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Safety in driving means being prepared if there’s an accident

Sometimes, no matter how experienced we are or how well-trained our horses are, accidents happen! Without a doubt, working with horses can be hazardous. How you plan, react and control the situation is the key.

written by Patricia Demers / Horsetrader columnist - June 18th, 2015 - About Driving

PatriciaDemers_170pxPlanning ahead requires education: reading articles, taking lessons, making observations. Why do horses get us in trouble?

Horses are fight or flight animals whose brains have been hard-wired for survival. A horse may react by standing, freezing and assessing the situation while deciding if staying is a good idea (fight), or to put some distance between itself and whatever it perceives as a threat (flight). When a horse chooses flight, things can go downhill very quickly – even more so when a cart or carriage is attached. If the “bolting” involves multiple horses, they can quickly bond into a herd mentality. If one runs, the others will too, as there is safety in numbers as far as an equine brain is concerned!

It’s the driver’s responsibility to be constantly aware of their surroundings and assess situations BEFORE anything happens. You are responsible for your own safety, as well as the safety of your passengers, horse, and those around you.

Kicking straps: A kicking strap (often incorrectly referred to as a “bucking strap”, which is used in rodeos to make a horse buck) is a useful piece is equipment for a single horse. It is a piece of equipment that attaches over the horse’s haunch or tail dock and then to the shafts of the carriage. It works when the horse meets the resistance of the strap and the weight of the carriage when the horse elevates its hind end to kick or buck. If your horse acts like it will kick or buck while in harness, try to assess if it is an equipment problem first, such as a poorly adjusted harness, pinching girth or poking thread/ staple from the harness. If not, then a training issue may be the cause. I usually start green horses off in a kicking strap and then remove it later when the horse has more experience and miles.

So what happens when your horse does kick the carriage? Hopefully, it will never happens to you! The moment your horse kicks the carriage and realizes that something is behind him, fight or flight reaction sets in, and he will kick (fight) until the thing chasing him is gone. This usually results in broken carriages. Very loud noises, like when the wood breaks , adds to the agitation, and maybe even causes the equine to bolt. You must immediately re-balance your horse onto his hind end. Control the feet- control the situation! Calmly but firmly ask the equine to WHOA so that everyone can collect their composure, assess the situation, and take the appropriate measures.

Bolting: A bolt might be described as any moment when the equine decides it needs to resort to flight, and is difficult or impossible to control at that given moment. A bolt can be anywhere from a walk to a run, but we usually associate it with running. When you are riding a horse, you can bend its head around and disengage the hind end, creating unbalance, and regain control. In a carriage you cannot disengage the hind end in the same manner, as the shafts block the lateral movement to some degree and the horse ends up evading out its shoulder. First, try not to PANIC! ASSESS your immediate area for hazards such as other horses, people, cars, etc.

If you have room, try to drive the horse in a large circle and spiral inwards, decreasing your speed gradually. Please be careful to not turn too tightly as you may overturn your carriage!! Calmly but firmly talk to the horse (while warning those around you), and tell him WHOA repeatedly in long an LOW tones. (This is when, hopefully, you’ve taught your horse
that WHOA means stop!) Don’t let your voice rise in a panic, as this only excites the horse. If all else fails, you can use a fence, wall, or other solid objects to run the horse into as a last resort. NEVER jump out of the carriage if you are the driver, unless it’s a matter of life or death. A loose horse with a carriage is a whole different situation!

If your horse does get loose with a carriage, this is a serious situation! Your horse only knows what space HE fits thru – like gates or the space between cars, trailers etc. He’s got no concept of the carriage following him. Your horse’s blinders hinder its peripheral vision as well. This is when carriages careen into cars or hit people. Standing in front of a runaway horse is a good way to get trampled! Be very careful if you grab the bridle that you don’t end up removing or breaking it while the horse is attached to the carriage. If possible, try to get a hold of the lines to gain control, or try to herd the horse towards a solid object like a wall to stop it.

Sometimes accidents happen, but it’s what we DO and how we handle the situation that can make all the difference. The use of helmets is advisable. REMEMBER- NEVER remove the bridle or lines while the equine is attached to the carriage.

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