Riding is a high-risk sport and if you are working with horses, at some point, you may find yourself at the scene of an accident where your actions could save someone’s life. Those who have been involved in an accident agree that even basic first aid training can give you the confidence to cope.

“I’d done Red Cross first aid classes,” explains Penny Broome, who events two horses. “But in a real-life situation it’s hard not to panic.”

Penny was driving down a lane one day behind a lady riding one horse and leading another.

“The horse she was on started bucking, which spooked the other one, and in the chaos she fell on to the road and the horses galloped off, ” explained Penny. “I immediately put into action what I had been taught. She had a head injury and was unconscious. I checked she was still breathing, but she was gurgling blood, so I carefully turned her on her side to stop her choking. I left her riding hat in place because I remembered that removing it could have killed her.

“I called the emergency services on my mobile and, meanwhile, a vet, who happened to be passing, pulled up behind me. He provided rugs to keep the lady warm. It was also a comfort to have someone else there to help until the ambulance arrived.”

Penny’s actions saved the lady’s life. Three months later, after recovering from a blood clot, she phoned to thank Penny for her help.

Livery yard manager Lizzie Heaton was less prepared for an accident, having had no first aid training. When she discovered one of her livery clients lying in the field with a broken leg — having fallen off when schooling over jumps — she panicked.

“I didn’t know where to start. I saw the lady struggling to sit up and a loose horse careering round the field. I shouted to the lady but she was ominously quiet, so I knew she should be my priority. But the horse was also posing a danger.”

Luckily the yard owner was within earshot and called an ambulance before dealing with the loose horse, leaving Lizzie to look after the stricken rider.

“I couldn’t think straight and needed another person to take charge. The lady was in considerable pain but conscious and talking. I was unsure whether to move her from the damp ground. I kept her talking and warm but I just felt helpless. I’ve never been so happy to see an ambulance. The yard owner paid for me to go on a first aid course after that.”

Emergency action plan

The purpose of first aid is to maintain life until professional help arrives. Richard Craddock from Skillbase Training Ltd provides these rules to remember at the scene of a serious accident:

  • D=DANGER. Check for danger, make sure it is safe for you to give help. If it is not safe or you cannot safely remove danger, stay back and wait for expert help
  • R=RESPONSE. Check the casualty is responsive, shout their name and gently tap their shoulders. If the casualty is not responding shout for help
  • A=AIRWAY. If the casualty is not responsive, check for a clear airway. Vomit or an embedded object may be restricting the person’s breathing and you may have to put the patient in the recovery position. Be careful if you have to turn the rider over to do so, make sure the rider’s neck and back are kept in line as you do
  • B=BREATHING. If the casualty is not breathing, call an ambulance. Give two effective rescue breaths only if you have been trained to do so
  • C=CIRCULATION. Look, listen and feel for any normal breathing, coughing, movement or signs of life. If there are no signs of circulation, commence CPR if trained to do so

Tips for riding accidents

  • If the chinstrap or body protector is restricting breathing, then undo or slacken them, but do not remove them
  • If the casualty is conscious, stop them from moving until they have been properly checked. Steady their head and neck to avoid any movement
  • If the casualty is unconscious, try to maintain a clear airway
  • Always call an ambulance if the rider was unconscious at any time
  • Talk to the casualty calmly and try to keep them relaxed
  • Inform the police if there are loose horses on the road
  • Do not allow the casualty to remount if they were unconscious or concussed
  • Do not give any first aid for which you have not been trained
  • Do not rely on your own opinion, if you suspect illness or injury, always seek professional medical advice
  • Never use a tourniquet to try to stop a casualty bleeding – it may cause tissue damage or gangrene
  • Do not remove any embedded objects from a wound – it may be stemming bleeding and cause further damage
  • For a casualty with any suspected broken bones, try to keep the injury still and the patient warm until medical help arrives

Join NAGS

This NAGS/careers feature was first published in Horse & Hound. NAGS membership is available to all bona fide grooms and students. Benefits include Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers. For a membership form (tel: 020 7261 6993) or e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com