Any firefighter would be the first to tell you, "Please wear a helmet." They are trained in risk assessment and risk management, and no firefighter would want to be caught dead (literally or figuratively) without his or her helmet when approaching any situation that involves a large stationary object that weighs a thousand pounds, stands on toothpicks, and has the potential to fall on you. Now when you realize that that large object is not stationary--like a horse--and has an opinion (and could potentially kick, bite, or crush you) you should want to increase your protection level around it especially in situations where you must handle it and the horse is fractious or injured.

Remember, we teach emergency responders about how to handle horses in situations like when they are in a trailer wreck, trapped in the mud, upside down in a ditch. Not a time when horses tend to be calm and rational! And the first thing that they put on is a helmet to do anything with a horse. They don't have to be told or asked to do so. They know there is inherent danger in these scenarios.

What can we learn from a firefighter about handling horses? Let's take a look at a couple of recent deaths with horses:

This young lady had no helmet on and was riding along the road (more about on-road riding safety in a future blog). This was a preventable (most of the time) tragedy.

However, riding with a helmet doesn't always save you when falling off of a horse. Everyone knows about Christopher Reeve and his long battle with the neck injury that he sustained from a horse fall despite wearing a helmet.

Then again, some situations are indefensible. A toddler fell from an unsupervised horse.

In fact, if a firefighter was your riding instructor, they would have you wear a helmet the entire time that you handle a horse. From catching the horse in the field, to grooming to handling the hooves to saddling to riding to releasing it in the pasture afterwards--you would be helmeted.

Additionally, they would not let you go into the confined space of a stall (they see it as essentially a 10-by-10 foot tiny trap where you can be kicked, crushed, or stomped by an explosive device). They would certainly not let you go into the even smaller confines of a horse trailer to load your horse, you would have to do it from outside. (Speaking of horse trailers, they would ensure that it was correctly serviced and maintained on a regular basis, and kept out of the weather when not in use.)

Hopefully, your boarding barn would be a model of prior preparation to prevent the chance of injury, from eliminating all the tripping hazards, improving and updating the electrical service, to posting a barn evacuation plan. They would have NFPA 150 "Standard on Fire and Safety in Animal Housing Facilities" in their reading library and would use it to design and manage the facility. There would be a regular fire drill for people and horses, and you would be taught to use a fire extinguisher and exit strategies for the barn.

Maybe we need to start asking our local firefighters to visit our barn facilities and learn from their expertise in safety, risk assessment and fire prevention? That is my suggestion for the week.