Risk Management & Safety Considerations

Risk Assessment And Risk Management

Risk and Assumption of Risk

Every physical activity, no matter which sport carries an inherent element of risk and danger … so does our sport of Voltige. Accidents can happen; a horse can step on a voltigeur, parent, by-stander, etc., kick bite, or otherwise injure them. A voltigeur can fall off during an exercise, land incorrectly during a normal dismount, or just do a wrong move and pull a muscle. The risk of injury is always there, and it does not even have to be the fault of any one person. Everyone involved, i.e. coaches, longeurs, voltigeurs, parents, officials, etc. should be aware of and understand this. Sometimes we welcome that risk – that challenge- to reach out and become better than we were before, to achieve more, to extend our limits. The responsible person undertaking this risk must also understand to what degree that risk will affect their life. He or she must make a conscious decision as to the relative worth of that risk.

There is a reality that must be adhered to whenever one takes part in any sport or physical activity and that is: THE PARTICIPANT IS RESPONSIBLE! Period! Athletes participating in a sport must decide to take risks. They must have medical insurance; otherwise the risk is too great.

Risk Management and Risk Reduction

It is the responsibility of everyone involved – instructor, voltigeur, parent, horse-owner -to minimize this risk. The instructor must attempt to make the horse as safe as possible, to know as much as possible about the sport of Voltige, must only teach what he or she properly knows or fully understands, and must know the limits of horse and student. The voltigeurs must actively help to keep the sport safe. They must know how to behave and act around horses, look out for potential accidents, and make the instructor aware of it. Most of all, students must realize their own limits, and should make it known to the instructor if they feel scared, unsafe, or not up to the exercises which they are asked to perform. The parents must also help in making the sport safe, they too must look for potential accidents, help the instructors when they can, and support the position of authority for the instructor. However, it is also the right and duty of the parent to periodically question – and hopefully reaffirm – the capabilities of the instructor. They should act as a check for the qualifications of the instructor. This is their right, as parent of the voltigeur. This questioning of the qualification of the instructor is not intended to undermine the authority, position, knowledge, etc. of the instructor, but to help the instructor identifying potential weaknesses or problems, to assure the parent that the instructor deserves the trust placed upon him or her, to encourage everybody to acquire more knowledge, and to promote and support the strife for excellence in teaching which this sport of Voltige demands. Neither the instructor, the voltigeur, nor the parent should blindly place their trust in the other person, and just hope that nothing bad is going to happen.

Risk Recognition

As accidents do occur – even with the most careful of all instructor and clubs – , and people do get hurt, the danger of being sued is always there. However, there are some precautions, the club, organizer, and instructor can take to reduce this danger.

The first, and most important action that must be taken is to consciously be aware of the potential of accidents, and to look out to reduce them. This means to constantly scrutinize the Voltige program, the facilities, the training of the horse(s), the abilities of the voltigeurs, and the exercises being performed. The questions an instructor should ask himself/herself frequently are, for example: “Is our practice ground safe? Are there any stones, branches, boards, nails, etc. lying around? Is the ground even, smooth, and soft? Is there something that could startle or scare the horse? Is the barrel still in good condition (handles firm, legs covered, no nails or sharp edges sticking out?)? Is the voltige girth still in good condition (leather still strong, no worn out parts, Cossack loops not cracked, handles firm, etc.?)? Bridle? Longeline? Is our horse “safe” (i.e. is it “nuisance-trained”, “bomb-proof”, does it spook at something, etc.?)? Has the horse developed any bad vices lately (did it threaten [start] to kick at the voltigeurs when they approach to mount? Is it threatening to bite or trying to bite when the girth is put on and being tightened?)? With regards to new exercises: Is the horse trained enough to perform the exercises? Is/are the voltigeur(s) trained and prepared enough to attempt these exercises? Is the exercise “safe” at this point? Do the voltigeurs know how to react in case of “danger”, i.e. if the horse spooks, stumbles, or takes off; if the strength suddenly leaves the voltigeur and the exercise crashes? Do the voltigeurs know how to bail out, how to land and roll to soften the landing and deflect the motion? …..

Negligence ?

Negligence is defined as the omission or neglect of reasonable precaution, care, or action to provide a safe environment or program!

This above-mentioned conscious and constant search for potential causes of accidents will help to instill in everyone a feeling of trust that the Voltige Program offered is made as safe as possible, and makes clear that the instructor is not taking unnecessary or unwarranted risks. This instructor is trying his/her best not to be negligent, and this is the most important aspect. An instructor is in deep trouble, if, after an accident occurred, he/she was found negligent. This instructor is putting him/herself, his/her facility, income, home, bank accounts, and all other assets, and those of the associates at risk should someone decide to sue. If, however, this instructor, and the associates of the Voltige Program can show proof that it was a true accident and not caused due to negligent behaviour by the instructor; that the instructor constantly tried to make the program as safe as possible, then the situation is completely different. In such a situation, it is much more unlikely, that someone will try to sue in the first place, but even if it comes to a court-case, this instructor will have a very good chance to be found not guilty of negligence by the court. As stated above, injuries do occur in recreation and sport. However, the mere occurrence of an injury does not automatically provide the victim with the ability to successfully sue someone. Before a court will award damages (money) for an injury, the person suing must prove that the person being sued has caused the victim to suffer some harm or loss by failing to live up to a legal duty to be careful for the victim’s safety. This failure to meet a reasonable standard of care is called negligence, and an instructor found negligent can be in deep trouble.

Waiver Form, …, Release Form

There is one piece of paper that can help a club and instructor to avoid a lot of trouble. It is known under a variety of names, such as Waiver Form, Release Form, Indemnity Form, Assumption of Risk Form, Exclusion Clauses, Limitation of Liability Clauses, Hold Harmless Agreements, or a combination of the above. Each voltigeur, coach, longeur, parent, and club must read and understand this document. Simply it says that you understand that you are involved in an equestrian sport that includes an element of risk, which you understand and are willing to take. It releases the club, facility, instructor, owner, etc. from responsibility for your decision to participate. This is most important: You as a participant take responsibility for that risk with full knowledge that it is not as safe as staying in bed.

If a student or parent does not read, understand, and sign this document, the club, organization, instructor, owner, etc. are responsible if anything happens. This is a position to be avoided. Therefore, if a student, or parent of the student does not want to sign this document, then this person must not be allowed to participate in the Voltige Program.

Having said this, the down-side of such as Waiver Form must also be stated. A court will not uphold such a waiver, if the student was forced into signing it, or if the student did not understand what it is he/she was agreeing to. It must be kept in mind that offering a Voltige Program is a voluntary service by the organizer, and not a must. Therefore, there is no essential need for a person to use this service, and, therefore, a client is not forced to sign a waiver form. We will not allow anyone to participate in our Voltige Program without having signed a Waiver Form.

The second point mentioned above is probably more important. For any waiver to be considered valid, the people signing it must understand what it involves, and there must not be any discrepancy between what one person thinks it means, and what the other person thinks it means. The problem, however, is that usually only the persons themselves know what they understood and thought at the time, and that disputes about the respective recollections can occur. For this reason, the courts usually try to infer what was agreed on from all the surrounding circumstances. There is a principle of law that states where a court has to interpret a contractual agreement (i.e. a waiver form, etc.) it should always try to interpret in a manner that is favorable to the person in the weaker position. And this is usually the person who has signed a waiver form, because a waiver form is also considered as an agreement not to sue and as permission for someone to be negligent to the signatory. In other words, the courts sometimes have the tendency to try to dismiss waiver forms.

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SAFETY – A PRIME CONSIDERATION

The safety of the horse and voltigeur should be the first consideration of the coach. It is an instinct in the experienced coach/longeur, but may have to be a conscious thought with the less experienced one. Unlike most other sports, in which the equipment is inanimate, the sport of Voltige involves an animate object: the horse. It has a mind and will of its own. The horse is a third party in the coach/student situation. Even a well-trained horse can be unpredictable at times, particularly so for the less experienced coach/longeur. The sport of Voltige is a risk sport and must be approached with respect and safety for both horse and voltigeur. The role of the coach/longeur is to reduce the risks to an acceptable minimum without reducing the challenge, progressive training, and thrill of achievement.

Teaching students Voltige in an arena (providing the dimensions are met) is sometimes less dangerous than outside.

There is a fine line between the challenging situation and one that is dangerous. A nervous coach produces a nervous voltigeur. A good guideline in this situation is to adhere to a progressive training schedule. If the student is safe and secure with exercises on the ground and barrel, these exercises may be attempted on the horse, first at the walk and then at the canter. The coach must also assess the capabilities of the horse’s acceptance to these exercises.

Areas of Safety

Other, more specific areas of safety are:

Horse Equipment: All the equipment must be fitted correctly to the horse. If more than one horse uses the same equipment, the fit of the equipment must be checked before the horse enters the longeing area. Horse equipment is usually made of leather, which is perishable with poor maintenance. Other parts are metal, which are also capable of wear and breakage. Regular inspection should, therefore, be part of the coach’s safety procedure.

The horse’s equipment consists of: Bridle: An egg-butt, simple D-ring, or hollow mouth jointed loose-ring snaffle (one joint only, round) with dropped noseband or flash (no reins). Mouth protectors (rubber rings) are allowed. All mouth pieces must have 14 millimeters of minimum thickness at the corners of the mouth. Voltige girth: The voltige girth must have two handles, should be well stuffed with a good padding, and have a rigid tree so it does not rest on the withers. Two foot loops (Cossack loops) for use during the kür are recommended, and a small, firm aiding loop between the two handles is allowed. No balancing strap (for standing or mounting) is allowed. An optional pad can be used, the measurements for the F.E.I. Rules are applicable: * 90 cm wide x 90 cm long * 60 cm from the back edge of the girth * 2 cm thickness (except under the girth, where any thickness is allowed). The pad must be of a non-rigid material. Two restricting (side) reins with rubber rings (donuts). Soft connections (leather or nylon buckle) of the restricting (side) reins with the girth and the bit are recommended. Longeline with an approximate length of 7 meters. Soft connection (leather or nylon buckle) of the longeline with the bit is recommended. The longeline is attached to the inside side ring of the snaffle bit. Longeing whip. The thong should be long enough to reach the horse’s hind legs. Bandages or (splint) boots for the front legs are mandatory. Protective padding on bridle and girth is allowed. Ear protectors (as fly protection) are allowed.

Voltigeurs

The dress must be uniform, sporting, practical, and safe. Suitable clothing for training purposes are gymnastic suits, track suits, or sports clothes. The clothing during a competition should reflect the athletic essence of this sport, and must be void of glitter, sequins, etc.. Footwear should either be training shoes with very soft and flexible soles (“water shoes” are suitable), or, preferably, gymnastic/voltige slippers.

Longeur

The longeur’s clothes should harmonize with those of the voltigeurs’, and should reflect the athletic essence of the sport.

Safety Factors

The longeing and voltige area, such as outside riding rings should be inspected for large stones, broken glass, bottles, wire, or holes in the ground. Fences or walls in riding rings should be in good repair. Nail heads and splintered rails can cause serious injuries. No other equipment that a horse or voltigeur could become entangled with or injured by should be in the longeing or practice area.

Dismounted Safety

The horse should always be controlled by the longeur/coach. Horse and stable management must be taught to the students so that their behaviour in and around the stable and with the horse is safety oriented. Students must be taught to respect the horse and never to treat it as a lifeless object. During voltige sessions, gymnastic/voltige slippers should be worn by the voltigeurs, however, outside the voltige area proper footwear, i.e. boots or shoes must be worn. No loose or oversized clothing, or jewelry (long earrings, necklaces) should be worn. Long hair must be tied back.

There will be many other safety factors that will become apparent with experience and thought.

Coaches Liability

Individual and Third-Party liability for equestrian coaches can be obtained through various insurance agencies. The best protection is not to be found negligent. If equipment is faulty or procedures are dangerous, the coach could be found negligent. This is a complex area that every coach should become aware of. Discussion with the club or group for whom they teach would be beneficial. All coaches must have First Aid training and have a well-stocked First Aid kit for both human and equine use. These kits should be marked (indicating which is which), and the contents must be properly labeled. Good First Aid also means knowing what not to do and when to call a doctor or ambulance.

It is also of great benefit if the coach has a medical history of the students with regard to allergies and medical conditions. The name of the student’s family doctor, telephone number, and the student’s medical insurance number, as well as parent’s work and home numbers (if student is under age) should be available in case of an emergency. An accident report form should be filled out and filed each time an injury or accident occurs around the stable or horse. Observe strict record confidentiality.

The following five questions should always be capable of being answered in the affirmative:

1) Was the exercise suitable to the age and experience of the individual or group? 2) Was the athlete progressively trained and coached to perform the exercise? 3) Was the equipment adequate and suitably arranged? 4) Was the performance properly supervised? 5) Was the horse longed by a capable longeur?

To be a good coach at any level you must be observant and able to analyze what you see. The coach must be dedicated to the observance of safety rules; safety must become an instinct.

Summary on Safety:

* Safety of the horse and voltigeur must be the first consideration of the coach. * The coach must reduce the risks without reducing the challenge. * Specific safety areas include: equipment arenas and paddocks voltigeur’s uniform and clothing safety in the stable horse control fire safety * The best protection for the coach is not to be found negligent.

* The coach is responsible for: safe procedures, First Aid updating, First Aid kit, student records, accident records, emergency numbers.

* SAFETY MUST BECOME AN INSTINCT.