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Riding Safely

The Importance of Wotsits......

The following Riding Safely article was published in the September/October 2004 issue of the National Equine Student Magazine......

The Problem with Wotsits...


With the Americanised "compensation culture" now truly embedded in British consciousness, health and safety in the equine industry has never been so important.

The Editor of the recently launched Riding Safely website explains more...


Would I like to write an article on safety?  Well I suppose I should, after all I am safety professional, horseman and just launched an online newsletter aimed at promoting and improving equestrian safety.  Tempted, I asked "any particular aspect?"  An article on "the importance of health and safety in the equine industry" came the reply.  It sounded more like an exam question.  There is a simple answer; without the effective management of health and safety, people and horses would get injured, even killed; property would get damaged and destroyed.  One criminal prosecution or successful civil claim could be enough to put a riding school or livery yard out of business.  The more insurers had to pay out the more insurance premiums would rise.  Even for those who managed their risks effectively and had a good safety record, increased insurance premiums could mean the difference between staying in business or deciding to call it a day.  Bad publicity wouldn't help the industry either - who'd want to enter a sport or invest in an industry with a bad reputation for health and safety? The knock-on effect on trade for those secondary businesses that support the industry, tack shops and feed merchants to name a few, would be disastrous.  In short, the industry would cease to exist.


But if you think that all of this is fantasy, it's not.  In Australia in 2002 the insurers pulled the plug on providing affordable insurance to riding schools and trail riding businesses.  It was the final straw for some businesses and they went under.  Such was the crisis that a central body was set up that worked with the insurers to create a code of practice which today has to be followed in order to get affordable insurance.


If you ask the question "what is the importance of health and safety in the equine industry?" you'll get different answers depending on who you ask.  If you ask an owner rider, they'll probably reply that it's all the aspects that affect their own personal safety and the safety of their horse.  Ask a riding school proprietor and many will probably say it’s to stop them from being sued.


Cautious that I shouldn't interject too many of my own safety biased comments into this article I decided that it was time to consult a reliable barometer of opinion -- my eight-year-old son.  As he was busily devouring a Happy Meal, I decided to slip him the question.  He came up with three answers before saying he was "empty" and I don't think he was referring to the demise of his McFlurry....... The most intriguing of all his answer was that of "Wotsits".  He was concerned that if a horse ate too many Wotsits they might make the horse "hyper".  If that was the case, he continued, somebody could quite easily get injured.  Now I have to say for legal purposes that before those nice people who manufacture Wotsits decide to sue me, the story is merely to illustrate a point, no slight is meant and I have absolutely no idea of the effect of Wotsits on horses, come to that I'm pretty sure that neither does my son!


But he'd hit the nail on the head.  Safety is all about preventing people from being hurt or becoming ill and providing a safe environment.  That also extends to our horses, but remember that the safety of people always has to take priority over that of horses. 

For businesses and the self-employed health and safety isn't an option -- it's a legal requirement.


So what are the keys to "good" safety?   Risk assessment is one of the principal keys that can be used by individuals and businesses alike to prevent accidents.  If you've ever been involved with a nasty accident, the post-mortem question often asked is "what could we have done to prevent it?"  Risk assessment essentially aims to work out in advance what can go wrong and if necessary put in measures to prevent those things identified from going wrong.


For businesses there are other keys to "good" safety".  A structure with a safety policy, in which safety roles and responsibilities are well-defined, where risks are assessed and controlled and where staff receive appropriate safety training will go a long way to meeting those goals of preventing accidents and providing a safe environment.  But only as a long as the key elements of the structure are regularly monitored for implementation and reviewed for effectiveness and any changes identified for improvement are made.  A message from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is that "Good Safety is Good Business" and it's true!  There is evidence to support that good safety management can actually reduce costs and boost business.


Perhaps a better title for this article would have been "the importance of effective risk management to the equine industry", because effective risk management is the key to the continuation and future success of the equine industry.


This has been a quick canter through a subject often perceived as complex and boring.  Complex it really isn't, boring it may seem, but at the end of the day it really is very important.  I've only touched in outline on some of the important topics in this article, but you'll be able to get more information from www.ridingsafely.net, any of the large equestrian organisations, or the HSE.


I'll leave the last word to the HSE.  While the quote relates to agriculture, the comment is equally applicable to the horse industry,

"The majority of accidents are avoidable. In a changing social and economic climate the farming industry must constantly be on its guard against bad practice and carelessness. A hazard identified and effectively controlled may save a life, or prevent a life time of incapacity." - John Micklethwaite Acting Principal Inspector of the Agriculture Group, Leeds. 

Website review:  www.ridingsafely.net
Reviewer Name: Emma Hurford, 2nd year Foundation degree Equine Studies at Bicton College
Summary of content: a web site with practical, "down-to-earth" safety information for anyone involved with horses from pleasure riders to businesses
Comments: informative, comprehensive and very useful
Style: Fairly formal layout though it "speaks" in plain English!  Easy to navigate and fairly fast download time
Who should use it?  Anyone involved with horses.  There may be useful information in the business section for students studying business as part of their course

National Equine Student is distributed across Britain and Ireland to FE & HE Institutes who have equine related qualifications. It is also sent to all BHS and ABRS affiliated yards and every secondary school across the UK. The magazine has a circulation of 20,000 and is aimed at anyone involved or with an interest in equine education. For further details contact Ruth Owen or Samantha Hurn on info@nationalequinestudent.co.uk

Riding Safely is not responsible for the content of external internet sites