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Some Thoughts on Accidents at Horse Events
by Kurt Schneider

In the past month I have attended two carriage wrecks and a seminar on carriage accidents held at the Mid-Atlantic ADS Weekend in Fair Hill. The latter event was a great help to me at the two accidents. There are two critical components in my analysis: What to do at the scene, and Planning for the organizers of the event.

If there is a runaway, DO NOT TRY TO GRAB THE HORSE. Let the driver have as much room as they need to get control of the situation. Generally, it is best for other competitors in the area to get to the center of the ring, leaving the rail to the runaway. The horse will stop when its fatigue overcomes its fear. The center of the ring is the place where you can move in any direction to stay out of the way of the runaway. Standing in front of a runaway horse and flapping your arms is a good way to get trampled and run over. Even grabbing a rein is more likely to result in a broken rein than a stopped horse.

What to do at the scene of a carriage accident:

  1. There is a priority that should be observed. First save the humans, then the horse, then other property.
  2. Try not to make things worse than they are. This means attempt to keep the humans from moving, except to get clear of additional risk of injury, until they are sure they have no neck or spinal injuries that could be aggravated by movement.
  3. Keep the horse still. Don't run to the horse. Walk briskly to the horse and kneel or sit on it's neck to keep it down until you can release the harness and clear the carriage.
  4. Stay clear of hooves and legs. If the horse insists on rising, you may not be able to stop it. Take care that you are not thrown under the horse and try to keep it standing in place, but NOT AT RISK TO YOURSELF OR OTHER HUMANS.
  5. Appoint someone knowledgeable and level-headed to be in charge. The driver is NOT the person to be in charge. They may be suffering from concussion, and are certain to be over stressed.
  6. Release the harness by unbuckling the backstrap and undoing the traces. Some harnesses will also need the wrap strap undone before the horse is free. What you can't see can kill you or the horse ... so watch out for broken shafts or metal under the horse. I have never seen a knife used to good advantage in releasing a horse from harness. I always carry a good knife with a "Seat belt cutting blade" but I've never used it to cut harness. The point of the knife is very dangerous if the horse begins to struggle.
  7. Try to release straps SLOWLY so you don't startle the fallen horse. One of the most dangerous moments is when the horse tries to regain it's feet. It may be frightened by all the activity and could strike or run. Try to make a reasonable effort to restrain her, but don't get hurt. Ask helpers to stand back and give the horse some room when it tries to rise. Have someone behind the vehicle to help keep it clear of the horse. If the reins are pulled forward through the terrets and rings it will be easier to control the horse.
  8. If there are injuries to people or horses, it is important to summon useful help. As a cautionary note, rescue personnel are better trained in this aspect of medicine than most Medical Doctors. Let them do their work unimpeded by MDs. Since many horse shows are benefits for hospitals, you may have more help than you want at the scene of an accident. Establish CONTROL. Appoint someone to take charge, then exclude non-essential personnel from the scene. This is the hardest task you will face, since Doctors are not used to taking orders from anyone. If there is no one with Emergency training on the scene, have the announcer request an EMT Then if no help, request a MEDICAL doctor ... You don't need a PHD type Doctor in Literature at this point.
  9. When things calm down a bit, it may be desirable to hitch the horse again, if equipment and horse and driver are not seriously damaged. This may help the horse mentally get over the trauma, and save them from the glue factory. If at all practical, drive the horse carefully away from the scene.
  10. Use your head! I was watching a hazard at Gladstone ten or more years ago when I heard shouts of, "Loose horse", and saw a horse headed for the hazard trailing pieces of harness and at least one shaft. Macy Hill had just entered the hazard, and I didn't want to get in her way, so I tried to spot a route the frightened horse would take in the hazard, which consisted of a bunch of cedar trees. I walked to a place near the route I had guessed, and when the horse came by, I shouted, "Whoa". The horse stopped about three steps from me and I was able to grab the bridle while a dozen people checked the horse and untangled his remaining harness. Macy completed the hazard and the loose horse was returned to its owner in reasonably good condition.

Show Organizers:

  1. Plan for emergencies. If possible, have an ambulance with qualified EMTs on the premises for all activities. Your insurance may require this, too.
  2. Have an action plan for emergencies during each phase of your event, including routes for emergency vehicles to reach all points of your venue. If they can't get to the scene with the ambulance, you will need a relatively large off-road vehicle to transport them and any injured parties back to a road. Know in advance what vehicles are available and keep them ready and clean.
  3. HIRE A COMPETENT HORSEPERSON AS RINGMASTER. Horn blowing and other frills are crowd pleasers, but you need a take charge person with practical knowledge to handle an accident. The ringmaster is the natural leader of any assistance provided to the victims of the accident. He or she has a distinctive costume, which lends authority, their face and costume are recognized by all participants, and they are on the; "staff"; of the show, which gives legal as well as practical authority in an emergency. (When I was an airline pilot, we were required to wear our hat at all times on the aircraft when in front of the public. The hat was a symbol of authority and separated the "order givers"; from the "order takers" in an emergency. We were told to take our hats on life rafts if we ditched at sea.)
  4. Make sure the ringmaster has a sharp EMT knife of the type used to cut seat belts.
  5. Brief your ring crew and announcer how to respond to an accident. At one wreck I attended, the announcer called, "Let's get some help in the ring", which was the last thing needed, and might have contributed to a serious injury. Help will come, if competent people are nearby. If they are not available, the less competent will add to the confusion and get hurt.

We always hope for a safe and sane event, but our sport is inherently dangerous and we are not perfect. Preparation will allow us to render assistance in an effective way if it is needed. Take a few moments to make a couple of decisions right now, when there is less adrenaline affecting your mental processes.

  1. Are you effective help in an emergency, or should you leave leaping the rail to others? If you faint at the sight of blood, or if you have physical problems that preclude strong and agile movement, you had best stay out of the way.
  2. If you are a health professional, are you certified AND CURRENT in trauma medicine? I wouldn't want to be delayed in transport to a hospital by a dermatologist who slept in a Holiday Inn last night!
  3. Are you the 'Take Charge' type and knowledgeable enough to 'run' an emergency, or are you a better follower?

I have crashed twice at CDEs. Once, I was in a hazard that Bill Orth was judging and I got excellent help from this able horseman and his crew. Another time I tipped over when a bolt on my cart broke and fell at the feet or Marge Margentino, who was the technical delegate. Her expert help prevented serious injury and was most welcome. If you can pick a place to crash, the food and beverage areas generally have a good supply of able horsemen in good spirits to assist you. I hope you never need this help, but be grateful for it if you do.

Kurt Schneider is 59 years old. He retired from my work as a pilot/Captain for American Airlines almost five years ago. His last work at American Airlines was flying the A300 Airbus to South America from New York and as a special investigator for engineering and systems safety problems. He was a professional pilot for 36 years.

"I have been a horseman all my life, and started driving in the 1970s, under the mentorship of Hope Jenkin Jones. I have competed in Combined driving events with a single and a pair, and drive a tandem in pleasure driving events, such as Devon, Winmill, and Walnut Hill this year. In 1999, we placed first at the Fall Gladstone CDE, the Fair Hill International CDE, placed second at the United States Equestrian Team Festival of Champion, and we were awarded the reserve championship in the American Horse Shows Association National Single Pony Combined Driving Championship at The Laurels CDE."

At their farm in Central Pennsylvania the Schneiders breed Morgan horses, Americas oldest breed of light horses. They care for 11 horses; 1 stallion, 5 mares and 5 geldings. Kurt does all the hoof care and shoeing for their horses and assists a veterinarian with shoeing horses that have medical or developmental problems. their farm comprises 147 acres of mixed crops (corn, alfalfa) and woodland or pasture and requires a lot of work to maintain. The house was built in 1786. They have good neighbors and can ride or drive over 12 miles without crossing a paved road.

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©2000 Kurt Schneider, used by permission, all rights reserved
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