I was going to write about something other than trailer wrecks this week, however, there have been a recent rash of human safety infringements, a couple of horrific (lifelong neurological) injuries, and one tragic death of a person related to horse trailers in the last month. My father used to always tell me--when reminding me that proper position around a horse is important--not to get "caught between a rock and a hard place." What he meant was, the horse's hoof is a really
hard place if you get kicked, but even the horse
can be a hard place if you get pinned between it and a rock, tree, stall wall, trailer wall, or other tight space.
Take a look - at the tragic death of a life-long horsewoman after a beautiful ride in the North Carolina mountains, surrounded by friends -
Or a recent rescue of a horse trapped upside down in a ditch in the U.K. -
We tend to think of ditches, trenches, and crawl spaces as "confined spaces" and we would be correct. But in the fire service, any place that it is easy to get into but might be hard to get yourself out of easily is labelled a "confined space" and to a firefighter; that would include places that horse people commonly go, like a stall with a horse in it, a loaded horse trailer, etc. If a firefighter is going to go into a confined space, he or she will first make sure that they have a safe way out, perhaps wear a harness with a buddy rope so that they can be retrieved, and wear proper PPE (personal protective equipment) such as helmet and gloves before accessing the trailer.
Notice that the firefighters in the U.K. were wearing PPE and using webbing and tarps to slide the horse without holding onto the horses' legs or getting into range of being kicked or crushed by the horse while it is being extricated. The U.K. has been providing technical large animal rescue training to their fire services and emergency responders since the late 1990s. And it is paying off--for the animals in the increased success in response times and positive outcomes, and in the reduced number of injuries to responders.
Do we do those things? I have too many anecdotes in my files: A veterinarian that was crushed by her own horse in a stall at a show out West a few years ago, a cowboy that was kicked to death inside the trailer while it was sitting in his driveway, or a horse owner that was crushed in the horse trailer by her horse attempting to turn around and exit the trailer. And the number of stories of people with horrific and disfiguring injuries is even longer.
Getting your arm broken by a horse that kicks at you is horrific. It means that you placed yourself in the wrong place and did not anticipate the behavior and response actions of the horse. Getting trampled and kicked to death is the worst. It illustrates the worst case scenario of what we horse lovers tend to do: rush in to assist when our animals are trapped or upset instead of standing back and assessing the situation. How many of us have gone into our horse trailers to tie our horses in the trailer just like she did? Of course we have ... even I did before I learned that there are better and safer ways to do this. And most of the time we get away with it--no one gets kicked or trampled or crushed. But we have to realize that the statistics show that others do get injured (or killed) doing exactly these types of activities.
Horse people tend to view injuries as a "badge of honor" and are proud of their surviving injuries with horses! As if it shows that they are more knowledgable, more qualified, more experienced in some way. Isn't that the wrong attitude? Shouldn't it be that we view people who get injured as less qualified, less knowledgable? In just about any other profession (like the fire service, military, and law enforcement) people that get injured are "accident-prone" or always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time are viewed as a liability to the group, not as a leader.
Perhaps this is where our blind passion and love for our animals gets us in the biggest trouble? Let's think about better ways to access our animals while staying in a safe position, and realize that loading a horse is probably the most difficult task we will ever achieve with our horse - evolution has prepared him to be biased against scary situations and to stay out of dark confined spaces.
What are your suggestions for how you might access a horse in a confined space without having to go into it?