Playing The Odds

Mar 30, 2020 - 3:03 PM

On Tuesday, after watching the numbers rise, after seeing the growing numbers of states restrict movement, and after listening to recommendations from the CDC and other medical experts, I felt I had no choice but to close my barns in Florida and Virginia to all but critical staff in order to do our part to flatten the curve and reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Almost all of my clients were incredibly gracious and supportive. But I know that many of my trainer friends have experienced clients who are not so understanding.

It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I hated thinking about their lost rides, about the time and the money they’d invested to come to Florida. But at the end of the day, the case to close was so much more compelling than that to stay open. The risk of illness to them, the risk of illness to my staff and me, the best interests for the caretaking of the horses.

And so there was no one at the farm besides my two working students when a horse I was riding slipped, went down and landed on me.

I was lucky that the only repercussion of my fall was having to remove a lot of arena sand from my person, but this incident certainly made me think.

It was just one of those flukey things. The horse is fine. So am I. And if this were any other time, I’d be telling this story as a cautionary tale on helmets, that if I can have a perfectly pleasant, healthy and well-educated horse slip and fall on me, then it could happen to anyone, so wear a darn helmet.

But this isn’t any other time. This is the time of a virus that is filling hospitals, draining resources and threatening lives. And as I dusted myself off, I took a moment to be grateful for all of the ways it could have gone wrong and did not.

The horse did an incredible job of keeping his body mostly away from mine, but what if he’d landed on my ribs? What if he’d broken one and sent it into my lungs? What if I wasn’t 35 and strong as an ox—what if I was 65 and thin? What if I needed medical care? What if I needed a respirator? What if, while I was in the hospital, I picked up the coronavirus, or worse, did so and then brought it back to people I care about?

And I recognize that the chances of any of these things are slim. I recognize that, if we lived in a world of “What if?”, we’d never leave the house, let alone sit on a horse. Are the chances of my eating it off a horse any different this week than they were back in December? Or in August? Or in 2016? No.

But these things are cumulative. A .01% chance here, a .25% chance there… add enough of those together, and you start to get odds that no one should be comfortable with. It only reinforced my decision to shut my barns down. And I know that all of the trainers and barn managers making the same choice that I am share this: that we will all dance the tarantella if, when all is said and done, and the coronavirus is behind us, we look silly for having been so cautious.

And it’s in that spirit that my employees and I are doing everything we can to minimize risk on the horses. We can’t stop riding; we are providing a service for our customers, and we need to keep the horses fit and progressing, because that’s what we do. I’m grateful that I’m a dressage trainer because if I was an eventing trainer, I’d be a little squeamish to school cross-country right now. If I started babies for a living, I think I’d be pushing back the Class of 2020 for another month. Those of us who picked this for a living don’t like living in fear, but this is the world we’re in, at least for a little while: a world where a rider injury that requires anything other than a bandaid, a bourbon or an ibuprofen is a road we don’t want to go down.

Caution is the watchword of the day. Staying home. No unnecessary risks. None. Zip. Zero. Even if it means getting pissed off texts or Facebook posts from clients, even if it means having to say no to people we love. I’m sorry. I hate it. I can’t wait until it’s over. But we’re gonna have to be in this together, even if it’s hard. Because two weeks, a month? That’s nothing. We can do it.

(But when we’re all back to riding, wear your helmet. Just in case.)


Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.

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