safety · trailering

PSA: Always double-check your trailer hitch yourself

On one level, this is pure common sense.

On another level: how easy is it to say “so and so knows what they’re doing, they’ve done this a million times, it’ll be fine, I trust them.”


Never. Not one time.

If you are the one hitching up your truck to a trailer – whether yours or someone else’s – you do the last double-check yourself. Always. No ifs ands or buts.

First story:

Some years ago, I was hauling two horses to King Oak. Neither horse was mine. Both horses were owned by experienced owners and riders who had themselves hauled horses many times. So, I saw myself purely in the driver’s role. I hitched up and presented my trailer; they put their horses and equipment on it. The drive was fine.

We arrived at King Oak, and the first horse unloaded just fine and went off toward her stabling. The owner of the second horse dropped the butt bar and asked her horse to back. He didn’t. She asked several more times, growing more insistent, and then he backed. Hard. Fast. And…he broke his halter, because he was still tied to the trailer. The owner had never untied him.

He rocketed off the trailer and turned and in a split second I reached up and grabbed his nose with my right hand and pulled down. He was so relieved to have someone in charge again he stood quietly for me.

That was the occasion that caused me to make my first personal rule about hauling: I’m always the one to check the horses before we go, and the first to check them when we get there. Totally fine if owners help – in fact, I prefer that they do! – but before I put my foot on the gas pedal, or before I drop the trailer gate, I want to be personally, finally, reassured that all my equipment is correctly placed and functioning as expected.

So let me now tell you the second story that has sparked my new rule. I admit: I had a moment of laziness.

A few weeks ago, I used my truck to rent a car trailer from U-Haul and then used that car trailer to haul a 1978 VW bus back to work for a new thing we’re doing.


It was a very long and very cool day and the moral of the story is that people should hire horse girls ’cause we get shit done, and we own the equipment with which to do it.

I arrived at the U-Haul dealership early in the morning, after having woken up and driven for nearly two hours, after not a whole lot of sleep. I let the U-Haul guy hook up the trailer because it was a type of hitch with which I was less familiar.

Obviously, I can do the chains and the electrical and all that jazz, but it was the coupler itself that I hadn’t personally used a lot. So I let him do it, and then we tested the lights, and then off I went, driving another 1.5 hours north on a well-trafficked state road to get to the farm where I picked up the VW bus.

When we arrived at the farm, we had to unhitch the trailer for various space and logistical reasons. And the hitch would not come off.

It turns out that the U-Haul guy – who, one would presume, hitches up trailers all the live-long day, had not properly seated the coupler on the tow ball. Instead of sinking down and sitting home on the ball, then locking onto the ball, it had been perched on top of the ball and then the lock was engaged sort of…into the ball itself. So it was good and stuck. It took us 15 minutes of rocking the truck and swearing and jiggling to unstick it.

This is not a picture of the poorly done hitch; this is correctly done. See the brass colored piece just under the hitch? This is it correctly engaged in locking on to the ball. Now picture it about 1″ higher and sort of biting into the ball itself. That’s what I drove 1.5 hours with.

The trailer was unloaded, I never went above 50, and that coupler was good and stuck, but holy shit it could have gone so bad if I’d been going faster or hit a good frost heave. SO BAD.

I was speechless when we discovered what had happened. Thankfully, I was still sleep-deprived and under-caffeinated, so while I was able to react and fix things the real horror of it didn’t really sink in that day and I was able to haul the 2.5 hours back home without incident.

But yeah.

Don’t be me.

Be the last person to check your hitch, yourself. Don’t ever, ever trust another person to double-check it. Not even people who should have all the expertise in the world. Learn from my dumb ass mistake. Though I had previously mostly followed this rule, it’s now ironclad in my brain. My equipment, my responsibility, my final check.


Of Eventing, Risk Assessment, and William Fox-Pitt

If you have been following international equestrian news in the past week, and more particularly eventing news, you are probably already aware that one of the leading event riders in the world, William Fox-Pitt of Great Britain, fell from a horse while on course at the Le Lion d’Angers Young Event Horse CCI** Championships.

Fox-Pitt is a genuinely masterful rider and a lovely person. He is probably in the top 0.1% of most experienced, talented, and successful horsemen alive today.

from the Bromont 3 Day Event, photo by me

Following his fall, the course was held for an hour (it’s unclear whether he was being worked on that entire time, or whether he was transported immediately and the hold was due to other logistical factors). He was brought to a hospital. He was medically sedated for observation due to a traumatic brain injury.

There have been no updates since, and no details, which is of course the family’s prerogative; but it does not look good.

The Chronicle of the Horse forums, which, say what you will about them, are always a good place to go for ardent discussion of breaking news, have been covering the incident extensively, and sharing some really wonderful stories about Fox-Pitt’s good-natured personality, sportsmanship, and extraordinary horse sense. (All of that also comes through if you’ve ever read his autobiography, which I highly recommend.)

from the Bromont 3 Day Event, photo by me

Fox-Pitt’s fall has intersected with emotional ongoing debates about the nature of eventing as a sport: where is it headed, is it too dangerous, has it changed for the worse, and how to address the increasingly common news of human and horse injury and death in upper level eventing. (Some other bloggers have addressed this as well, among them SprinklerBandit’s In Defense of Eventing.)

I don’t have answers for any of that. I don’t think anyone does.

Here’s one thing I want to take a stand on, however. An argument which comes up time and time again when this discussion happens is that being involved with horses is inherently dangerous. When a horse dies on the cross-country course, someone is guaranteed to say, “Well, he could have tripped out in pasture.” When a rider dies or is seriously injured while competing, someone is guaranteed to say, “Well, I know someone who died just leading their horse back to the barn.”

from the Bromont 3 Day Event, photo by me

I’m officially fed up with that argument. Below, I have copied the text of a post I finally made after I got angrier and angrier reading the COTH thread. The post I responded to is at the top, in italics.

Honestly…I’ve known riders killed going for a walking hack on a reliable horse. I’ve also known (not just know of) people with TBIs in a coma for days doing dressage. I’ve also known 3 people killed by horses just handling them…got kicked in very normal situations with normal horses. My worst injury came during a dressage school. I don’t think you ever know what will cause you to question the danger….but most people I do not really think understand the danger until they do. Our minds do not let us think about otherwise we would all never get into a car on a daily basis.   

While I wholeheartedly agree with the second half of this post (that we must all make our own personal decisions based on our own risk assessment), I keep hearing this argument over and over and I’m starting to get frustrated with it.

For me, it’s a false equivalency. It’s the same argument used to justify not wearing a helmet – “I can get killed at any time around horses, so why bother wearing a helmet while riding?” Yes, you can, and yes, you should. The two situations are not mutually exclusive.

Horses are dangerous. No one sensible would say otherwise; we can all reel off the names of riders seriously injured or killed in freak accidents. My worst riding fall came while walking on a loose rein in a field; after my horse hand spent a solid 90 minutes behaving abominably, he calmed down, was quiet and well-behaved…and tripped. I went off. My helmet split. I got a concussion and screwed up my back permanently. So believe me, I get the “horses are dangerous at all times” argument.

But. Here’s the thing. Saying that extrapolates from the anecdotes and the statistically practically inconsequential freak accidents and tries to create a big risk umbrella that belies the significantly higher risk that any rider takes on when raising the activity and difficulty level of an equestrian sport.

What I’m trying to say is: yes, you can be injured while just standing next to a horse. But your odds for being injured go up as you go along the continuum: longeing, riding, dressage, jumping, and cross-country. Riding a horse cross-country is without question one of the more dangerous things you can do on horseback. It just is. There are more variables, there is more speed, there is more adrenaline, and there are infinitely more things that can go wrong. Ratchet that up as you go up the levels, with more athletic horses, bigger jumps, faster courses, and trickier questions. It becomes a sheer numbers game.

Possibly the best event rider in the world was very seriously injured riding what seems to many to be a straightforward fence, at a level he had done hundreds of times before. The fact that troubles me is that we’ve cornered the numbers game so that even the very, very best that have ever participated in this sport cannot do so safely. Not with any consistency. It’s not a question of whether they will be seriously injured. It’s a question of when. If not the riders, then the horses. I find that deeply troubling and unbelievably sad. 

The problem is not “oh well you could get killed doing anything with horses.” The problem is that eventing seems to have become an unacceptably high risk endeavour, and we can’t catch up fast enough with safety measures. The former does not justify the latter. 

Look: I love eventing, but when you add up the numbers of horses and riders seriously injured or killed, you can’t ignore the pattern. So far, the answer seems to be, well, that’s the price we pay for having eventing as a sport. And that frustrates me.

from the Bromont 3 Day Event, photo by me

The “you could get killed doing anything around horses” argument is the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument of equestrian sport.

They are both true, but simply saying them and refusing to consider statistics, evidence, and attempt a more nuanced understanding of risk assessment is naive and counterproductive.

We need to nip this argument in the bud, acknowledge that there are things we do that can dramatically increase or lessen the danger and risk inherent in any particular activity, and not simply say that all the risk levels involved in horses are equal, and therefore we sign an imaginary contract saying we’re ok with whatever happens next. We should not be ok with what happens next.

product review · safety

Product Review: Road ID: It’s here! & coupon giveaway

Product Review: Road ID

A few weeks back, I purchased a RoadID during their anniversary sale. I got a great deal, snagged a limited edition color for the band that matched my barn colors (gray), and was all in all excited.

It shipped and arrived quickly, with great customer service. Kudos to them! I’m only just now getting around to blogging about it.

First, the shipping email? Adorable. A+. Complimenting Vermont always gets you points in my book.

Packaging was straightforward and simple.

Here’s what I got on mine:
Full Name
Birth Date
Matt [phone number] HUSB (okay, I jumped the gun by a few months, but there’s no point in buying one that won’t last)

My mother was amused/horrified that I wrote find horse, but I think that’s actually really important. I don’t want to wake up in a hospital three days later and learn that no one has been searching for Tristan, if something awful has happened. And honestly, even if I’m incapacitated in a completely non-horse related accident, I want someone checking on my horse!

Note to everyone: if something happens to me, check on my horse. No matter what.

I also bought the RoadID Slim, in medium size, which I was happy with. The Slim is about the width of those Livestrong style plastic bracelets, and medium was good for my wrist, which is on the more solid side – I’m 5’9″ and 160lbs, so not fine boned! If I were any bigger, I’d want to go up a size, but this is a perfect, just short of snug size.

The plastic of the bracelet itself doesn’t snag on arm hair, and is unobtrusive. Right now, for example, I’m wearing it on my left arm and typing and I can only tell it’s there when I think about it. With a little while longer in wear, I’ll forget it is there entirely.

When it arrived, I tucked my RoadID down into my purse to bring to the barn…and promptly forgot about it. For a few weeks. So it jostled around in my bag with my keys, Kindle, purse, books, papers, aspirin bottle, you name it. For weeks. And you know what? It still looks great. Other than some dust from various things, which brushed right off, there is not a scratch on the metal plate, which is quite frankly kind of amazing. Most other things that live in my purse for that long get beat up.

See? Pretty good size, nice and discreet. 
I am so happy with it I actually bought the fiance one for Christmas for him to wear while skiing.

Now, when it arrived, it came with a bunch of coupons for $1 off a RoadID that it said to give to family and friends. I don’t need ’em.

If you would like a RoadID coupon, comment here and let me know, then follow up with an email to beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com so that I have your contact information. I have three coupons, so first three people who want them get them!

safety · trail riding

Heads Up: Great RoadID 15th Anniversary Sale!

First, thank you everyone who offered feedback on whether to order a RoadID or a RoadSafe bracelet. When I saw news of the RoadID 15th Anniversary sale on COTH, I immediately went back to that post – and all your great advice – and thought it all through, then ordered a bracelet.

For reference, I went with the Slim band, in the limited edition gray color, with the following information:

Full Name
Date of Birth
Emergency contact (First Name, Phone Number, HUSB for “husband” even though we’re a few months away from the actual wedding date)
NKA, NO MED HX (no known allergies, no medical history)

I chose not to get the online component, and not to get any of the extra tags – couldn’t find one that really spoke to me.

I ordered a second band, too, and with shipping, my total order was $18.57. Pretty darn good!

So, until early tomorrow morning, you too can save 15%!

road hacking · safety

PSA About Sharing the Road with Horses

The UVM Extension Service put together this short (30 second) PSA about sharing the road with horses. I think it actually does a decent job encapsulating good manners.

Have you ever had problems sharing the road with cars?

Tristan is very good now, but he wasn’t always so bombproof. My worst moment was some years ago. I had to ride a short distance on a paved road to get to the state park near my boarding barn. A driver in a sports car revved up his engine, gunned it past us, and passed so nearby I could feel a passing breeze on my skin. If I’d held my hand out he would’ve hit it. It all happened so fast by the time Tristan was reacting the car was well past us; thankfully, he just jumped around a bit on the side of the road and there were no further cars coming.

ground work · safety · stupid human tricks

What are your barn rules?

A few nights ago, I had to grab something quickly from inside the barn that I’d forgotten. I was in a hurry, and frustrated that I’d been forgetful, and I had a length of barn aisle to go get it. I sped up and jogged one, two steps.

And then I stopped and went back to a fast walk. I realized in that moment that “no running in the barn” is a rule that has been physically ingrained into me. I cannot take more than one step of jog anywhere near the barn – not even out near turnout, not even on the driveway. Can’t do it. At some impressionable point in my past, an instructor imprinted that rule deeply into my brain.

Then I got to thinking: what other unconscious rules do people have for the barn? What is so anathema to you that you can’t even imagine doing it?

Many of these are rooted in safety and common sense, I’m sure, but there are plenty of other rules I break without thinking about it, especially around Tristan. So why did these stick so firmly?

Here are a few more of mine.

Wearing sandals in the barn. Can’t do it. No way, no how. I get nervous just thinking about it. Tender toes and horse hooves do not mix.

Wear a helmet every time, every ride. I have mounted exactly twice without a helmet in my life and both times within a few strides felt a strange disorientation, like I’d never been on a horse before, or like Tristan had suddenly changed size or shape. It was the absent weight and feel on my head.

Always use gloves to handle horses. I can remember the precise moment I learned this one, and the incredible pain from all the rope burn blisters. Now, I never, ever, ever, EVER hold a rope or a rein that’s attached to a horse bare-handed. NEVER.