ESFAC - Equine Specific First Aid Course

At the beginning of the year (2011), like the author of the following article, I too (Chris Rushton - webmaster of this site) had not done a First Aid course in years. When I saw that Kingsbarn Equestrian Centre were doing a course I thought "Time to get up to date and learn about Equine Specific First Aid ."

The following article was written by my friend Adrian Sinclair - from Sinclair Photography - and first appeared in the March 2011 issue of Scottish & Northern Equestrian magazine.

My thanks to Adrian for allowing me to use his article here, together with the photographs that he took during the course.

I did the course because my daughter competes and I am usually close by with my camera in hand - I now have an extra bag in the form of a First Aid kit to carry around.

As a final comment before I let you read Adrian's article........Adrian was at the training day at Scone Palace earlier this month in his capacity as event photographer. As he and I were photographing the last class, one of the riders took a fall. Adrian at once took charge of the situation and made sure that the young lady concerned was ok. Fortunately, after about 10 minutes, she was able to continue.

I asked Adrian how many times that day he had done his "1st Aid Thing" - "about 4 or 5 times" he said. "That course has proved extremely useful". Please think about taking the course yourself - I can recommend it and so can all of us who attended.

First Aid – what do you know?

As a professional equestrian photographer I’ve seen a wide range of equestrian injuries - everything from riders being thrown, dragged, kicked, pushed, pulled, trodden on and bitten, resulting in all manner of cuts and bruises. Thankfully in all cases and with the exception of one concussion and a broken collar bone, no one was seriously injured and all lived to ride another day.

As much as we all hope it will never happens to us, statistically we’re all likely to receive some form of equestrian related injury - its part of being involved with these beautiful creatures. Myself, with the exception of being bitten by a horse when I was 12 and despite having 3 horses in my family, remain injury free - to date. My wife however, who I often think was born in the saddle, has seen her fair share of trips to the A&E department after a horse related “tumble”.

One such altercation with a cross country jump landed her with a badly sprained ankle and whilst I was there to offer a shoulder to lean on, I didn’t really know what to do and felt totally helpless. Thankfully the injury wasn’t a serious one and the on site first aid whisked her off for treatment - but it got me thinking – how many of us would actually know what to do in the event of an accident? Do you know basic first aid and if you do know the basics, when was the last time you checked your techniques were still relevant? If you don’t know any first aid, would you know who to contact in the event of an accident?

With this in mind and with my job meaning I’m usually one of the first on the scene when there’s a dismounted rider in the ring, I decided to book myself on to a 2 day equine specific first aid course. The course, held at Kingsbarn Equestrian Centre in Falkirk and organised by Morag Cartney from Horse Sense ( was delivered by Stewart Christie BHSI, a man who’s spent the majority of his life working with horses at all levels and is now amongst his many qualifications a fully trained first aid instructor. He was happy to share his experiences with our 8 strong group, which included staff from both Kingsbarn and Westerdean head equestrian centres.

My own experience of first aid goes back to when I was at primary school.

At the age of 9 (some 31 years ago) I was shown the recovery position, how to apply a bandage and had the experience of giving “rubber Annie” the Kiss of life. That was (thankfully) the last time I needed my first aid skills but the basics always stayed with me. I’m not sure whether children receive this at school any more but with so many young people owning ponies and horses, basic first aid is something everyone should know.

In the UK we have one of the best riding safety records of any developed country and our strict health and safety regulations mean accidents are kept to a minimum. They’ve made a huge difference to the equipment used by riders and the way our yards, shows and events are organised and managed. With more people pursuing outdoor lifestyles and with leisure riding in the UK increase by 5% in the last 5 years, we take it for granted that when we attend an organised equestrian event there will be a St. John’s ambulance on standby as well as the knowledge that somewhere in the crowd there are probably a few volunteer first aiders on hand should they be needed.

Our 2 day BHS recognised course (which was only £99.00, BHS registered individuals receive a discount) contained both practical and theoretical elements and Stewart used real life scenarios to help emphasis particular areas. The course included a very comprehensive first aid book for us to keep with step by step instructions on dealing with a host of injuries as well as a series of handouts which explained the key elements of first aid treatment.

Our first day was devoted to theory, discussing situations we may have been involved in and how we handled them. The handouts included easy to understand abbreviations and checklists for a first aider to follow. To finish the day we each practiced the recovery position – something that had changed a fair amount from when I was shown it as a child

A small amount of homework was given (to ensure we passed the multiple choice test the following day) and after a recap day 2 saw a more hands on demonstrations starting with simple bandage techniques, from head bandages to arm slings. With these quickly mastered Stewart felt confident we were ready for the next stage – the cardiac massage demonstration.

It’s unlikely that any of us will ever be unfortunate enough to find ourselves in the situation where an injured person has no life signs, but should that be the case the technique we were shown could make all the difference and could certainly prolong a persons chance of survival until the paramedics arrive.

Apart from a slight change the actual technique of giving “mouth to mouth” hadn’t actually changed in the 31 years since I last gave rubber Annie “the kiss of life”. I was amazed at how much of the technique I remembered.

After performing an individual demonstration of our skills for Stewart to observe and he’d given us a scenario which tested the knowledge of what we’d learned over the 2 days, we took the final test and I’m please to say we all passed with flying colours.

There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with being a first aider and it’s not something that everyone will be suited to. A good first aider should want to become one in the first place and not pressured in to doing it. They should be able to remain calm when under pressure and know when to delegate and take control of a situation. Stewart was keen to point out that first aiders are not paramedics and are merely there to provide the very basic of first aid assistance to an injured person. This could actually be nothing more than ensuring the person is comfortable and warm and has company until the emergency services arrive. But it’s that additional support that can make all the difference.

It is very difficult to know just how many riding accidents there are in Britain because - with the exception of top races and competitions, there is no one keeping detailed records. But, after road accidents, research by the BBC in 2007 showed paramedics attend more equestrian-related incidents than any other type of accident.

There are about 1.3 million horses in Britain and they are owned or cared for by 720,000 people, or 1.2% of the UK population. Whether you own a horse or a pony or have one on loan or just like having an occasional lesson, even if like me you just muck out occasionally, you’ll know there can be risks, especially when dealing with an animal that can weigh in at over ½ ton.

On the whole a sensible person applies a modicum of common sense when handling horses, but despite being graceful gentle creatures, horses are flight animals and can “spook” without warning. As such you should know what to do or who to contact should an accident happen. Being first aid trained will give you an additional tool that could potentially save a persons life or your own.

Research done by found although most equestrian related injuries happen whilst riding, a good proportion occur around the horse – for example grooming, feeding, leading or playing around or near the animal.

Some may find it alarming that children and adolescents are the most commonly injured group, particularly young girls (10-19 years). But when you consider their more frequent participation in equestrian events and activities it’s not surprising. Injuries to children tend to be more severe than those to adults due to their developing bone structure. They say children bounce but bouncing still hurts. Many equestrian injuries result from being kicked by the horse – facial and arm related injuries being those most regularly sustained by adolescents.

The full article can be found at

So what can you do?

You don’t necessarily need to be first aid trained and common sense plays a large role. If you keep your horse on a livery yard or in a big establishment like an equestrian centre make sure you know the yard rules and also check what their first aid policy is for your own peace of mind. To comply with current health and safety legislation, every business must follow health and safety guidelines and these include a process for first aid. Make sure you know your yards first aid process, who the designated first aid person is and what to do in the event of an accident.

If like me you own private stables (no liveries) and keep your own horses at home, make sure you have your own first aid process. Always keep a method of communication with you when on the yard on your own (mobile phone or walkie talkie), keep a first aid kit in the tack room and if riding take one to the side of an arena where it’s readily available. If working alone be aware of the dangers and what’s going on around you.

When riding make sure you wear the proper protective clothing and use the right equipment. If going on a hack consider taking a “hack pack” which should contain a blanket, torch, map (to help direct rescuers), a first aid kit and a means of communication should one of the party become injured. Such items are regularly used by hill walkers. Make sure someone knows where you’ve gone and what time you expect to be back. Some yards have a hack book where those out on a ride “log in and log out” with contact details and where they’ve gone..

To sum up, having a basic knowledge of first aid, taking basic precautions and knowing what to do in the event of an accident is something people of all ages should accustom themselves with.

When dealing with horses, safety always comes first and having a basic knowledge of first aid could make all the difference. The skills we learnt on our 2 day course could actually be applied to any emergency situation whether at home or on the yard and the benefits speak for themselves.

I hope I don’t have to put my new skills to the test over the coming season’s events but, if the worst were to happen, as a first aider I’m now in a much better position to help someone than I was before – and I’d like to think that it could make all the difference.

References – Morag Cartney – tel 01463 713 513  information on ways to prevent equestrian injuries  The Royal Society for the prevention of accidents  The Health and Safety executive

Annie and course attendee
Annie and course attendee
© Photograph by kind permission of Sinclair Photography Chris Rushton (seated) with course tutor Stewart Christie
Chris Rushton (seated) with course tutor Stewart Christie
© Photograph by kind permission of Sinclair Photography