Safety Third

with Patrick King

When it comes to riding and handling horses, safety comes third.

Yes, you read that right.  Safety third.  Surely some of you are shaking your heads at me for such a suggestion, but don’t misunderstand my intentions, please.  Safety is a pretty big priority – sorta like breathing and eating.  The truth is, though, that safety really doesn’t come first. And it can’t.  Allow me to give you a little analogy…

Let’s say that I decided to fly an airplane today.  Never flown one before, but I’ve ridden in a few – so that must qualify as some sort of experience, right?  Would you like to take a ride in that airplane, with me in the pilot’s seat?  For your own safety, I SURE HOPE NOT.  I already told you that I haven’t ever flown an airplane, and to be honest, I would have no idea how to even start the engine, let alone how to get into the air and then land safely afterwards.  You see, without the KNOWLEDGE of how to fly that airplane, there’s no way that I could ever possibly be a safe pilot.

And this same truth applies to your horse.  Whether you are riding or handling from the ground, if you don’t have an understanding about certain things (what you want to do, how you need to ask, how to recognize troubles, what to do about those troubles, how to recognize that you’re on the right track, etc) you will not be safe.  Surely we’ve all seen folks in situations with a horse where we might say that “ignorance is bliss” – where someone has no idea what they’re doing but somehow, by some divine intervention and good humor from the horse, they survive the experience unscathed.  They survive, but they are far from safe, because they don’t have any knowledge about what they were doing or even why they lived through the experience.  You’ve seen other folks not so lucky, also.  They’re the ones that don’t have a clue and end up getting hurt.

Getting back to the airplane, let’s say that I got the knowledge that I needed to have.  Maybe I took some classes on flying an airplane, watched some YouTube videos, read about it on Facebook, or maybe even thumbed through a copy of “Flying Airplanes for Dummies.”  However I did it, I got some knowledge about what I needed to know in order to fly that airplane.  Would you now ride along with my on my first flight?


And why not?

Because you know that the first time I go down the runway, I’m going to be a bit worried.  Once I get in the air, I’ll probably have a bit of sweat on my brow and be somewhat concerned about my nervous butter-fingers handling the controls.  And about the time I fly into my first cloud and lose sight of my path, I’m sure to wet my pants.  From that point on, there’s no promises about what might happen.  Why is this?  Because I might have the KNOWLEDGE, but I lack the CONFIDENCE.  Without confidence, there’s no way that I would be a safe pilot.

Doesn’t the same thing apply to horses?  Haven’t we all met someone with the knowledge about what to do, how to ask, etc, but their confidence bucket is completely empty?  They’re knowledgeable but scared, intimidated, hesitant, whatever.  Many horses wouldn’t even perform for the human that lacks confidence in themselves or the situation.  Some horses would get worried about this lack of confidence coming from their supposed “leader” and would try finding a way to part company.   Thankfully for some humans, there are some rare four-legged gems that would tolerate this and just perform well in spite of it.  Babysitters, we’d call them.  But in either case, the human is not safe unless they have the CONFIDENCE.

So, back again to the airplane.  Now I’ve taken the time to gather the KNOWLEDGE about flying, and I even decided to fly some simulators and maybe even take lessons from a qualified instructor that helped me to understand and get some experience to be confident about flying that airplane.  Would it be more likely for you to agree to go along with me, now, on this flight?  Sure it would.  Because I would have the KNOWLEDGE and the CONFIDENCE to handle things – and that’s the ingredients that I need to be SAFE.  We have to have the right ingredients, and they have to be developed in the right sequence, in order for us to be safe.

If I have the KNOWLEDGE, but no confidence, then I won’t be safe.

If I have the CONFIDENCE, but no knowledge, I won’t be safe either. (Imagine how many times we have heard emergency room stories about guys at a barbecue, where the story usually starts with “Hay dude, hold my beer and watch this!”  Those stories are prime examples of confidence without the necessary knowledge).

But if I first gain the KNOWLEDGE, then gain the CONFIDENCE, then I can honestly be SAFE.

So it’s like I said at the beginning of this article, when you were probably shaking your head at my facetious comment about “safety third”… Safety is definitely extremely important when it comes to working with and riding our horses (in fact, your life depends on it), but it doesn’t come first.  It can only come after we develop knowledge and confidence.  This means it’s very important for us to increase our knowledge and our confidence in order to move forward with our horses in a safe manner.  Without those two as the primary ingredients, and in that order, we are only buying time until something goes wrong.

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