When horses are involved, says Chelsea Alexander, you’ve got to be ready for anything.
Top photo: Flickr/soccerkrys/Creative Commons License
I have to admit, as the barn manager and head instructor at a summer camp barn, emergency preparedness is something that I and my staff went over several times, always careful to follow protocol. We underwent Wilderness First Aid training and had too many policies to count at the barn to make sure the kids were safe at all times. There were always two, if not three or more, staff on any given trail ride, and each trail went out with a first aid kit, one or more cell phones of the staff’s, and a walkie-talkie linked back to the main camp and the barn. Kids’ girths were always checked and double-checked and every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ dotted before we rode in the arena or on the trail. We had it covered.
Of course, in the days leading up to the last week of camp, there was an emergency that sent someone to the Urgent Care Clinic. It was not a member of my staff or a camper—it was me. I have to say, I didn’t really see that one coming. I still don’t quite know what happened; myself and another member of staff, A, were leading horses back into the barn after the last lesson, eager to get to lunch. It was just the two of us working that day at the barn. I was standing still with a lead rope in my hand, deep in thought, when I realized there was a horse on my foot. My reaction time was slow. Partly it had to do with positioning—the horse was angled slightly behind me—and partly to do with my inattention. When my brain finally caught up to the pain lancing through my foot, I shoved him off with a yelp; the force of him on my foot was such that when he sluggishly moved over, he tore my boot off, the zipper ripping right open. The toes of my boots were reinforced, but he had stepped over my entire foot, and put his whole weight down.
I dropped to the ground, holding my foot, as A came over and took the (oblivious) horse back to the barn at my insistence. I thought I was OK. I could still feel all my toes, could still move them. A kept telling me we had to get back to camp, but there were still horses tied to the hitching rail fully tacked, so I waved her off. That is, I waved her off and made assurances until the world started spinning.
I have a very high pain tolerance, generally speaking. I spiral fractured my right leg at four and proceeded to walk on it after the fact as I genuinely believed I was perfectly fine. Thankfully, my mother noticed the slight limp. My reaction to the other two bones I have broken was pretty similar. I had never passed out from pain before, or even felt dizzy, so I knew something was wrong. I called A over and we got on the back of the four-wheeler that usually took us back to the main camp. As I got up, I had just enough time to warn A that I was passing out before I did exactly that.
She got me back to the ground in a rescue position and tried to establish consciousness—she followed protocol perfectly. Unfortunately, the walkie-talkies were not working, or at least, no one was picking up. She had my cellphone, but not her own, and she did not know my password. Even if she had, the camp’s number, while saved in my recent history, was not listed as a contact. Luckily, I came back around pretty quickly and managed to give her the password and let her know where the camp’s number was, but if I hadn’t she would have had to either call 911 directly and wait for an ambulance (which, in our location, would have taken quite a while to get there) or leave me and take the four-wheeler back to camp for help.
Luckily, in the end, all was fine. My foot was, to my immense astonishment, not broken in a thousand places or at all—just deeply, deeply bruised. It swelled like crazy and looked awful—we deemed it my “zombie foot” for the rest of camp as I hobbled about on crutches, and it still doesn’t exactly look pretty, but the story could have been a lot worse than it was.
The point to this long, meandering story about a barn accident, is that while you are preparing for emergencies that may happen to other people, do not ever forget to plan for the worst case scenario: your own incapacitation.
Chelsea Alexander is a twenty-one year old final-year student of English and History at Queen Mary, University of London. She has worked as a riding instructor both at a summer camp and a year-round stable, and worked as barn manager at summer camp as well. She has an unreasonable attachment to paint horses, entirely the fault of the little bay tobiano paint named Toby who taught her how to ride.