Monday Medical: Horse safety basics
There’s nothing quite like riding a horse through an Alpine meadow, with mountains peaks in every direction.
But just as with other outdoor activities, it’s smart to stay safe.
“Horseback riding is an awesome activity, and we need to encourage it in our valley as it’s an important part of our Western heritage,” said Dr. Michael Sisk, an orthopedic surgeon in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “But horses can be unpredictable. Just like with every activity here in town, from downhill mountain biking to skiing, there is some level of risk.”
Sisk speaks from experience: he’s been riding horses for more than 30 years, including decades of riding bucking broncos in rodeos. Below, he outlines his top safety tips for horseback riders.
Adjust your stirrups
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
“One of the biggest complaints that I hear from riders is knee pain, and that has a lot to do with stirrup position,” Sisk said. “A lot of people have their stirrups too high, which puts a lot of stress on the inside of the knee.”
For Western riding, which is Sisk’s specialty, you should be able to stand up in the stirrups and just fit your hand under your bottom. Too much space means your stirrups are too short.
Find the right saddle
A poorly fitted saddle can cause hip and back pain, so take the time to make sure your saddle fits body and horse.
“A saddle that’s properly fitted can make a huge difference,” Sisk said. “A kiddie saddle on a draft horse is clearly not going to work out well.”
Secure that saddle
Several times during a ride, check the tightness of the girth or cinch, which keeps the saddle on the horse.
“When you saddle up some horses, they really puff out their chests because they know the cinch is coming,” Sisk said. “Then, when you walk away, they suddenly relax and the cinch is loose.”
A slipping saddle can make it difficult for the rider to balance and can lead to serious injury, including broken bones or worse.
“The horse goes loping along, the saddle slips and all of a sudden people are trying to stay on,” Sisk said. “It’s hard to jump out of a saddle that’s slipping.”
Choose the right footwear
For Western riding, that means cowboy boots.
“If you wear tennis shoes or hiking boots, which are bigger and clunkier, you’re asking for trouble,” Sisk said. “One of the worst wrecks you can get in is getting bucked off without your foot coming out of the stirrup.”
Wear protective gear
When Sisk started in rodeos, cowboys didn’t consider donning a helmet or protective vest or jacket. Now, many cowboys do.
“There has been an evolution in safety over the years,” Sisk said. “For pleasure riding, wearing a helmet is not a bad idea, especially if you don’t know the horse you’re getting on.”
Prepare for unpredictability
“Horses are just like people, they have good days and bad days,” Sisk said.
Even older, experienced horses can spook if they accidently walk into a hornet’s nest or step into a badger hole. If the worst happens, know how to fall.
“When you’re getting bucked off, that old adage of ‘tuck and roll’ is your best option,” Sisk said.
Go with a reputable guide
If you don’t own a horse and want to get out for a ride, choose a well-established outfitter over a neighbor’s horse that may not have been ridden recently.
“There are lots of great, reputable outfitters who will put you on a safe mount with good equipment,” Sisk said. “That way, you’re likely to have a great time.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User