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Safety in equine practice

A letter about Think Ahead has just been published in the Veterinary Record. You can find it in the journal here and below. "I READ with interest the British Equine Veterinary Associations's (BEVA) new guidelines and note with irony that Veterinary Record chose to illustrate the news with an archive picture from early in the last century.

It is astonishing that the Health and Safety Executive has been persuaded that the veterinary profession does not have to emulate the safer industries of construction and the fire service by implementing compulsory helmet wearing in equine practice, given that the commonest cause of work-related fatality in this group is head injury.Resistance to change in the equestrian community is endemic and clearly by being dictatorial, I run the risk of alienating the very people I care about, and so my focus of attention is undergraduates, those who will take the profession forward with the legacy of our decisions and who are much more amenable to safety consciousness. Rapid risk assessment will become part of daily life, but in the cocooned university environment, with stocks and excellent facilities, lifetime habits are established, and a false sense of security can easily develop. The reality of veterinary work, quite literally in the field sometimes, with the accompanying decision fatigue, expediency and complacency, can leave one susceptible to poor, or absent choices, especially when stressed, hungry or tired. Awareness of equine behaviour and learning theory is long overdue in all branches of the equine world, and to be commended, but the signs preceding arousal can be mild, transient and rapidly progressive. A spooking horse can be measured by GPS to move sideways at 50 mph, hence slow motion video is a useful tool in horse behaviour work, and further demonstrates the difficulty in fluency of interpreting equine body language and our vulnerability.Image is everything, and the sight of a vet in a hat sends out a message of self care and safety awareness. We are now often presented with a peculiar anomaly: images of horse attendants in hats, but the vet, distracted from detailed behaviour observation by the procedure, not wearing one. Universities, in loco parentis, are compelling equine science students to wear hats and I would urge the veterinary schools to set aside their indignation and do the same, adopting a uniform approach in this matter with urgency. Debate over the type of helmet is relevant, but an unhelpful delaying tactic, given the time and money required for research and development, when current accident statistics are available. The safety campaign ‘Think Ahead: Wear a hard hat around horses’ was set up in 2014, with sponsorship from the Society of Equine Behaviour Consultants, but sadly, without the blessing of the BEVA, after vet Gerry Long was killed and show jumper Bryony ‘Bun’ Jones was nearly killed, to highlight the statistically similar risk of head injury when handling horses compared to riding. More information about the campaign can be found at"

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