By Sarah Evers Conrad
Last week we discussed several of CHA’s safety guidelines for Site Standards at equestrian facilities as published in CHA’s Standards for Equestrian Programs manual. In today’s post, which is our second installment in a three-part series discussing safety guidelines, we will look into safety standards in relation to Equestrian Programs.
For those that missed last week’s post, CHA’s Standards for Equestrian Programs manual was compiled by professionals involved with equestrian programs, insurance providers, and legal consultants, as well as individual equestrian professionals. The purpose of the manual is for equestrian professionals to follow the guidelines in an effort to keep all participants at an equestrian facility as safe as possible while they receive services, such as riding lessons. The manual was designed for the horse industry as a whole. Therefore, the published guidelines apply to anyone who owns or manages an equestrian facility.
The manual states that the horsemanship director and riding staff are obligated to ensure the general safety of staff and clients. The manual’s section on Program Standards discusses 26 topics, such as setting goals, staff qualifications and age requirements, professionalism, an emergency plan, emergency and safety procedure training for staff and clients, liability waivers, incident reports, etc., to name just a few. This blog post will touch on three of the standards.
Three Must-See Safety Guidelines in Program Standards
1. Liability Waiver or Release: This one is probably familiar to anyone who has spent time at an equestrian business or event. I have certainly had a lot of experience with signing these, or my parent signing one, at every stable I took lessons or a trail ride. The standard asks, “Is a procedure in practice to obtain a written Liability Waiver or Release for all clients and volunteers that is dated and signed by the participant/parent/legally-appointed guardian?“
Obviously, it is important that an equestrian program have a liability waiver or release to release it from responsibility should an accident or injury occur. We all know that accidents and injuries do occur due to the unpredictability of horses, and life for that matter. And with a waiver, that means the signer of the waiver (the rider, or the parent or guardian of the rider) acknowledge these risks as part of the activity. The standard also suggests that barn owners and managers should have an attorney look over the wording of the waiver or release form to ensure that it “provides maximum available protection under state/provincial laws.”
Some states have equine activity liability acts in place and these may affect a waiver or release for an equestrian facility in that state. Therefore, those that provide equestrian-related services should be familiar with their state’s acts or statutes. Some state acts require that “warning notices” or a listing of specific inherent risks be posted for all to see at a barn or stable.
For instance, my state of residence, Kentucky, has within its statutes Title XXI (21), Chapter 247, which deals with Farm Animal Activities. In Kentucky, farm animal professionals and sponsors must post warning signs and notices according to set specifications by Kentucky statute to warn participants at the facilities that there are certain risks involved.
This does not mean that an equestrian professional would not be liable in some instances. For instance, the statute summary states that if the professional willfully or wantonly disregards the participant’s safety or if they intentionally, negligently, or wrongfully injure the participant, then they could still be in legal trouble.
Obviously, every equestrian professional needs to be knowledgeable about the laws and statutes in their state and hire an attorney to look over or draw up their liability waiver, in case there is an accident around horses.
Equestrian professionals will also need to make sure there is a procedure in place to distribute any waiver or releases, get them signed, and properly store them, according to the manual’s P-9 standard.
2. Pre-Ride Safety Check: This is an important thing to consider for any equestrian offering riding services. The guidelines states, “Is a written procedure in practice to ensure that a thorough safety check is performed before a rider is mounted?” This check, which only takes a few minutes, could save someone from a serious accident. “A thorough pre-ride safety check is one of the most important ways to reduce preventable incidents in horseback riding,” states the manual.
Routines should be established so that the check is done the same way each time, and includes at least the following: rider attire, tack adjustment and condition, weather, external factors that could affect a lesson or ride (open area gates, items on fences, people leaning onto or sitting on the arena fence or sitting nearby, dogs and other animals in the arena, and other obstacles in the arena), the mood and disposition of the rider, and the horse. Top staff should “view written procedure regarding pre-ride safety checks. Interview staff regarding pre-ride safety checks that are done. Observe the program in practice, if possible,” continues the manual.
There may be other things in a pre-ride safety check that could be added to the list. I would include checking the horse’s feet, especially if the rider is a beginner and not an expert at picking feet or checking the status of horseshoes. And not only should tack be checked for fit and obvious worn spots or damage, but checking for any lumps in the saddle pad or any debris underneath would be a good idea. Program managers can make the list as detailed as they wish, but the main point is to have a policy, have staff perform checks each and every time and with consistency on what is checked, and to check a minimum of the items listed above. The Standards for Equestrian Programs manual also has more detailed guidelines on rider attire and tack in other sections.
3. Client Progress Notes: This last item we will discuss today involves client progress notes, which reminds me a bit of report cards. The manual asks,” Are written progress notes available for each client?”
Obviously, this does not apply to those who will just compete in a one-time activity or may only go riding on vacation. When I was a teenager, I so loved my weekly riding lesson that I couldn’t even give it up for the week my family took a vacation to Hilton Head Island, SC. I was lucky my parents agreed to take me to another stable during vacation. That stable in Hilton Head ended up being where I first learned to jump. However, I would be surprised if that riding instructor in South Carolina kept progress notes on me. Although if she had, she could have looked them over again the next year when I returned for another lesson. Business owners can never really know when he or she might come across a client again.
Instructors can do progress notes after each lesson, trail ride, or show, or on a set interval, such as once a month. Staff could record achievements, problem areas, personality information for the rider, the horse he or she rode, which tack fit the rider (and even what holes to use for the stirrups for the correct leg position), plans for future lessons, whether the rider and horse were matched well, what activities were done during a lesson and how that client did, whether lessons were done mounted, on the ground, or in stable management and anything else that would help that instructor teach that client or give the best customer service possible. Obviously another task for an instructor to perform each week or after the end of a set interval would be to review the progress notes. Progress notes can be invaluable when creating lesson plans or as motivation for clients if the riding instructor wants to share parts with them. And they can save time each week when matching up riders to tack and horses.
This is just a sampling of the useful information listed in the Program Standards section. There are many more valuable tips and safety guidelines discussing Equestrian Programs in the manual. For more details on the above Program Standard topics, or to read the other 23 topics, you can purchase CHA’s Standards for Equestrian Programs through the CHA online store or through the main office at 859-259-3399. You don’t have to be a CHA member or a facility accredited by CHA to purchase. Anyone can purchase the manual.
Sarah Evers Conrad is currently the Digital Content Editor at Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines. She also owns All In Stride Marketing. She is an award-winning equestrian journalist with a background in magazine publishing, feature writing, news and event coverage, editing, digital marketing, social media, and website management. Conrad has been published in equine publications such as The Horse, Blood-Horse, Equestrian, Arabian Horse Life, USDF Connection, the American Quarter Horse Journal, Paint Horse Journal, Off-Track Thoroughbred, Stable Management, Camp Business magazine, Lexington Family magazine, and HorsesDaily.com and DressageDaily.com. She is also the current editor for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s official publication, The Instructor magazine. Conrad has also edited several books, including CHA’s “The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding.” Learn more at www.equestrianjournalist.com.