Sunday, 18 November 2007

Today was a rather traumatic day...

I don't know whether there are any instructors or teachers reading but if you do, have you ever had a day which went badly enough (safety wise) for you to question your career choice?
Well, I had one like this today. Some said it was because of the weather but I have reservations...
I have been teaching riding for over 10 years and I have come across many situations where the danger of the sport looked me in the eye. I had clients falling over with their horses, breaking this and that, people having ordinary falls and less ordinary departures from the saddles. And I managed to stay fairly unaffected, falling off has always been a part of this sport.
Today was my first day at a new place. I received an absolutely fab welcome and it must be the friendliest place I have ever freelanced at. They showed me around, told me a thing or two about the horses (I was told all of them were fantastic, typical riding school horses, great givers and tried their hearts out). I also had wonderful first two hours with adult clients working on their seat and helping them discover how to ride better.
However, at 11.00 I had two children on ponies and the nightmare day began. We had a nice walking about, chatting and playing games after which I asked the girls to trot. Off they went and a second later I witnessed something I have never seen before. The pony behind the lead pony went into a very fast trot, ears flat back, CORNERED the lead pony and started a series of double barrels straight into it (and a child on board!!)! It literally took seconds. I ran across the arena, pulled the kicking pony away and directed the other child to the middle of the arena. Both girls didn't quite understand what happened so I told them the ponies spooked and I went to sort a leader for a kicker-pony.
Next lesson and another set of very beginner children put in a group. One of the ponies jumped sideways (spooked at who knows what) sending a child flying.
At this point I started questioning the suitability of the ponies and the way the children were put in groups. I was told I can change it for the next week so I made a note suggesting all children being put into 30 minutes slots of lunge/lead -rein lessons (as some could not steer or sit securely).
My 12.00pm lesson - three children and a lot of mess again; none could make the ponies trot without the animals ending in each others bums or next to me in the middle of the arena. Ponies kicking out, napping and refusing to cooperate. I moved them to the small arena and did exercises in walk.
By lunch time I was so mentally exhausted by all this that I thought there could be no worse. But I was wrong.
My 2pm lesson was with two teenagers and it went really well for almost a whole session, they worked very nicely, ponies behaved and I started to feel a little more optimistic. Then Bang! One of the ponies takes fright and charges in canter across the whole length of the arena, puts a few small bucks and then stops dead sending the rider flying and hitting the ground with quite an impact. Girl is winded badly, struggles for a breath so I spend a few minutes just trying to calm her down (meanwhile, in the corner of my eye, I can see the pony still running about, reins twisted around his fetlock - great). I shout for a helper and go back to calming the girl. She finally gets her breath back and tells me she can't move and her back hurts...I wait for her to relax a bit and run through all the checks I can think off; she can wiggle her toes, have no pins&needles sensation neither in her legs nor arms, she can bend her knees (an inch or so) and move her fingers. However, she is in enough pain that she can't move at all. I decide to call the ambulance and we wait for it to arrive in the rein and cold. Twenty minutes later the paramedics arrive, give her oxygen as she is in a shock, check her over and decide she is symptomatic of spinal/pelvic injury. The corset goes on and she is transported to the ambulance - she still is in too much pain to move so they do it inch by inch.
I really didn't want to see any more of the 'excellent' ponies at that moment. I gave stable management lesson to 3pm kids and braved outside with 4pm teenage group. The moment we start trotting one of the ponies had a tantrum and refused to go anywhere but the middle of the school. The girl tried to execute my instructions bless her but I could see the pony getting more and more irritated, stomping its feet, hopping with its back legs and planting its feet. Thankfully I managed to convince someone to take that pony to the separate arena for a private session which worked well.
I finished the day with a massive tension headache and a long wonder about freelancing and not knowing the horses/ponies you teach on.

Just before I left we got a phone call from the mother of the girl taken to the hospital. She turned out to be severely bruised but nothing else. My thought was, what if she did break her spine and was paralysed?
I think my 'safety first and foremost' awareness has now gotten into a new level. I am going to pay extremely high attention to the ponies used by places I teach at and will never ever again believe in one thing I am told about them. I am also going to ignore what I am told on the groups capability and will keep the clients in walk only if necessary.
My quest on teaching beginners a secure position as a first thing has also jumped up a few steps on priorities ladder.
I hope there are no strong winds next Sunday...
All I want to do now is to collapse on my bed!

PS. There is a little spin to the story with Henry, a horse I am to ride at trainings with Anna, but I am too exhausted now to write anymore. I will post more in a week.


Nicola said...

sorry to hear about your weekend... I am giving up riding, horses are far too dangerous!!!:) Speak soon xxx

Unknown said...

Oh no, you can't be serious???!!!x

Nicola said...

no, sometimes wish i could give's stuck with me for life I'm afraid!!

Suzie said...

Oh no! What a horrible day! Actually, I am convinced that there was something odd in the air on Sunday. That was the day I clipped Echo, and before I started, I considered leaving it to another day, as I have never seen her in the mood she was in. I live ina really windy county, so she is used to the wind, but on Sunday she was really worried by something. She was flying from her door to the window and back again, not eating her haylage (unheard of!) and was absolutely rigid in her body. I couldn't find any reason for her to be like that at all - must be something in the air.

It won't always be like that I'm sure. As you get to know the ponies and the clients I'm sure it will work out. It's a dangerous sport and safety has to come first. I sometimes think too many people forget that!

Unknown said...

I really hope to have better experiences of the new place next week. Ealing ponies are so laid back in comparison - it's unreal.
I taught in worse weathers before but who knows what was in the air.

Lasell Jaretzki Bartlett said...

It is a blessing that nobody was seriously hurt, and another blessing that you've taken safety and the basics more seriously!

I teach therapeutic riding as well as regular lessons in horse handling and riding, and do a pretty good job of not assuming anything! So if I inherit a student from another instructor, I check them out myself -- how well do they manage with the horse they are riding, etc.

If I have questions, I may lead the horse myself, or in a group, I may bring all but one rider into the middle and let one rider at a time show me how they manage walking or trotting -- especially challenging when the rest of the lesson herd is standing around idle in the middle. *g* If they can't influence their mount to walk off, I won't ask them to trot that's for sure! I don't allow any 'trail ride in the ring' stuff! Like you discovered, all heck can break loose in a heartbeat!

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