A student recently took an unplanned departure off her horse. She was up and about fairly quickly, but made a few wrong guesses at the name of the current President, and so got the pleasure of an ambulance trip to the local hospital for a CAT scan.
These things, unfortunately, are an inevitability of running a riding stable – it is not IF someone is going to fall off, it is WHEN, and how bad. And as mercifully-infrequent as these sorts of things are, it’s a valuable reminder to make sure that there’s an emergency protocol in place, and that you’re as prepared as possible to deal with them when they happen.
The first and most obvious thing we do is require helmets. As I’ve talked about and talked about before, anything can happen to anyone at any time, and while yes, a helmet won’t do a damn thing against a broken leg, it’s an easy insurance policy, and so on my property helmets are required for everyone, every ride.
At my farm, I’m a nut about collecting emergency contact information. Everyone signs a waiver before they get on, and these waivers require not only the name and contact information of the signer, but also an emergency contact. I keep these waivers forever, though this incident was a good reminder of two things. One, I’m bad at making sure they’re up-to-date. People move, they get married or divorced, they change jobs. I really should require they sign a new waiver regularly, including current emergency contact info. (students, heads up: you’ll all be signing new waivers before your next lesson.)
And two, I should also have a master list of emergency contacts, at least for my boarders. Rather than having to hunt through my files (which, admittedly, are pretty darn meticulous), it’s still just one more step.
Here’s a little note on that front – we in the dressage community do not require medical information to be prominently displayed on our person in competition, unlike the eventers, but it’s not a bad idea, particularly if you’ve got relevant medical information to tell a first responder, like a history of concussion or an allergy. A lot of my students wear RideSafe wrist bands, as do I, which not only has emergency contact information but also space for any medical information you’d like someone to know should you not be able to speak for yourself.
It’s also good for your instructor to know stuff like this. If you have a history of concussion, a heart condition, epilepsy, a condition requiring you to take blood thinners, a serious allergy – we need to know. And if you’ve got a serious allergy, we need to know where your EpiPen is, and how to use it.
At my farm, I also have a piece of paper right next to the land line telephone with the farm address, as well as very clear directions. This is mostly for the people who call us up going, “How do I get to you from town? I’m so lost!,” but it’s also because, once upon a time, teaching freelance outside Chicago, I had a student part ways from her horse and puncture a lung. There was no land line, and the farm was in an area with poor cell service. I also had no idea of what the address was. I ended up leaving her alone in the ring while I ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Not a great night. We cannot rely on cell phones, unfortunately, as they won’t always work, and they can’t tell a 911 operator your location.
Once an accident has happened, it’s really important to stay calm, and to keep the rider calm too. Panicking gets you nowhere. Don’t move her. Don’t take her helmet off. Catch the horse. And keep the patient warm – shock can bring on hypothermia even in summertime.
If she’s lost consciousness at all, or if she can’t answer basic questions – what her name is, who the president is, what day it is – call 911. Head injuries can be so tricky, and someone may sustain a serious brain injury and seem fine immediately following the concussion, only to be in dire straights later. Know where her insurance card is, and make sure it goes with her to the hospital.
If there’s ever a question, a hospital trip is always the right answer. Yes, they can be expensive, but death or serious injury is worse.
And as hard as this is for us to hear, it really is important that we obey doctors’ orders and give injuries time to heal, especially brain injuries like concussions. Trying to get back on the horse – literally or metaphorically – too soon can mean even bigger problems down the road.
And of course, if you’ve been in any kind of fall, you need to replace your helmet. Even if your helmet looks fine on the outside, the foam inside that protects you can be seriously damaged, and it can render your helmet dramatically less capable of protecting your head the next time.
Last but not least, remember that everything I learned about modern medicine I’ve learned from watching Grey’s Anatomy (though props to the Sprieser Sporthorse Official Medical Team of Amy and Kevin for the fact-checking of this piece), so consult a physician. Always.