Haste makes waste; it never pays to get in a hurry around horses. Needless to say, I never made it to the bridal shower!
I am sure there are many other areas in which I can improve the safety at feeding time and I recognize now that I had become complacent. Just because “I’ve always done it that way,” doesn’t make it safe. One thing we have all learned in working with horses over the years, is that what can go wrong, will go wrong, eventually.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at

Feeding by Yourself Read More »