As we begin the new riding season, I want to make a few suggestions about medical emergencies for both horses and for people. I am 100% sure there will be a few e-mails with suggestions or criticisms, but this is an important subject where we can all contribute through experience. Later in this article, I have serious advice for every trail rider, regardless of age or experience.
After 40 years of trail riding and leading two incredible horseback adventures from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean (over 3,311 miles on horseback) and from Mexico to Canada (over 2,000 miles on horseback), I have had some experiences to share. First, we had zero injuries to horses or people on the coast to coast ride and, (except for a snakebite to a horse on Mexico to Canada) we had no treatable injuries to horses or people on the ride, that I know of. There is a reason for this. I would like to take full credit, but the truth is simple. We try to anticipate every possible danger and work to avoid potential problems. This goes far beyond trail conditions.
We follow a few simple rules; We do not ride in thunder storms. No one rides alone. We do not allow alcohol drinking on the rides. We do not allow double riding. On big rides, we wait until everyone that is going is ready. (Rushing is a recipe for accidents).
I confess about one secret we use: We gather riders each morning, no matter how long of a ride, for a prayer and for announcements. The purpose of announcements or light hearted comments is not so much for the information, but to make sure riders look ready, horses are settled and calm. (Most accidents begin in the first part of a ride, so we give time for riders and horses to settle.) The prayer is self explanatory.
Another secret we use on the trail, especially on roadways or bridges, is usually un-noticed. I will announce or inform our riders about a new rider who may be joining us. The truth is, the message is not to be polite or as a welcome. When I say, “Hey folks, we have a gal or guy joining us on the ride today who is in the military or from this state or that, or some special interest they have”, it has nothing to do with that. It is actually a signal to our outriders and staff that there is a potential problem with this new rider or horse. They will encircle that horse and rider in front, back and on each side as we cross that bridge or pass by a potential hazard, so they cannot get into trouble. The idea is to prevent the accident and avoid embarrassing anyone who may need help with a spooky or nervous horse.
Aside from these things above, our medical policy is simple: Serious injuries require professional care. There are some well-meaning people that feel they need to carry everything for medical attention on a ride. To have enough supplies, you need pack horses. There are two things anyone can and should do. First, if there is a serious injury, always have that radio or cell phone to summon professional help. Second, aside from carrying a first aid kit with initial bandages or burn ointment, etc., I strongly recommend index cards. Yep, index cards. Here is the reason: If there is a serious injury to a rider, a medevac may be necessary and you cannot go with them! We carry an index card on each rider with their medical information and contact numbers that can be pinned to the injured person’s shirt or blouse. This is for the emergency responders, helicopter medics and hospital staff. Since you are not with them and they may not be able to answer questions, this card gives these professionals medical information they need. Write on this card in clear print, the name of the person, the names/phone numbers of their emergency contacts, list any medical issues (such as diabetic or on blood thinners), allergies, prescriptions they are taking, etc. You do not want the hospital to have to wait to treat someone with allergic reactions or make mistakes. They can go to work immediately having this information.
Also, list they have medical insurance on that card. I suggest you tell a little fib here. I do not care what anyone says, some medial facilities act differently to folks with insurance than to folks that are without insurance. Therefore, put something on the card for insurance even if there is no policy number. It is easier to ask forgiveness later. In all my years of experience, we have only had to use this once, but it is critical to saving a life or preventing further injury.
I am the world’s greatest optimist, but I am also a realist. Only a naive person says they will never get thrown or get hurt sometime or another. We have to be careful. Another horse can kick or run into us which is no fault of our own. Plan your rides regardless of length or number of riders to avoid most problems. Be prepared for accidents and then go and enjoy your ride.