I will just start with, "There are some places that you do not
want your name to show up. I can think of several, but one of those would be the Journal of Trauma
." Remember, we teach emergency responders about large animals and especially horses, and we have to explain how dangerous they can be. So I am constantly keeping up with the latest injury statistics and scientific information related to keeping people safe.
Why would I bring up the Journal of Trauma? Well, there are a plethora of titles there that I would not want attached to my headstone. Fortunately, the name of the actual injured party never appears in these studies, but I can imagine that most of us wouldn't want to be involved in any of these scenarios... in any form. What about professional emergency responders that do not handle horses every day? How would they fare in handling horses? Let's look at our injury statistics for a minute:
For example, read "Blunt Bovine and Equine Trauma" from 1986. The overview of the journal article reads "During the past six years, 134 patients were admitted as the result of bovine (cow) and equine (horse) trauma. The mechanism of injury was fall from horse in 45 patients, animal assault in 42, animal kick in 39, and animal-drawn vehicle accident in eight. One hundred seventeen operative procedures were performed." Hmm... Animal assault? That was not featured in the happy cow videos... nor the cantering into the sunset trailer on the movies.
How about "Lethal Horse Riding Injuries" from 1989: Part of the abstract reads "From the years 1969 through 1982 a series of 53 lethal riding injuries is analyzed with reference to the rider, the horse, and the environment. Craniocerebral injuries dominate in this series, indicating the importance of adequately protecting helmets." Remember that comment about helmets from some of my other blog entries?
Let us move further into the 21st century. Surely those injuries are not still going on? Nope, here is another one: "Mechanisms and Patterns of Injuries Related to Large Animals" from 2000, goes on to say "The predominant species-specific mechanisms of injury were falls (horses), tramplings (bulls), and kicks (cows). Brain/craniofacial injuries were most common from horse-related encounters (32%), whereas bull and cow encounters usually resulted in torso injuries (45% and 56%, respectively). Multiple body region injuries occurred in 32% of patients. Fractures of the upper extremities were more often associated with torso and head/craniofacial injuries (48%) than lower extremity injuries (17%) (p = 0.02)."
Obviously handling horses is not something that the average firefighter or emergency response personnel do on a regular basis - nor is it something that they have much expertise in. And we want them to do it safely when they are forced to respond to loose horses, horses trapped in vehicles and ditches, and mud. We don't want them to stand by and say "well, we can't help, it is too dangerous." Nor do we want them jumping in and risking life and limb.
For this reason, many communities have instigated a training program combining theoretical and practical instruction to familiarize emergency responders with horse behavior, first-aid, and safe handling techniques. This started in the early 1990's with the Trail Riders of DuPage group under the direction of Kandee Haertel, and has continued with numerous other communities.
Surveys in Virginia evaluated participant experience and comfort level in some of these types of familiarization programs, as well as evaluating the perceived value and effectiveness of the program. Over 94% of attendees reported an increased confidence handling horses and over 78% learned "a lot" about topics covered. Single day training programs appeared to be effective in improving knowledge and confidence in horse handling in emergency responders. See "Development and Assessment of an Emergency Responder Horse Handling Training Program in Virginia" by Dr. Shea Porr.
So, what can YOU do in YOUR community? You can get involved with providing a level of expertise to local firefighters in your community. Invite them to participate in a two or three hour training exercise just to learn how to approach loose horses to catch them, put on a halter and lead them around the area. You will be surprised how difficult it might be for them to do unless they have prior experience. This one skill--teaching them to do things that we as horse people take for granted--could save an emergency responders' life.
Have you provided this type of training event before? Please share your stories with me!