Good Horse Sense

If your camp has liability insurance and your state has equine activity statutes, you may feel protected from lawsuits as they pertain to horseback riding at camps. However, while posted statutes and signed liability releases may deter lawsuits, you can still be sued for negligence. If you are sued, your program and its practices will probably be examined by expert witnesses familiar with horse industry standards. So what can you do to reduce your risk? If your camp is accredited by an agency such as the American Camp Association, there are specific standards. As a general rule, the following are major items to consider:

Sizing Up Staff

While it is important for campers to have fun, safety should always be the number-one priority. Anyone in charge of the horses or riding instruction should have ample experience and be fully capable of successfully dealing with any equine situation independently. Often the standards and/or insurance policy will dictate the minimum age of these workers. There are instructor training programs–such as those offered by the Certified Horsemanship Association and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety–that can increase the confidence and abilities of your instructors (as well as the marketing potential of your programs).

The exact staffing ratios will depend on the activity, but there should always be at least two instructors for each group of campers, whether mounted or not. One can keep an eye on the group as the other instructs. Horses are ”attractive nuisances,” and campers can easily find themselves in potentially dangerous situations if they wander away from the group. On a trail ride, there should be one instructor at the head of the ride, one at the tail and at least one at the side, so that the instructor at the head never has to get out of line (leaving an inexperienced camper in front). Someone is always available to assist campers and open/close gates, and an instructor is the last to ensure that no one is left behind.

Addressing Temperamental Issues

The horses themselves should be assessed by the riding staff in order to become familiar with the skill level necessary to control each horse. It is imperative that horses and riders be matched by skill level. The horses must be monitored throughout the season to ensure that they stay sound, are not developing dangerous bad habits (such as kicking or becoming barn sour), and are not getting overused. Horses at any time deemed unfit or unsafe for the program should not be used, even for instructors. Instructors need to ride horses that permit them to focus on their campers, not horses with a problem. Horses in camp programs should be well broke for the same reason. There is no time to deal with a green (untrained) horse when the focus should be on the campers.

A Different Tack

It is important to maintain equipment. Neglected tack will weaken, crack, and eventually break. For this reason, tack must be kept clean, oiled and in good repair. It should be checked before every ride to ensure the safety of the rider. Equipment used for each activity should fit both the horse and the rider properly. At no time should equipment be ”rigged” to fit; feet should never be placed in stirrup leathers instead of stirrups, etc. Safety stirrups and tapadero (hooded) stirrups should be utilized if at all possible, to reduce the possibility of draggings.

All Helmets Are Not Created Equal

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Good Horse Sense
  2. The Horse Whisperer Connection
  3. Equine Intelligence
  4. Mother-Daughter Hay-Days
  5. Staff of the Century – Connie Reeves, 1901-2003
  • Columns & Features
  • Departments
  • Writers