By Jerry Tardif
On a weekend in June 2008, I went trail riding with four friends and we had a small "event".
We had gone on a fun, three-hour lunch/trail ride and were returning to the barn.
Within a half-mile or so of the barn, we dismounted as we often do to allow the horses some time to cool down and relax without us on their backs for the remainder of the trip.
It's even good for us to walk a distance after spending a significant amount of time in the saddle.
Generally, we'll loosen the girths a little to make the horses more comfortable during our walk.
Another rider and I were in the rear and had dismounted first.
The others rode a little longer and got further ahead before dismounting.
As my friend and I were coming out of the forest near the barn, one of the other rider's horses was running free; well, not completely free, he had his saddle under his belly and was trying hard to dislodge it.
We watched in frustration as we saw him upset and tearing the saddle apart.
What we were still to learn was that he had also ripped his reins off the bit.
Once free of his saddle, he did what all horses do after a scary event, well, what they do before an event, and any other time they can, he went about grazing as if nothing had ever happened.
His rider came running to check him and we found he had hurt his front left leg above the fetlock, likely from it catching the bridle during the panic — thankfully, the bridle broke.
Though he needed some sutures from the vet, no serious damage was done and an examination of his mouth showed no injuries there.
In a follow-up conversation with his owner, it appears she had loosened his cinch too much and he panicked a minute or two later as it started a slide down his side and then under his belly.
He pulled his reins out of her hands as he ran off to escape the monster under his stomach.
From this experience, we all learned a lesson: don't loosen the cinch before returning to the barn.
While we care about our horses and want them to be as comfortable as possible, safety is a much higher concern.
I've thought about this event over the last few days thanking my lucky stars I've not loosened my saddle too much in the past and realized it's not easy to determine where, exactly, "too loose" begins and ends, and that this could have happened to me and almost anyone else.
Looking at this pragmatically, our horses had worn their saddles comfortably for three hours, another 5 or 10 minutes would have made no difference at all.
And while the injury was minor, it could have been far worse with potential serious damage to his mouth.
This is just another day of learning a new lesson regarding better care for our four-legged friends.
No matter how much we know, there's always more to learn and I've heard of cases of horses hurting themselves while tied to a post, using cross ties, or a host of many other circumstances.
Each horse is an individual and something that doesn't bother one horse may panic another, or panic the same horse on another day.
When with horses, it is most important to be alert, thinking, and focused on what we're doing.
I've written in the past about being "in the moment" so we're aware of what's going on around us for enjoyment and safety reasons — this incident was a reminder for me, as well as others, that when around horses, "the moment" is all the time.
Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com.
He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.
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