Ow: Equestrian Edition

gimpyhorse_bvcActually not the horse kind. The human kind.

This week, I asked fellow writers to ask questions about what they want or need to know about handling and living with horses. Writer and artist M.C.A. Hogarth responded with a great question:

Can you tell us about common injuries sustained by people working with horses?

Oh, yes, I can.

Horses, as we’re all well aware, are quite large and generally inclined toward the flight end of the fight-or-flight spectrum. Humans, at a fraction the size and an even smaller fraction the strength, have to be very careful around them, because even when a horse doesn’t mean to, he can do real damage.

The vast majority of the time, of course, properly trained and domesticated horses are careful, and humans pay attention and don’t get all knotted up with terror, and the two species get along well. Riders ride, drivers drive, horses serve as companions and therapy animals. It’s a good deal for the human, and many times for the horse as well.

But even with that, there’s still the size disparity and the chance of accidents. I suspect most non-experts would think of riding accidents first. Falling off, getting thrown off. Horse falling and taking rider with it.

If the rider is both lucky and agile, she might land on her feet. Or she’ll manage to land with damage beyond a few bruises: tuck and roll, or find a soft spot to tumble into.

If she’s not lucky, things won’t go so well. There’s a reason why helmet propaganda is so pervasive in our bubble-wrap culture. Head injuries are common and can be serious or fatal. Not just rider landing on head, but rider tumbling off with no or minimal control and hitting her head during the fall. If the head doesn’t get hit, the spine might be injured or broken, as happened to the actor Christopher Reeve during a jumping competition.

Even a non-crippling or non-fatal fall will leave bruises and may result in damage. Bones can break. A torn rotator cuff is pretty common–rider may try to grab rein or saddle to keep from going off, or may land on arm and shoulder. Dislocated shoulder can happen, too.

The legend of the fall is that the rider will get up (if possible) and get right back on. And it happens, because that other legend is often true: If you don’t get right back on, you might not get back on at all. Also, it’s a good idea not to let the horse think he’s won a round, if the fall came about because the horse honestly wanted you off. You need to demonstrate that he might shed you once, but you’ll be back. And the session will go on, however abbreviated.

And then you tend him and put him away and limp off in search of the bag of frozen peas which all sensible horsepeople keep in their freezers.

Riding and driving accidents (which can come with bonus cart destruction and wipeouts–driving accidents can be quite bad) aren’t the only times that horses can damage humans. Handling them has its challenges as well.

Horses may flip out, shy wildly, bite or kick or pull away violently in response to various triggers. Trainers learn to wear gloves when working horses, especially young horses or rehabs, because rope burn is a distinct possibility.

Solid, closed shoes or boots are a must. Even the most careful horse and observant human can collide, and hooves are bloody hard–even more so if they’re shod. An accidental step or deliberate lean will bruise a toe or foot, even break it.

Being stepped on or being pulled away from can be accidental or unintentional. Bites, not so much. When a horse bites, he usually means it. His teeth are blunt but large and his jaws are strong. A bite will leave a mark–even break skin, draw blood, or worse. Which is why especially with stallions, early and assiduous education on both sides is essential, because stallions dominate with their teeth. They may kick or strike, too, but the first line of offense tends to be the mouth.

There can be unintentional bites, too: snapping at a fly, or at another horse, and forgetting or not realizing that there’s a human in the way. A horse may not think about how fragile humans are, either, and may nip at a human doing something a horse deems objectionable, such as taking a liberty or causing pain. A horse, similarly disciplined, might not take an excessive amount of damage, but a human’s thin skin and small size can make the injury much more serious.

Perhaps more common than bites are various forms of kicks. A human may be alert to the slashing teeth, but might not expect the flash of a heel–it can come apparently out of nowhere, and be completely unintentional on the horse’s part. Maybe he’s kicking at a fly and the human happens to be in the way. Or she’s making an editorial comment to another horse, and the human is passing by at just the wrong moment. Or the human has forgotten to announce her presence well in advance, and the horse, startled, lets fly.

Horse kicks are like being slammed with a sledgehammer even when the horse pulls back or isn’t trying very hard. I don’t know any horse person who hasn’t had at least one hoof-shaped bruise on their anatomy at some point. I even knew a man, long ago, who had a dent in the middle of his forehead. How he managed not to be lobotomized I don’t know, but he was fully functional and was still training horses. “She didn’t mean to,” was all he said of the mare who took out a portion of his skull.

My dent is in the thigh, from a very large mare who was aiming at another mare in the stall next to her while I was cleaning the stall. My fault for not paying close enough attention. She pulled back just a little too late, and it was still like being slammed in the leg with an anvil. I needed multiple bags of peas for that one. Even had to sacrifice some of the green beans. (Size 4 foot. Ow.)

Thing is, we expect some injuries as part of the job. We do our best not to have any, but we learn how to fall off a moving horse with minimal damage, and we also learn how to handle horses as safely as possible, while understanding what can happen if something goes wrong. We can’t let ourselves live in terror or we won’t be safe at all.

It’s still worth it. Horses are grand companions, and riding them, when it goes well, is amazing. So is driving them. And just being with them.

As long as we keep the frozen peas in stock. And work on staying alert and mindful whenever we’re around them.

I’m taking more questions, by the way–feel free to leave them in comments. After seven years of Horseblogs, I welcome suggestions, and will happily answer questions. Just ask!




Ow: Equestrian Edition — 53 Comments

  1. My dentist confided to me that the main repair he does on girls is tooth damage from horseback riding. Hit your face on the back of the horse’s head. (I am more innovative — I damaged my tooth falling off of a Segway.)

    In the days of horse-powered transport getting killed in a horse accident was at least as common as dying in an auto-related disaster today. Any time I need someone in the current ms to die in a mundane way they can fall off a horse or be run away with in the carriage.

    • I have not known any horse people who have had mouth injuries like that. They’ve run the gamut of other body parts, but teeth, nope. Your area has a lot of hunter riders and trainers–I wonder if it’s discipline-related. It’s really hard with a Western or dressage horse to get smacked in the teeth while riding, but kids going over fences are up and over the horse’s neck. That must be where it happens. Especially if horse lands hard, and head flies up just as kid lurches forward.

      Not something at all common in other riding disciplines. We tend more toward getting bucked off, or parting company during a sudden shy or spin.

      • One of my friends used to work in an ER, and she said in our (predominantly Western) area, the most common injury they saw was actually due to the horn on the Western saddle – broken ribs, etc.

        • Horns were a common source of lethal injury in the High Plains. The edges could actually cut all the way through to viscera. One of the other common injuries among cowpokes was the loss of a finger when making a mistake wrapping rope around the horn.

      • I got nailed in the mouth/face with a neck by a horse in the midst of throwing me off. Wouldn’t have been a particularly big deal but I had braces at the time. It was about as ugly inside my mouth as you’d expect.

  2. I can add a couple of my experiences.

    Lipizzan fillies – OMG they are quick with the hind feet, and if you think a size 4 hoof hurts, try one of those little fifty-cent sized ones is a lot more painful IMO.

    Any stallion – I know of two people (not personal friends), one a friend on FB though, that either were killed or nearly killed by their (trusted) stallion. The dead lady went into the stall and was found dead from being bit on the neck and shaken, several hours after the fact. The other lady was leading her stallion after finishing a ride, and had to open the arena gate. He grabbed her and shook her, but she survived. Not much can be done when you are in that situation alone. (I don’t work with either of my stallions alone).

    When Thea dumped me last fall, I got right back on and got dumped again right away. Twice in one day is pretty hard on a 50+ year old body. I decided I could not ‘teach her a lesson’ if I couldn’t stay on, so didn’t try for #3. Turns out she was dead lame the next day, so she was most likely hurting and objecting generally and not against me and riding specifically. Took her 6-8 weeks to stand/walk soundly, so it was pretty severe, pain in her hind end, probably pelvis.

    • Poor thing–both of you.

      Pain is often a cause for a horse reaction. Worst fall I had off stallion was due to a back spasm–he exploded. I called the massage therapist as soon as I could take care of him and hobble into the house.

      Stallions are tricky. I never go near mine in stall or turnout without a driving whip in hand, to fend him off if the hormones overcome his training and socialization. Early on, he was a bad kicker, more than a biter, but he would bite for cause. Never just to be a brat. I have no problem working with him solo, but I’m very aware and never work him when I’m ill or distracted. Not A Tame Lion. But still my favorite horse in the world.

      Lipp fillies: BTDT. My youngest was not popular at the farm she was foaled at, and is still a bit mean with the hind feet. I use stallion protocols with her.

      • I forgot to mention that Baldasara kicked my husband as a yearling or two year old – just a light tap. But it shattered his spleen, which they removed after a week in the ICU trying to let it heal.

        He’s allergic to iodine so they couldn’t get a good view of it in the ER.

    • Taking otherwise reasonable principles, packaging them up as “new” for riders who have never experienced them, and treating them as the be-all and end-all of horsemanship. There are easily a dozen folks out there like the Horse Whisperer, and that’s just the big names. It’s a cult of personality, basically, and often focused on “games” to foster a connection with your horse and having the right tools (thereby making money for the big name guy).

      Some of them are effective at getting people to have real partnerships with their horses (Mark Rashid is supposedly really good for this), and others… well, as Judith and Diana said: snake oil and grandstanding.

      • I wondered about this. Teacher S. at Dancinghorse Farm would be a Horse Whisperer if anybody was, I should think if anybody is, but doesn’t use a fancy title (so far as I am aware) or hide the many skills. Explains everything.

        • Yup! In the equestrian world, we have horsewomen and -men; trainers, our everyday heroes; clinicians and big name trainers, who we might aspire to learn from but most of us will never even meet; and the horse whisperer types, who generally fall under an umbrella called “natural horsemanship.”

          Natural horsemanship – and that term is kind of hilarious when you start looking at what these guys teach, because very little of it is natural to the horse – is altogether a different beast. It’s… I think there are definitely good intentions for most of those guys, but it gets muddled. They tend to come from Western backgrounds – you’ll see a lot of Western saddles and curb bits in natural horsemanship clinics – and as I understand it, there was a time where they were considered revolutionary because they came out publicly and said, “Let’s train the horse to accept the saddle instead of throwing a saddle on him the first day and letting him buck until he’s too tired to fight us.”

          At the core, they’re all about asking the horse to respect your space and be obedient to what you want them to do. It’s all about pressure and release, the very foundation of interactions with horses, but it’s a very cowboy way to approach things, even still – lots of use of ropes and long lead ropes, lots of sending the horse around a round pen. In the right hands, these things are effective training tools. I was riding with a Western trainer (despite being an English rider) at the time that the Horse Whisperer book/movie hit, and at the time that Monty Roberts and some of the other big name natural horsemanship guys were getting lots of press. She used a lot of the same techniques I was seeing used by the big name guys.

          In inexperienced hands – or in the wrong hands – these same perfectly valid techniques can bear strange, terrible fruit. If you don’t understand pressure and release or willfully ignore it, you can quickly create a very confused and/or dangerous horse. (One of the more confusing examples is the guy that teaches that wiggling the lead rope at the horse is supposed to make it back up. The practitioners will step away from the horse and wave their hand up and down to move the rope until the horse backs up. The rest of us stay at the horse’s head and ask with body language or a gentle backwards tug on the rope.) Never giving the horse release can fry a horse’s brain entirely, which makes retraining them later difficult to impossible. Giving the horse too much release can lead to a horse that believes that they’re in charge and that they can treat fragile humans like other horses.

          And because those horses are trained in a fashion that’s very different from what non-natural-horsemanship folks are used to, there can be accidents and incidents simply because other people expect the horse to do X, like any other horse, and it does Y instead, because that’s what it’s been trained to do.

          That’s part of why these natural horsemanship guys have a negative reputation in the larger equestrian world.

          Then add in the guys trying to capitalize on their popularity by selling overpriced, branded versions of standard tack (for example: $60 for a branded rope halter; $6 for an unbranded one at your local tack store) and specialized tack that you could reasonably make or buy for a similar fraction of the cost. So many horse owners are working on a very restricted budget; charging so much for simple things that you can make or buy for far cheaper feels… sleazy.

          • Most of the trainers I know who get described as doing “natural horsemanship” absolutely refute the term – in general someone who describes themselves as a horse whisperer is a charlatan.

            There is good stuff coming out of that Dorrance tradition and those parallel with it, kind and subtle work that genuinely helps horses and people get along better. I don’t know of anyone I have seen work in any other tradition here in Europe who gets close to that. But the people doing the good work are not the same people whose names you see in magazines, on TV or making their fortunes out of it.

  3. Even the most trusty horse has a startle reflex that can be surprising and damaging. My left hand was crushed by a rope when my mare startled back suddenly when I had my hand inside a loop. Two fingers shattered into many pieces. It wasn’t her fault. I know better than to permit any rope tied at one end and attached to a horse on the other form a loop around my hand (or any other body part).

    My immediate reaction was to push everything back into place and wrap an ice pack around it all. Then I put my horse and equipment away before asking to be taken to the ER.

    • You are a true horse person. Yes. (And OW!)

      Like me with that hole in my back, doing all the evening chores before going in to patch it up.

    • Kid fall off the Shetland with a head bang. Remounted, rode him to the fence (with only 10 foot tunnel vision), went into the house and splashed water on my face. Parents had company, so I answered “fine” to the question of “are you okay,” went back out, and rode some more.

  4. My former trainer was medicating a young horse’s leg and was kicked square in the sternum. The kick tore her aorta and she bled to death in the ER of a rural hospital not capable of emergency open heart surgery.

    I have been kicked severely just once, by a mare who was startled out of a doze when I walked behind her while she was cross-tied in the barn aisle. She cow-kicked me in the back, right over the kidney and sciatic nerve. I sailed through the air, went through an open stall door and hit the back wall, whacking my right elbow on the door frame as I went through. Result was almost two weeks of incredible pain and muscle spasms and heavy-duty narcotic painkillers, then six months of sore back, and now a once-a-year bad back that hurts for three days and then thankfully goes away until its next visit. The elbow rap resulted in the three outer fingers of my right hand being numb for almost a year while the brachial nerve recovered.

    I went back to riding my horse a month after the kick, despite the back pain. However, I couldn’t force myself to walk behind any horse for a few years after that—my brain would say “it’s okay” but my body would freeze in place, and I’d end up going out the back of the barn aisle and around outside in order to get past that horse. That really sucked in the winter time, but was infinitely preferable to getting kicked again (even though I knew I probably wouldn’t be).

    Other than that, a sprained ankle, a sprained thumb, an upper arm laceration (50 stitches) from a fall, and one bite. Not to bad for having ridden for 40 years!

    • That was one epic kick. I’m glad you survived!

      Very scary about the trainer. Those are the kinds of stories that give horsekids’ parents grey hair. The one that always got me was the trainer with trusted stallion, leading him in hand, and he grabbed her arm and literally tore it off. GAAAHHHH!

      Ultimately though, we keep coming back. It’s no more dangerous really than riding motorcycles or for that matter driving a car, and the rewards are so worth it.

  5. What a timely post! Over the weekend, I was trying to convince a Western rider of the importance of wearing a helmet. I’m looking at starting eventing, so I’m getting a protective vest.

    Like any horse person, I’ve been stepped on, kicked, bitten, etc. Luckily, none of the horror stories with stallions have happened to me. None of the stallions at our family farm were ever malicious and actively seeking to harm anyone.

    Sometimes your trusty horse (or pony) runs away towards the barn and you have to deal with that. All kinds of things can happen. In my case, I circled too hard to slow down my pony and she fell sideways, landing on my ankle (sprained ankle, torn ligaments). Hobbled to the barn with the pony as my crutch.

    My worst accident was during a riding accident (helmet and half chaps on, thankfully). Isis and I had a great lesson that day and were finishing up with a canter on a loose rein. She tripped and somersaulted, landing facing the opposite with me face down between her legs. My right leg was underneath her and still in the stirrup on the opposite side (thank goodness for bendy stirrups). Isis kicked once, and hit my helmet (instead of my temple). Once she realized where I was, she didn’t move until my instructor pulled Isis off of me. She only stood up once she was a safe distance from me.

    I got back on her and my instructor led us out. Isis had some pulled muscles and a dinged knee. I had leg damage on my right leg (DVT, which healed) and a light sprain on my knee. Six weeks and we were back to riding.

    We were incredibly lucky. If Isis had stood up, she would have stepped on my spine. The tripping turned out to be an on-going issue for years. She had chiropractic and acupuncture treatments which helped. I adapted my riding to support her. We only learned what caused the issue when Isis was later diagnosed with EPM, a neurological disease that can cause muscle deterioration, lack of coordination, and tripping. Once Isis was treated for EPM, the tripping stopped, at least for a year, until she relapsed (and then we lost her).

    It’s been seven or eight years, and I’m just now getting to where I can canter Kasane without trepidation.

    • I remember Isis. Hugs–I know how much you loved her.

      It can be so hard to know why a horse is doing something dangerous–I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s often something organic, and figuring that out can make a big difference to everyone’s safety.

  6. When I was in high school, someone was trailering to the farm when we got a call there was an accident. Lots of blood in the trailer, by the time we arrived she was in the ER. We rescued the horse, took it to our barn, cleaned it up, doctored the scrapes, put it in a stall. We being my excellent teachet and her pack of high school girls. Next day found out the horse had savaged her. It got put down that day. Not a stud. Not its first attempt. Teacher was shook by the damage to her elderly friend (who did survive) and the threat she had inadvertently allowed to all us kids.

    My neighbor, who made it to alternate on USET, had a horse that liked to bite the glasses off your face. I have not encountered many vicious horses but they are damned scary. Stallions are fighters and dominators so even the nicest and best trained have that instinct right under the skin. I don’t blame them, but I sure am deliberate around them.

    On a more amusing note, my parents had a long pattern of every time my mom got sick, my dad got sicker. One day she was really, really feeling lousy (Maine farm girl, and a nurse, almost NEVER sick). My dad staggered back to the bedroom after feeding my old mare, with a clear hoof print on his forehead. Mom said, “You win.”

    It was a tiny, accidental, barefoot tap. He had a headache that day. They are both in their mid nineties now and doing well.

    • Oh, that kick is scary!

      The first barn that I rode at had a pony that would nip you in the rear if you weren’t positioned just so when tightening the girth. They’d tried all kinds of alternative girths, time off, etc, etc – it was just a habit. Half the time, she did it before you’d made it past the first hole.

      Many, many years later, I went back to the same location – with different owners. They said they’d inherited that pony with the barn, and they should have taken it as a warning when the lady selling the place admitted that her arm was in a cast because the pony had bitten her. When the pony tried to bite a kid in their lesson program, they shipped her off to auction.

  7. My dent is in my right shin. Fell off when horse refused jump, then to add insult to injury, she stepped on me.
    Concussion from same horse, doing much the same thing. Hey, I was 13yo and it was my first horse, I didn’t care 😉

    I am now a driver, and let me tell you, carriage accidents are a LOT more scary than riding accidents.

    I’ve had horses for almost 40yrs now and hope to for another 40. I really do appreciate when authors get the horse stuff right. One of my favorite authors had her characters slapping the reins on the horses butts to get them to start pulling. BIG no no in the way I drive. Almost ruined the story for me.

    • What You Said about driving accidents. Add the cart with its weight and its non-yielding parts and that seriously ups the ante.

      Vicious horses are rare, but I’ve met one or two. They really will try to rip your face off, and they aren’t kidding. The one I knew best jumped out of his stall one day, right over the half-door, bolted down the aisle, and dropped dead. Ultimate conclusion was that he had been having mini-strokes and/or had a tumor, and that was the origin of his completely random and violent explosions.

  8. My riding instructor of many years had a similarly catastrophic kick – only hers was to her pelvis. It was broken in a fashion that ended her ability to have children. She went on to have a successful show career with the gelding that kicked her.

    On another point in the spectrum is my current barn owner, who was grooming a loose horse newly returned to the pasture when a second loose horse took offense. This ended with her underneath loose horse 1, who basically just stood over her trying to protect the human until horse 2 realized that there was a human there. She nearly lost a couple of teeth and still has a clear scar from where her face was split open.

    Fly stomps are the absolute worst. One minute, horse is standing there and you’re minding your own business; the next minute, they pick their foot up and slam it back down, and woe betide the toes that were beneath it.

    Sometimes horses will nip with their lips more than their teeth, and even that can be painful – rather like being pinched by someone with lots of hand strength, tons of enthusiasm, and no particular aim. It’s just a pinch, in the end, but it’s surprising and can really suck for a few minutes, depending on where they get you. (Like the rather memorable time when a foal nipped my chest – with some unfortunate aim. OW!)

    Rope burn – and blisters – are unpleasant. More unpleasant is when you make the mistake of wrapping a rope to which a horse is attached around a hand and they decide to make for the hills. Then you’re dealing not just with rope burn, but with a crushed hand, if you don’t get dragged across the landscape.

    My worst rope burn experience was the day that the opinionated bay mare decided that leaving the scene was key. I had her on a lunge line – a flat rope that claims to be canvas but I’m pretty sure is actually made of razor blades and hate, for the non-horsey – when she took off. I had a straight line of blisters across my hand for days.

    For a truly terrifying example of horse and rider falling, google “rotational fall.” This has been a big deal in eventing circles. Jumps in eventing come in the kind you see in arenas – wooden standards and somewhat light poles that will fall if you brush them wrong – and the big, fixed kind out on the countryside – which until recently were built to simply not break apart. A rotational fall is one where the horse hangs a leg and rotates around the fixed obstacle – a log, for instance – throwing the rider and sometimes falling on top of them. Horse and rider may both survive the fall… but there’s as good a chance that one or neither will. (They’re making great strides in avoiding this, but it’s still scary!)

    • I have seen that kind of fall directly in front of me while cantering in a group. Both horse and rider were OK, but wow. It’s terrifying to watch.

      The fly-stamp thing is so abrupt, there’s no warning, BAM. Excellent reason to keep toes out of range at all times.

      • Oh god yes. While there are some falls that you watch and just mutter, “Ow,” and move on, way too many of them are terrifying!

        A friend of mine had a young mare who had about 30 days under saddle melt completely down when her rider patted her. Rider did an emergency dismount when the mare’s bolt looked like it was going to turn into an attempt to jump the 6 ft arena fence, but she was still knocked out – and slid about 10 feet across the dirt.

  9. Patricia Briggs recently had epic damage done to her by her horse, including a broken jaw, when horse startled at the wrong moment.

  10. Writer Maggie Bonham also had a bad riding accident (last year, I believe, possibly 2014) and no insurance. Scary year for them.

    I did have a friend make *the* mistake with reins and a severe, severe startle from the horse. She now has her big toe as a thumb on that hand. I never heard her blame the horse.

    But with all these stories, I do understand why my parents were terrified and would not let me take lessons. They did not want to encourage that adoration. And I had too much respect for the horse and natural Risk Management PM in me to ride without training, plus subconscious warning of why I should not.

    One thing, Judy, that writers and riders might want to know. Do you discipline a biter or a horse trying to hurt you? How? How much? Not at all?

    Is there a line where you must sell a horse that another might start over with, but you cannot? Did the owners of that biting pony sell it with a warning–or sell it for dinner in another country? (Writers want to get it right.)


        I have seen all those behaviors right here at home, and the last thing I would ever do is “sack out” the testosterone bomb. Yeeeeeesh.

        What you DO is ground yourself, reach for the deep calm, and be a rock. Not a freaking flappy thing. Flappy things get killed.

      • Holy crap. Not only was he provoking that poor horse, but he was doing it by being completely ineffectual. That is somewhere between impressive and frankly terrifying.

    • I didn’t start riding there again until well after the pony was gone, but I can make some guesses. Based on what was said about her – something to the effect of, “the next day, we loaded her up in a trailer and sent her away” – I doubt there was a warning issued. She was probably just dumped at the auction to be sold to whoever wanted to pay for her. And chances are, with a biting problem like that, if she didn’t go to the kill buyer the first time she went through the auction, she did when she went through again. Ponies aren’t popular in this area; Quarter Horses with enough training to keep a kid happy can be found for as little as $250 (and probably even less – that was a fast Craigslist search). The people most likely to pick up a pony are riding instructors, and the minute she started biting again, she would have been back out the door.

      Kill buyers here would be shipping to Mexico; farther north, they’d ship into Canada. There’s a big business in small 501(c)s going in to rescue horses purchased by the kill buyer at auction before the truck leaves. Some of them are better and more reputable than others (That’s a whole other topic…), but they’re all generally looking for horses who will be easy to flip and place.

    • Yes, you discipline the horse that attempts to bite or kick you. You have five seconds within which to make the horse believe that he has made the worst mistake of his life. If you wait much longer than that, the horse will not connect your reaction to the event, so it’s just horse abuse.

  11. I’ve been kicked both on the ground and on horseback; I’ve been nipped; I’ve fallen off; I’ve been intentionally thrown; but the most common problems have been being stepped on (stomped on my toes) or having my face switched by a tail swatting a fly with force while I am grooming. A horse’s tail can raise welts, especially if the tail is muddy or wet. One of the reasons I always wore thick socks and boots, plus chaps over my breeches, gloves and usually a long-sleeved shirt, summer or winter when I was grooming my horses was to protect myself. Other common problems are cuts from wire (even smooth wire can cause problems) or splinters from stalls, rails, etc. As an aside, falling on sharp rocks or pavement can do a lot of harm, but even falling on sand can lead to broken bones. Holding on to the lead of a rearing horse can lead to torn shoulder muscles, and a horse that likes to roll in water can get down so quickly that you can’t keep from being dunked or rolled on, and they don’t always paw at the water before going down….

  12. Way back when I was young and thought I was immortal, I rode show jumpers.

    At a horse show in Mexico City, I was in the warm up ring. It was tiny, one jump in the middle set to 5’6″, and a narrow lane on either side.

    The jump was flagged my direction, and my horse had just taken off when one of the Argentinian team swerved off the rail to get in one more jump…coming from the wrong direction, without looking at what was coming his way.

    Head on collision, mid air.

    My horse somersalted over the other horse. The Argentinian’s horse had broken its neck, and was dead on the ground.

    I went flying over my horse’s head and landed half on the dead horse, and half on a pile of rails. My horse Michael landed upside down on top of me.

    Broke three vertebrae in my back, lacerated my spleen, broke all of the ribs on my left side and three on the right. Collarbone exploded. Left hip shattered. Left femur broken. Left arm broken in four places. Wrist broken. Two fingers broken. Ankle broken. Two vertebrae in my neck cracked, but not fractured. Traumatic brain injury, as Michael landed partway on my head and my helmet cracked in two.

    Michael wrenched his back and pulled a tendon, but was more or less okay. The Argentinian who caused it all had one small bruise, and walked away.

    They told me I’d never walk again, but I proved them wrong.
    I can even ride, a little bit, for short periods. 🙂

  13. What a vast menu of horrid things you have supplied, for the writer to do to her characters! I am off to arrange a carriage accident for mine. The carnage will be immense.

    • There are so many things that go wrong handling or riding horses, but wow, the wrecks you can have driving are unbelievable. The amount of equipment, momentum, lines, chains and just the list of things that can go wrong is enormous.

      I shudder to think about it.

    • Brenda, I know you are writing melodrama. But. Does anything happen in the story that is *not* a catastrophe for your characters? 😉

  14. Wow! I had a question about a character who is afraid of horses, and what would be a reasonable way (if any) for a horse person to attempt to get her over this fear, but after reading these comments I’m starting to think she’s quite right. She doesn’t have the horse-loving quality, alas, but in her situation it’s difficult to be unable to deal with horses.


    • I can do a Horseblog about that. There are ways, and despite the horror stories, it is possible to be safe around horses. Just needs some basic precautions and the right frame of mind.

    • My mother-in-law is terrified of all large animals. But my little mustang lives in our back yard and is thoroughly charming. He has trained her to walk to the back orchard to fetch apples for him. She finally asked if she could sit on him. So I led her around the pasture. She wanted to do another loop. And another.

      I don’t think she wants to get on, or cuddle, any other large animals. But he has her wrapped around his, um, hoof. I call him our Labrador with hooves. The right horse can make a huge difference in confidence, as the wrong one can shatter it.

      We horse folk have all seen injuries, both accidental and inflicted. But the benefits we receive from our time with horses outweigh the risk and the occasional, or even lasting, pain. The sense of connection, of trust, of liberty, of wings are profoundly good for the soul. Which is why so many of us have made our way back to horses (often riding jumpers in our youth then dressage in later adulthood, or driving). Because our horses make our lives better. Consider that when writing your frightened character, Pamela.

  15. What makes this so fascinating of course is that there were large swathes of history when you couldn’t do anything without bestial power. You could neither travel, nor wage war, nor farm. All of these injuries and troubles must have been part of the cost of doing business — the way our umpteen jillion traffic accidents are commonplace.

  16. The ‘typical’ riding injury – at least in older books – is a rider breaking their collarbone.

    I did mine in trying to roll over my shoulder on reasonably hard ground; this went as well as a friend of mine who’d broken her leg trying to land on her feet when *she* was coming off a couple of weeks earlier.

    The collarbone was ‘one of those things’. First time I’d asked my (9yo) horse to canter in the arena, he gave me a beautiful three strides, found it uncomfortable, panicked, swerved, and lifted his croup to balance himself when I got unbalanced. I went splat. Easy fall, bad landing. (Left me with major anxiety issues riding other horses – there were plenty of times he scared me, but at least I knew what his triggers were.)

    My most stupid injury was walking behind a horse led by someone else – I was a fair way away, and we’d been talking, but he suddenly stopped and fired. I had a two-inch gash in my upper thigh, blood running down my leg for days, and kept thanking my lucky stars: that would have been my knee or pelvis smashed. For once, well-padded thighs for the win.

    • BTDT with the collarbone. School horse bucked me off at the end of a lesson – complete with a squeal and twist. I managed to turn just a little to land on my shoulder rather than plant my face in the dirt and break my neck. The collarbone was shattered. Got it fixed and I’m happy to say it healed well, mostly.

      Haven’t been back up yet. It’s been two years and counting, and gradually, the addiction is coming back…

      • Ouch.

        The first horse I got back on was mine, with all the safety precautions: I lunged him, and had someone else lead me around until I knew we’d be ok. I was so tense that I had to shorten my stirrups, and it was a complete non-event – when not asked to do something painful, horse was fine. The upside of a horse that doesn’t pay much attention to you when you’re calm and he’s not was that the reverse also held: he was calm, so he took no notice of my jittering nerves.

        Then I went away to recuperate some more, and in the meantime my sharer fed him rocket fuel, did a lot of things that were almost guaranteed to wind him up, and paid no attention to any of my warnings. Result: a bolt on the road, a frightened rider, and a horse that was completely through the wind. And it was up to me to sort this out, which was… not great. But I did it, which just goes to show that you can be anxious AND skilled.

        I hope you can find a safe place to get back into riding.