This weekend I read an article about the tragic loss of a rider in Great Britain who was accidentally strangled and dragged by her horse with a lead rope that was draped over her shoulder (see article here via the Mirror). This was a totally freak accident. This was also, sadly, a totally preventable accident. This rider, Kathryn Bull, was a very experienced, dedicated horse person. It is just the constant reminder to us equestrians that we can never be too careful. It was likely something she did every day, something she never thought twice about. Even the greatest riders make little safety mistakes every day because we fall into complacency and give too much blind trust to our horses.
I trust my horse 100%. But let me define that trust: I trust him 100% to behave like a horse. He is gentle, he is careful, but he is fallible. If you’ve read my previous posts you will know that he can be totally on point one second and then once I change the rules he can be a bit of a drama queen. While he is the least spooky horse I’ve ever met – I still trust that if we are going to be walking by a field of open gun fire that he is going to be engaging in his “flight” response no matter how convincing and calm I might be.
My purple rope is my favorite thing in my tack box. I put on his rope halter and attach my purple rope and off we go. This is my go-to tool when I need just a little more bend, a little more attention, a little more movement. It’s longer than my regular lead rope, but not as long as a full lunge line. It gives me the space to teach him how to move freely on his own in the circle, while also being able to be collected enough to come near me. It’s long enough that I don’t need to use a whip to move him away – just a flick of the end can send him out. This purple rope is to help teach my horse respect with some gentle guidance, to keep me attached to him without demanding it. It’s the perfect piece of equipment for any ground session.
It’s also the perfect piece of equipment to be misused.
This purple rope could be used to harm him or harm myself. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve draped this purple rope over my own shoulder on numerous occasions. Moments that I need two hands for something. I set the rope over my shoulder so I can still hang onto my horse – yet if he was to walk away I’m not even really holding him. It would be just as efficient to set it on the ground but I don’t do it. I know I shouldn’t put it on my shoulder but I am guilty of forgetting that my horse is a horse first and no amount of spook or desensitizing training will completely prevent any freak situation from happening. We forget that even the simplest of things can be dangerous. We can train every day but there is no reason to put yourself or your horse in the position of a disaster when your horse decides to respond like a horse. Kathryn Bull could have been me instead. I’m disappointed in myself that it is taking the death of another person for me to have more perspective on this dangerous habit.
This isn’t the only thing I see myself or other riders doing that could be dangerous but is often overlooked. Leaving a halter attached to cross tie for instance – the horse is no longer wearing the halter so what is the problem? No one thinks about the next horse to walk down the aisle and accidentally step into that halter (while it is still attached to the cross tie on the wall) and get tangled and injured or even damage the barn itself. Again -such a subtle little act that can have extremely dangerous consequences. Walking down the aisle mounted on a horse, not giving space to a rider nearby, riding without a helmet; all things we do every day that we are inviting an accident to occur.
We can all do our part as equestrians to minimize any potentially dangerous thing we might encounter in our daily barn visits. We are already caring for and riding 1000+ pound animals- we do not need to add to the danger by being careless. This purple rope will not touch my shoulders, my waist, my feet. It will not leave my hand until I am finished using it.