Health and safety: brilliance over burden

Almost everyone moans about health and safety these days.  It’s become a scapegoat for the ruination of the nation, the Fun Police, something which should be sneered at rather than valued and appreciated.  It’s part of all of our lives, we all live among the restrictions it sets out, whether we like it or not.  For some of us, health and safety goes beyond a set of rules we must follow, and that’s exactly why I appreciate it.

As an event management student, I had to study health and safety rigorously.  I had to display knowledge of all kinds of legal restrictions and obligations, but we were always taught that this isn’t just about covering your arse and denying responsibility – it’s actually about protecting yourself and your assets.  There’s a difference, you see.

As a riding instructor, guardian of children and keeper of horses, I don’t want to see anybody or anything get hurt.  In fact, I want everyone to have the freedom to enjoy themselves.  But the first step in that is that everyone has to be safe.  Nobody can reach the enjoyment stage if they’re fretting about being in mortal peril.

Thanks to my backgrounds with horses and events, I have a habit of immediately assessing the safety of a situation.  It happened on Twitter the other week: Horse and Hound published an article on tiny tots in the saddle – all of whom looked beautifully-turned out and, without exception, the children riding these tiny ponies were wearing helmets.  I saw a reply from an account I follow, crowing that they had a picture of an even younger child on a horse.  The picture was duly displayed, and I almost gave birth to several kittens.

Sure enough, there was a small child – small enough that they could barely sit up independently – atop a pony.  Said child was being carefully supported by two grinning women, neither of whom was holding onto the rope attached to the pony.  Okay, said the horsewoman in me, some horses are trained to stand still even when not being held or tied up.  It didn’t take me much closer examination before I decided I was definitely appalled: the child was not wearing a helmet; one of the women was in sandals, the other was barefoot.  That’s when I snapped, and I informed the poster that I was horrified.

I can almost guarantee that if I’d been there in person and stated my concerns, the women would’ve assumed I was worried for the child.  I can hear them now: “But we’re holding her,” they’d say, “she’s not going to fall.”

“You don’t know that,” I’d reply.  “What if the pony shifts his weight and lands it on your foot?  I’d bet big money that you wouldn’t be holding her then.  Same thing if he spooks.”

The greatest pony in the world isn’t immune to the fight or flight response that their body comes with – standard safety feature, darling.  Primal, nothing you can do about it… apart from put some boots on, make sure anything you put on it’s back can support it’s own weight, and that if said cargo has a skull, that it is protected.

The poster of the photo took my concerns on and informed me that it would be removed.  I thanked them and went about my day.

The thing is – and I say this from experience – sometimes, we all break the rules.  We allow someone to ride if they’re perhaps not fully-insured.  Or without the correct safety gear, because you just can’t argue with some people.  But we do so with the full understanding that this will all be fine as long as nobody gets hurt.  Because, darling lady in the beautiful Jimmy Choos petting my lovely but spirited horse, we all know who will get the blame if, rather than licking you to death, he chooses to make a go for you with his teeth.  So yes, I will insist that you step away.  I’m doing it for your own good, my peace of mind, my reputation and my ability to keep doing what I do.

Don’t blame “bloody elf and safety” for “ruining lives”.  Blame human beings and their stunning lack of common sense, or inability to perceive danger.

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6 thoughts on “Health and safety: brilliance over burden

  1. A neighbor used to lead ride her horse through our street up in the woods. One day I saw her leading the horse with her small son on it – no helmet, no adequate shoes. I don’t discuss with adults when it comes to equipment or helmets – it’s their choice, they are responsible for their heads. But to leave a child unprotected who cannot judge the situation on his own – that’s careless. I didn’t speak up. Maybe that was careless too.

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  3. There are a number of Western riders at my barn who ride without helmets. It makes me nervous. There is a considerable amount of pavement in between the stalls and arenas or the trails. I was told one woman fell off a pony a couple of years ago and had a terrible head injury that left her permanently in a wheel chair (she’s in her 40s). That is so sad.

    I have fallen at a halt on a dear horse I had 12 years and trusted. Accidents can happen anytime to anyone regardless of age, ability, or experience. Helmets are a non-negotiable for me.

    • I agree with you. It’s not even just about the surface for me: I know it’s possible to suffer devastating injuries on soft ground too. We are given one precious body to see us through our lives, we must look after it, not ruin it.

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