Keeping It Small and Safe

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When you organize a show at your facility, it’s important to safeguard your riders and your business from injury. At the 2003 USA?Equestrian Meeting, a safety forum outlined several steps organizers can take. Presenters included Andrew Ellis, chair of the safety committee, with input from committee members Rusty Lowe, executive director of the American Medical Equestrian Association, and Dick London, a paramedic and equestrian safety advocate.

Here are the highlights from the forum:

1. Promote Safe Attire

Encourage riders to wear protective equipment, such as approved helmets and protective vests. “As a show manager, I constantly tell people to put their helmets on,” said Ellis.

A 2002 Senate bill introduced by Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Safety Act—would require all headgear to meet government safety standards, said Ellis. In other words, the bill would bar those “for apparel only” helmets.

The recommendation to encourage use of riding vests came with a caution—riders wearing protective vests seem to rely too much on the equipment, Ellis said. “They ride more aggressively, because they think they are really safer,” he said. “The vest is no guarantee that you won’t get hurt.” The answer is to wear a vest but act as though you aren’t.

Riding attire should also not endanger riders in the heat of summer. Keeping an eye on the heat index will help show managers make better decisions (see article page 16). If it’s a scorcher, announce that riders may show without coats, or that Western riders can remove their show chaps.

2. Supply Onsite Emergency Medical Care

Hiring qualified medical personnel does not necessarily cost an arm and a leg and can be a lifesaver, panelists said. First, check on available services from local agencies: fire, police and EMS (emergency medical services). For private services, consult the Yellow Pages under First Aid or Ambulance Service.

Try to arrange to have at least one emergency medical technician, or EMT, on the grounds on show day. An EMT is trained for basic life support (BLS). “An EMT is not expensive—about $200 a day,” said London, a paramedic.

“...that 30 seconds before the EMT arrives can make a difference.”

This medical support can be critical for spectators as well as riders. “EMTs are responsible for all people on the showgrounds,” said Ellis. With families and spectators, show attendance at the simplest show could be in the hundreds. The more people, the greater risk of medical emergencies on your property.

In case of injury, an EMT might call in a paramedic, someone trained in advanced life support (ALS). Paramedics, said London, “can intubate, do IV and maintain airway management with medications.” Lowe, an EMT-P, described a tiered response: “Initially you want BLS, and ALS can respond if needed.” Like a mobile ER, paramedics work with doctors, possibly communicating through radio contact when treating an accident victim.

Do you need an ambulance onsite? Not necessarily, if services are available on call. “A qualified person at the scene is more important than having an ambulance on the showgrounds,” said London. For a serious accident, an EMT can treat the rider in those minutes before an ambulance arrives—taking vital signs and protecting the patient from any further injury. If the ambulance response time is longer than 15 minutes, it might be a good idea to have one on site.

In addition, Lowe recommends that anyone involved in show management should be trained in first aid and CPR. “Or, designate someone who can provide immediate care,” he said. “You want to keep the person alive and control their breathing—that 30 seconds before the EMT arrives can make a difference.”

3. Prepare Rider Documents

Rider entry forms must be complete with signatures that allow the rider to receive medical treatment. “Often you see at the show secretary’s stand that people don’t sign entry blanks in the morning, or the entry doesn’t get signed at all,” London said. “If a junior rider is injured and unconscious, without a signed entry blank, no permission has been granted to treat this fallen rider.”

State laws vary on emergency care. Medical personnel will most likely treat an injured rider, regardless of paperwork. But you can clarify the situation by preparing entry forms and rider numbers, and then requiring every rider (and parent of a minor) to sign the form before issuing his or her number.

Another good idea:?Supply riders with medical cards to carry on the showgrounds. For example, the USAE requires eventing riders to wear a plastic armband that contains a medical card. “We found that at three-day events and horse trials, in an emergency we may not know a certain rider. We can slip the card out of the pocket on her sleeve to read prior to any treatment,” Lowe said.

Print cards for your show, and require each rider entry to carry the card in a shirt or pants pocket. Such a card can even profit your show. When you print cards, add the name of a local sponsor, who pays a sponsorship fee and generates goodwill.

If you limit entries to barn clients, you can produce picture IDs for each rider. Extend protection by requiring riders to carry their cards whenever they’re at the barn. In case of accident, you’ll have instant access to contact information and be aware of any medical conditions.

4. Prepare for Worst-Case Scenarios

Most importantly, develop an action plan to handle worst-case scenarios. “Have it written down, and rehearse it,” advised Lowe. “Know who will call 911. Test your radio communications, and have a backup. Designate a contact person.”

Don’t expect a physician or nurse to pitch in if a rider takes a hard fall. Asking “Is there a doctor in the barn?” can actually impede treatment, panelists agreed. “In general, they’re not trained in pre-hospital care,” said Lowe. “It can be awkward if a doctor starts care before the EMS arrives.”

Ellis said he discusses the crisis plan with show staff. “Whether you have 10 or 100 horses, be sure those situations are handled professionally.” Your plan should address both typical and unusual “What if?” scenarios. How will you stop the show if a serious accident happens? If the EMT calls for helicopter transport, where would it land on your property? The more you can anticipate and plan, the better your emergency response will be.

“A smooth process helps everyone,” said Lowe.