On the Rail

Emergency Dismount

I am the Riding Director at a horseback riding summer camp. Over the winter, I like to go through the program and re-evaluate our policies and procedures. My question is concerning our current emergency dismount. Presently the dismount goes as follows:

1) Make a “butterfly” with your hands so the reins are just resting on your thumbs.

2) Put your hands on your horse’s neck (not touching the saddle)

3) Bring your feet out of the stirrups, swing legs three times and jump off using your horses neck

4) If possible, bring your horse’s reins over his head and hold them (under shanks with right hand, extra rein in left hand)

First off, can you see anything wrong with this dismount? We have been using it for 30 years but, I know that doesn’t automatically mean that it’s right. I am considering changing the last part (#4): Instead of bringing the reins over the horse’s head, leaving them over the saddle horn and holding the reins under the shanks with the right hand. That way, if the horse is spooking, he can run away without getting the person stuck to him, causing rope burn or getting the reins around his legs. I would like to know what you think of my change and of our current emergency dismount. Thank You! Sincerely, Jennifer Willey Hi Jennifer, This is somewhat of a controversial subject. Whereas many of us used to teach the emergency dismount, in the past few years it has gone out of favor. Many people feel (myself included) that you increase the risk of injury to the rider by practicing the emergency dismount and also that it is often better for the rider to remain mounted than to bail off a moving horse. If it is truly an emergency worthy of an emergency dismount, it is probably not a real controllable situation. In my experience, I have seen too many sprained ankles and pulled muscles from practicing it, not to mention the aggravation the horse goes through at being repeatedly mounted. I have also had riders that were far too quick to jump off a moving horse and though I have not had any serious injuries this way, it is only by luck. On the other hand, my son (13 y/o), who is prone to ride bareback and bridle-less out in the pasture, was taught the emergency dismount from GaWaNi PonyBoy (a popular Native American clinician) and uses it frequently. I am very glad that he learned it. PonyBoy teaches the Native American technique of rolling off the horse. I have not seen his presentation on this particular topic, but you might want to check it out. He has a website at www.ponyboy.com. As for the specific question on your technique, the only thing I can see is that we do not recommend that the rider hold onto the reins at all, for the risk is too great of pulling the horse onto you if you lose your balance. While it would be nice if everyone remained in control of their horses, if an emergency dismount is truly warranted, it is likely the rider needs to get away from the horse (a horse being stung by yellow jackets comes to mind). I was glad to see you mentioned taking the feet out of the stirrups and you might want to emphasize it more by making that its own step. It is amazing how often people forget that one really important step. I know of one lawsuit where that was the cause of injury, the rider tried to do an emergency dismount but forgot to take his feet out of the stirrups and suffered a badly broken ankle. It is refreshing to hear of someone improving written policies. Just the fact that you have written policies indicates how well run your program is. Since I spend a great deal of time traveling around the country giving lectures urging professionals to establish written procedures, it is great to hear when people already have them, let alone, updating and improving them! It is a testament to your dedication to safety. Keep up the good work!

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Beginning Teacher

I’ve had my certification for about a year now, (English-1, Western-2. Trail-2), but haven’t really taught much, so I am a little intimidated about taking formal students. Foremost, I want my students to be safe. What are some of the most common ways beginner students get into trouble? Also, the facility I’ll be working at doesn’t have an arena yet, but does have designated “arena” areas. Do you have any tips to mitigate that issue? I also want my students to have fun. What are you favorite games for small lessons? Most of my lessons will be individual, and I plan to cap them at three riders. Thanks so much, I appreciate any advice you have.

– Logan


Even though you have not had much experience, you must have good communication skills and horse sense if you received Level 2 instructor and trail guide. That tells me that you probably are okay on knowledge and ability, you just need experience to gain confidence. With each lesson that you teach, you will gain this valuable experience.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad experience,” Mark Twain. This statement is all too true in the horse business. But the fact that you are Level 2 certified leads me to believe you have had enough experience to make good judgments. That’s how beginners get into the most trouble: poor judgment; either on the part of the individual or the instructor.

Part of having good judgment includes using only the safest of horses; having qualified and complete supervision; using safe equipment and inspecting all tack before each use; having safe facilities; developing solid lesson plans; establishing and rehearsing emergency plans; and finally, imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could happen with horses and plan for that contingency.

Honestly, every time I look back on a horse wreck that I was involved in, I can find a way it could have been foreseen or prevented. Of course, the more experience you have, the easier it gets to make good judgments. But if you think it through, you’ll prevent many incidents.

As for your question about the open riding area, it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. CHA standards mandate that riding arenas are of suitable size for the activities performed (which in your case is beginner riding lessons—so you need a minimum of 32 linear feet of rail per horse); with a minimum 3’6” high fence made of wood, plastic or metal; good footing; free of hazards; as level as possible and regularly inspected and maintained. Since you are CHA certified, you have an obligation to uphold these standards because knowingly disregarding them makes you appear to be negligent.

The good news is that although beginner riders must start in a confined area, the space you need to teach a maximum of three beginners is quite small. It is only 96 linear feet of rail; or a square pen of only 24’ X 24’. That’s only 8 twelve foot coral panels and if you found some used panels, it would probably cost you less than $500. Put in a post at each corner (you could even use metal T-Posts if you had to) and you’ve got yourself a beginner arena for small group lessons.

Looking for ways to make your lessons fun, like playing games, it a wonderful idea and it meets the second of the three mandates for a good CHA lesson: Safe, Fun & Effective. There are many ideas on the CHA website (www.CHA-ahse.org) in the Q&A section on how to make lessons fun, including many games. With beginners, the main thing you are teaching them is position and control, so your games should focus on building and reinforcing those skills.

Logan, I am confident that with your commitment to safety and excellence, you are going to be a great instructor and keep your beginners safe. Get your arena in order, make sure your horses and equipment are top notch and keep your eagle eye focused on your students and their safety and before you know it, you’ll be giving advice to other new instructors on how to build a successful lesson business. Good luck!

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Accidental Frequency

Accident Frequency: What is Normal?

I work for a large lesson/boarding facility – we have about 50 school horses, 50 boarder horses, and a couple hundred students come through each week. I am concerned because we have had a string of pretty nasty falls recently and I am wondering if this is normal for such a large facility or if there is something unsafe happening. Is there an average number of falls that is acceptable for a facility? Is it pure chance whether a fall is minor or requires an ambulance?

Through my work with CHA, I have worked with numerous large program operators (50-100+ school horses; 200-300 students per week) that have virtually zero incident rates. I am not a believer in the statement that falling off and having injuries is just a part of the sport. I believe if you have that attitude then you will have wrecks and injuries.

I am not aware of any statistics that say how many falls or injuries are normal, but I think we should all have a zero tolerance policy. Without question, riding is a risky sport and there is nothing we can do to totally eliminate the inherent risk involved with horses. However, risks can be mitigated and with a serious focus on safety, there will be fewer injuries. Certainly some riding activities are riskier than others, such as jumping, and you would expect a higher fall rate with the riskier activities.

Whether or not there is an injury associated with a fall depends on many factors, however, many people advocate teaching people how to fall by relaxing and rolling into the fall rather than bracing against it. There are many good models for this in martial arts and it may not be a bad idea to address this with your students.

Every time there is an incident, whether someone is hurt or not, there should be an incident report made and careful scrutiny by managers as to how the incident might have been prevented. There are few, if any, freak accidents and almost every incident is preventable in some way. When incidents are reported and reviewed, they become excellent training tools for improving the safety record at the facility.

I have spoken with many instructors that share your frustration in seeing the opportunity to improve the safety record at a facility, but feeling powerless to take action. The best you can do is work within the system and be persistent in making suggestions on how to improve. If you have exhausted this approach and made no progress and you still feel that the safety at the facility is unacceptable, then you may have to consider resigning. If that is the case, you should write down all of your concerns and send them in a certified letter to the owner/manager and/or board of directors. Also send a registered copy to yourself, but do not open it, just save it for your files, in the event that any future litigation arises.

The most important thing is for you to keep your high standards in safety, maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward incidents and injuries and when incidents do occur, always examine them closely and find a way to prevent it from happening again.

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