Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On Horses and Accidents

I stumbled across this article thanks to Deb Howatt, and was inspired to correct a few mistakes the author/editor made.  Unlike the author, I have no credentials or titles.  What I have is experience, having grown up on a working horse farm specializing in American Saddlebred show horses; Palominos, Three Gaited, Five Gaited, and Fine Harness.

The article in question is Chain Lead Shank Tragedy By Julie Goodnight - CHA Master Instructor and Clinician. The organization involved is the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), which I know absolutely nothing about.

Should you care to skip over it, the article describes a fatal accident involving a gelding in hand that is being allowed to graze.  The horse gets his front leg tangled in the lead shank which results in the gelding breaking his neck and hip, and then having to be destroyed about an hour later.

From the article:
After unbridling the horse, she [Karen - WLE] put on the nylon halter and looking around for a lead shank to lead him back to the barn, all that Karen could find was a shank with a chain.
The emphasis is mine.  Using anything made of nylon to restrain a horse is a major mistake.  Nylon won't break, which means that the horse will feel trapped and start fighting the halter until something breaks.  A safe halter is made of leather or cotton rope.  From time to time you'll break a halter, but your horse will be unharmed.

Lead shanks, by definition, have a chain at the end.  The chain is referred to as the shank.  The lead should be made of leather or cotton, both of which will break if the horse pulls hard enough.  I've seen nylon leads, and we never used them due to safety concerns.

The way to use a lead shank is to run the shank through the rings of the leather halter over the horse's nose.  This lets the hundred and ten pound human exert some serious control over the 800 plus pound horse.  I've seen some horsemen run the chain under the horse's chin, which I've always thought to be foolish, as it encourages the horse to pull away and rear up, neither of which you want.

From the article:
She [Karen - WLE] ran the snap of the chain through the bottom ring of the halter and snapped it back on itself, doubling the chain, as most people do in order to shorten the chain and make it stronger when the chain is not needed over the horse’s nose or under its chin.
Most people, in fact very few people, double the chain.  I've seen it done, but I've never used a shank this way.  Why would you need to make the chain any stronger?  You're not restraining an elephant.  To continue:
Most of us have used chain lead shanks in this manner for years without incident and without thought. I think of how many times I have seen people snapping the end of the chain on the halter and corrected them, making them double the chain up, all the while thinking to myself, “What a geek!” Now I know better.
No, most of us have not.  What struck me here is that the author, who doesn't know any better and should, goes around correcting people who are using the shank correctly.  Moreover, she's being a condescending know-it-all while doing so.  From the article:
Within a moment of having his head down in the grass, Karen saw the gelding’s hoof in the loop of the chain. In a split second, before Karen could take any corrective action, he ripped his head up and reared; his leg was trapped in the chain and the horse began to struggle.
What is likely is that the horse tried to lift his head up, found himself caught and instantly went into panic-flight mode.  Horses are herbivores, and they survive in the wild be being afraid of everything they don't understand.  To be caught is to end up on a predator's lunch menu.  Ergo, be prepared for this kind of behavior.

The author blows the analysis, which is why I'm writing this.  The mistakes made that led up to this accident were:
  • Use of nylon equipment.  Use leather or cotton equipment which will break under enough stress.  Using a lead shank is fine, so long as the halter and the lead are leather, and therefore breakable.
  • Doubling the lead shank.  You've created a loop with an 800 pound animal on one end of it.  Get your hand caught in this loop and you'll get dragged, and likely get a broken wrist.  In this case the horse got caught, which should have resulted in broken equipment.
  • Letting the lead touch the ground.  The horse, all 800 plus pounds of him, will step and stand on anything that's on the ground.  Always keep leads, reins, and tack off the ground.  Not most times; always.
  • Pay attention.  If you're being taught equestrian skills from an expert, ask why we do things the way we do.  Most experts will take time to explain.
  • Keep a sharp, straight knife with you, along with a heavy pair of wire cutters.  When a horse gets tangled up in something, such as a wire fence, you'll have to cut them free.  Do you have the tools to do it?
We always used breakable equipment.  We've never lost a horse, although we've had a few broken halters, lead ropes and other tack.  Then someone would have to make repairs.

I'm truly sorry that Karen lost her gelding.  My hope is that someone reading this article will get rid of their nylon tack and replace it with something safe.

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