Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

After the Fall: How pink is your concussion? (What women riders need to know.)

By Fran Jurga,
January 23, 2017


The veterinarian didn't know what hit her. What she did know, when she woke up, was that her head had hit the concrete barn aisle floor when the horse she was treating spooked. She struggled to sit up. 

Days later, after being checked out at a local hospital, the incident still haunted her. And as if having a head injury wasn't enough, her life became complicated with doctor appointments, missed days from work, and nagging concerns that the injury might have longer-term repercussions for her health and her career. Or, it might have been so mild that there was no need to worry at all.

She didn’t know what was ahead of her. And she didn’t know how long it would take to know if she was going to be all right. 

• • • • • 

Raise your hand if you're ever suffered a concussion--whether from riding a horse or a car accident or any type of mishap.

If you didn't raise your hand, how do you know you've never had a concussion?

And did anyone ever mention to you that men and women react differently to head injuries?

No, we didn't think so. But that's about to change.

Sport and medical science have exploded in recent years with new statistics on traumatic head injuries and the mechanical engineering properties of helmets designed to prevent them. Much of the information centers on or is sourced from football, and most of the data has been collected from tests on helmets made for and worn by men in contact sports--or from crash test dummies and anvil drop tests.

Meanwhile, much of the data on traumatic brain injuries in women is coming from a very different source: by studying women who are victims of domestic violence. Women athletes tend to be bypassed in the research, but there's hope that that will be changing soon--and that equestrians can play a role in that change.

According to one analysis of equestrian sports, concussions comprise from 9.7% to 15% of all horse-related injuries seen in hospitals for evaluation. Those injuries range from common sprains and dislocated fingers on up. But since many more victims with minor symptoms of a head injury never bother to go to a hospital to be treated after they fall off a horse, their injuries don’t make it into statistics. Only the more serious injuries get counted. 

What we do know is that equestrian sports hold the dubious honor of having the highest mortality of any sport. More riders are injured than skiers and football players and race car drivers combined.

If you're a number-cruncher or a dataholic, here's a treat for you. A study published in 2015 in the journal World Neurology presented an across-the-board analysis of relevant studies of equestrian injuries. Compiled primarily by neurological surgeons at Vanderbilt University's Sports Concussion Center, the study looked for data on both functional traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, and less common (but even more debilitating) structural traumatic brain injuries in equestrian sports, such as fractured skulls and hemorrhage in and around the brain.

Gender and statistics in equestrian sports injury data

The researchers regretted that gender data was lacking in most of the studies they reviewed. While data may seem to suggest that female riders receive head injuries more often than males, arguments can be made for the fact that women generally outnumber men in horse sports anyway, and that women may be less resistant than men to the suggestion that they go to the hospital to be checked out. Women may also be more likely to wear helmets than men and sometimes take fewer risks. On the other hand, women often don’t like to complain, and may have compelling reasons to want to avoid hospitalization so they can care for children (or horses). As a result, they may refuse medical attention.

The injured people in the study were also not all riders; in one study from Kentucky, one third of patients had been bystanders, including spectators at horse events. In another study, 29% of injuries were from horse kicks rather than falls from the saddle. Who was most likely to be injured? Amateurs, young females, and older male professionals, depending on the study criteria, had the highest risk.

While gender data may have been lacking or inclusive in these tallies of equestrian brain injury, what happens after the fall or kick is influenced by gender. And that is really where today’s story begins.

• • • • •

Pink Concussions

Of significant importance to equestrian sports is compelling evidence that women experience concussions differently from men, and that they have different recovery times and different severity or duration of symptoms, such as headache or blurred vision. 

Based on this new body of research, a new organization is dedicating itself to educating women to both prevent brain injuries and to cope with the after effects when one occurs. 

Meet Pink Concussions, an educational organization that hopes its information will benefit equestrian sports, and that equestrians, in turn, will bring them their stories of what it means to suffer head injuries, whether mild or severe, as a result of contact with horses or participation in equestrian sports.

Headquartered in Connecticut, Pink Concussions, hosted the first medical conference dedicated solely to traumatic brain injuries in women in 2016. While the organization is deep into medical research, it also has a practical side, and offers three key points to make us all think differently about concussions:

  • Women concuss at high rates than males in sports with similar rules;
  • Women report a higher number and more severe symptoms than males in both civilian and military research; and
  • Women have longer recovery periods than males including higher rates of Post Concussive Syndrome (PCS).

Given those three facts, one would assume that there is plenty of information available to women and girls on how to avoid concussions, what to do if you think you have one, what to do if you are present when a woman receives a brain injury, and what the aftercare for a woman with a head injury might be.

However, that is not the case. Concussion is an example of a brain injury with a gender difference, and yet reference material and medical guidelines do not specify gender differences. 

Right now, Pink Concussions executive director Katherine Snedaker is assembling an equestrian advisory committee, and hopes to host an equestrian sports panel at the organization’s next conference, the PINK Concussions Symposium at the World Brain Injury Congress 2017 in New Orleans. 

Snedaker said that women need to be aware of the cumulative effects related to concussions, as well. Repeated head injuries, even mild, may build up. 

Pink Concussions supports women with traumatic brain injuries with three support groups on Facebook, including one for caregivers.

Sometimes it seems like horse industry organizations prefer to focus on overall safety and injury prevention rather than to report their statistics--if they even have them.

Equestri emptor.

In their defense, when a rider parts company with a saddle, he or she becomes the concern of the medical community, and the outcome of an injury--major or minor--may never be reported back to the horse show organizer or the sport governing body. 

Equestrian sports organizations that do want to know are forced to consult medical statistics, rather than sport statistics, often by way of admission stats for hospital trauma units. If an injured rider isn't admitted as a patient, little or no information about the diagnosis, let alone the long-term followup, ever finds its way to a data set.

Until recently, safety around horses centered on the panacea of wearing a helmet. A false equivalency developed: If riders would just wear helmets, the sport would have a better image and fewer accidents would happen.

But a funny thing happened around the same time that helmets became mandatory for many sports, and in common use by many more riders.

More attention has been given to the injuries suffered on the ground, especially by professionals like veterinarians, grooms and farriers. In addition, "jockey science" has come into its own to record the health problems and job-related injuries of professional race riders.

Do we need to wear helmets on the ground? Professional emergency response educator Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, recently conducted an exploratory survey for veterinarians and vet technicians. As director of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, she is concerned about veterinarians who don’t wear helmets when trying to free horses from entrapment. 

“Emergency responders show up and put on their helmets,” she said, bemoaning the fact that veterinarians rarely even have one available, if they wanted to put one on.

What can we do?

While it may be early days, awareness can pay off. What most women don't know is that their gender means that they experience concussions differently from men, so spread the word. And, that it's not enough to feel safe in the saddle under your helmet, given the high number of horse-related injuries that occur when people lead, bathe, load, handle, treat, shoe and just watch horses.

We’ve never had so many resources to keep us informed, but sometimes the information we need is hard to find. Congratulations to Pink Concussions and the medical community around it for seeing a need and responding to it. 

To learn more:

The study mentioned in the text is:

Functional and Structural Traumatic Brain Injury in Equestrian Sports: A Review of the Literature
Scott L. Zuckerman, Clinton D. Morgan, Stephen Burks, Jonathan A. Forbes, Lola B. Chambless, Gary S. Solomon, Allen K. Sills
World Neurosurg. (2015) 83, 6:1098-1113.

That paper lists more than 60 references, primarily related to injury in equestrian sports.

Read more about equestrian safety, helmets and brain injury on The Jurga Report:

Neurologists' New Guidelines for Sports Head Injuries; Georgina Bloomberg Falls at Syracuse, Seeks Treatment Later

Not Just Natasha: Florida Accident Another Reminder to Wear Your Helmet

Strap It All On: Protecting Your Head Requires More Than a Helmet (But That's a Start)

New Connecticut Legislation Would Require Riding Instructors to Be Certified in CPR, First Aid and Concussions

Are Equestrian Safety Issues Riding Between the Lines of PBS' Frontline "League of Denial" Exposes on Head Injuries?

New York State's Equestrian Helmet Law Amended to Age 18

Risky Business: British Horse Vets Injured More Often than Firefighters, Study Shows

Equestrian Injury: A Trauma Surgeon Shares His Stats

Should veterinarians wear helmets?

Equestrian safety research: What kind of rider falls and doesn't feel it?

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer The Thinking Rider
by Jennifer Forsberg Meyer
By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer
Insights and resources to improve your riding life and demystify your horse’s behavior. Horse&Rider's senior editor shares facts, quotes, tips, trivia, and other fun stuff.
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The Right Horse = A Good Match

By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer,
January 20, 2017

Photo illustration by Carol Ybarra from an Alana Harrison image
Credit: Photo illustration by Carol Ybarra from an Alana Harrison image
It’s what we all want, but a great working relationship with a horse depends on a solid match between certain key qualities of his and yours.
How important is a good match between you and your horse? Extremely. In fact, it’s THE essential starting point of a mutually rewarding relationship between the two of you.

In a feature I wrote last summer with “trainer of trainers” Don Murphy (on how to ride better right now), the veteran coach cautioned against trying to make do with an unsuitable mount.

“If it turns out the ‘horse you have’ doesn’t fit your program or personality, let him go someplace where he will fit,” he advises. “Sometimes it’s a good horse and a decent rider, but they just don’t match, and neither is to blame.”

If you disregard this principle, things can go bad in a hurry. For example, you might wind up trying to get something from your horse that he just doesn’t have to give. And this predictably backfires, says Don, especially in the show pen.

“If God made your horse a 68 and you try to make him a 74, you’ll wind up with a 62,” he cautions. “You’ve got to work the horse you have.” Which is why having the right horse for your goals is so important.

Obviously, a key part of assuring a good match involves your riding ability and level of experience versus your horse’s level of training. But clinician Clinton Anderson believes another match is equally crucial: the one between the horse’s energy needs and your typical riding schedule.

“This one is often overlooked,” he says in a feature on choosing the right horse. “You buy a horse that’s in a six-day-a-week program, and he’s just as nice and quiet and well-mannered as can be. You bring him home and put him on your schedule—that is, three days a week when you can manage it, and often just weekends. In a month’s time, the nice, quiet horse has turned into a nervous, high-powered wreck.”

And no one wants that.

In his article on horse-buying mistakes, world champion trainer Bob Avila warns you can carry the match-seeking too far—if you apply it to areas where it doesn’t matter, like color.

“I can’t tell you how many people call me looking for a horse, and their first criterion is color. ‘I’m looking for a palomino…’ they’ll start, when they should start with what the horse can do and how his abilities match up with their skills and goals.

“It’s the same for other superficial characteristics,” he adds. “I’ve seen people look past a horse because they didn’t like his mane. Just as you can put custom wheels on a car, you can grow a mane.”

The bottom line? Mind the right parts of the match, make sure the horse meets your needs, and enjoy a great relationship with him.


Assessing a horse’s temperament.

What to do when it’s not a good match.

Adjusting your energy level to your horse’s.

Using cowlicks as clues to temperament.

Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

Free Range in Paradise: The “Wild” Horses of the Caribbean Attract Tourists and Research

By Fran Jurga,
January 16, 2017
Sarah Richter photo
Credit: Sarah Richter photo
A "wild" mare and her foal on the Caribbean island of Vieques.

Wild horses are supposed to be in the wild west, scampering up and down mountainsides or galloping across the desert, right? That’s what most of us have always thought. But as support for the preservation of feral horses in the western rangeland of the United States has grown, so has the awareness and appreciation of large and small herds of feral horses around the world.

Feral horses are those who live in the wild but are descended from domestic horses. The only true "wild" horses live in Mongolia.

When The Humane Society of the United States announced it was heading to a place called "Vieques" (pronounced "vee-AAAY-kez") to help wild horses there, many followers just scratched their heads.

Feral horses show up in unusual places. They live on the remote Canadian sandbar known as Sable Island, off Nova Scotia. They live in the Balkan nations of eastern Europe, the south of France, and the mountains of Spain. You’ll find the largest concentration of free-roaming horses thriving in the extreme wilderness of Australia’s Outback. Horse herds live in the brutal desert of Namibia in Africa.

The island of Vieques from the air, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Vieques is about eight miles off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea.

Feral and wild horses are a key part of the ecotourism industry. People are willing to travel to places where they can see horses in their wild, natural state, as evidenced by feral horse advocate Madeleine Pickens' landmark Mustang Monument ecotourism resort in Nevada.

One of the most unusual herds lives on the U.S. territory of Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea. Much of Vieques was once a bombing practice range for the U.S. Navy, but when the bombs stopped falling, and the military base was converted to a wildlife refuge, tourists from around the world took it as an “all clear” to visit.

Some came for the beaches. Some came for the quiet. And some came to see the "wild" horses. Over decades, hundreds of domestic horses, many of Paso Fino blood, had been turned loose to roam by their owners. They gradually spread out over the island, reproduced, and learned to live among the citizenry. Now they are not only part of landscape, they are also part of the island's allure.

Here's a short tourist video from showing a herd near Sun Beach on the island:


Over the years, the island has become more settled and widely-known not for its highrise hotel resorts but for the peace and quiet and, yes, the horses. They have helped put the island on the map, as a wildlife feature that sets the island apart. Their presence makes a hike to the beach an adventure, when you realize that you might frolic in the surf next to a mare and her foal.

These horses may not be very wild, given the way they have been fed by locals and tourists alike for generations. "Free ranging" might be a better description. Tourists enjoy “capturing” them on film, cell phone cameras, and video, and the herds don’t seem to mind being a little bit famous. Many are approachable, up to a point, and some are claimed as the unfenced property of local residents, as evidenced by their brands.

Lately, it’s not only tourists who are seeking the horses on Vieques. Researchers, animal advocates, photographers, filmmakers, and even a veterinarian are looking for hoofprints in the sand, as well. 

The off-islanders' interest in this fascinating home turf for free ranging equids extended to an equine contraceptive mission led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on the island last week. 

International show jumper Georgina Bloomberg was a guest of HSUS on Vieques last weekend. Here she is getting to know one of the feral horses. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)


Back in 2015, HSUS announced a strategic partnership with the island’s government to improve all animal welfare on the island. The programs have ranged from educating law officials about animal abuse to schoolroom programs and vaccination/spay/neuter clinics for small animals. 

But you can’t go to Vieques and not be aware of the horses. Who was looking out for their welfare? And who was working to insure their future? While the island has plenty of wild terrain, its natural vegetation can only sustain so many horses. And the herds were growing larger each year.

Last year, the mayor of the island, Victor Emiric, asked HSUS what could be done to improve welfare and simultaneously control the growth of the horse herds on the island. Whether tourists are motivated to visit the island because of the horses or not, the public image of the island will not be enhanced if the ubiquitous horses don’t look like they are healthy and happy.

Contraceptive vaccines are delivered to mares via a dart gun. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)


First things came first, in the HSUS program. Fresh water access is a problem for the horses; many of the herds moving around the island are motivated to meander by their search for fresh water sources. HSUS has begun to install water troughs closer to unpopulated areas, to lure horses away from congested town areas with a guarantee of clean, unsalty water. 

Key to the HSUS involvement is a program to administer the contraceptive known as Porcine zona pellucida (PZP), which has been used on many different types of wildlife, including wild horse mares in the American West. HSUS planned to inoculate more than 150 mares during this initial program.

HSUS guest Ariana Rockefeller posted on Twitter and Instagram about her weekend with the "wild" horses of Vieques during contraception clinic last weekend. 

According to a comment by HSUS President Wayne Pacelle in his blog recently, PZP “has been studied extensively for more than 20 years, and it has been proven to be more than 90 percent effective and safe.” HSUS, in fact, was involved with its development.

“Treated mares will see increased health benefits and will lead longer and healthier lives without the stress of repeated pregnancy and lactation in an environment with few basic resources,” Pacelle wrote. “In the long term, the competition for scarce resources will decrease as the population stabilizes and declines to sustainable levels.”

PZP has been used on Assateague pony mares on federal land in Maryland since 1988. According to HSUS,  last month the National Park Service declared the wild horse fertility control program on Assateague such a success that the herd will be allowed to reproduce again for the first time in six years.

According to Liz Davis, education coordinator for Assateague Island, "The Maryland herd of wild horses currently contains a large proportion of mares aged 20 to 33," she told the website "These older mares are unlikely to foal again, so in order to refresh the reproductive population in the near future, an increase in foaling among the younger mares needs to occur."

When tourists come to see the horses, they love to see foals romping around. The decrease in foals caused by the PZP program will need to be explained to the tourists.

The medication is not without its critics. Friends of Animals is one organization opposed to the use of PZP.

Wild horses wander through town on the island of Vieques in the Caribbean. (HSUS Photo by Meredith Lee)

The HSUS program last week, which centered on “darting” mares with the contraceptive vaccine, included a visit to the island by an equine practitioner. Dickie Vest, DVM, staff veterinarian for the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, had the honor of being the island’s first-ever horse doc during his stay.

According to HSUS, Vieques will serve as a positive model for large-scale horse population management. They suggest that their Vieques program can be replicated by other municipalities, as well as state, federal and tribal agencies that are actively searching for ways to manage feral horse populations.

Special guests enjoying the wild horses last weekend were celebrity supporters of HSUS (and equestrians), such as Georgina Bloomberg, Stephanie Riggio Bulger and Ariana Rockefeller. Tourists and HSUS staff and guests alike had an unusual opportunity to see the horses up close during the clinic. 


Most of the horses didn't mind posing for photos with the celebrities and staff. Then they just wandered off, as if nothing was going on. It was just another day in paradise, for them.


by Fran Jurga


Learn more:


Europe Plans for Eco-Friendly (Re)wild Horses on the Edge of the Landscape


Where the Wild Horses Are (Australian Geographic Society): Australia is home to a million wild horses.


Whither the wild horses of Louisiana? 


Is PZP Safe? Immunocontraceptive Vaccines and Their Regulation  (HSUS document)


Critique of PZP from Friends of Animals website 




Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

“And your horse is ugly, too!” Bullying in the horse world hurts us all

By Fran Jurga,
January 09, 2017

Words can hurt. In an age when we toe the line to protect equine welfare, what are we doing to protect each other? 

Are horses--and the future of the entire equine industry--at risk?

• • • • • 

When a British boarding stable launched the #notonmyyard social media campaign last fall, the world didn’t stop to take much notice. Perhaps they didn't know what it meant. 

When the world governing body of horse sports, the Federation Equestrian Internationale (FEI), endorsed the hashtag and featured the campaign on its website, no one seemed to take much notice, either. 

The unusual campaign exposes something we really don't want to talk about: bullying in the horse world. Launched by Tudor Rose Equine in England, #notonmyyard urges trainers and stable owners to take a stand against harassment by adopting a policy of zero tolerance for bullying of anyone, by anyone.

We all know that bullying exists, we all see it, and we all claim to abhor it. But controlling bullying is like not cleaning your tack because it looks like it’s clean. The dirt and dust and potential mold are there. If you don’t clean it, you may smell an unpleasant odor the next time you want to ride.

Most of the time, we just dismiss bullying, make mental notes of who the mean people are, and move on. We think it will go away. The children will grow out of it. The “barn witch” will move to a new place. We'll never take a lesson with that trainer again, or hire that farrier a second time.

Two stories in the news recently point to a different way of thinking about bullying. But instead of being about weak and helpless victims, the victims are athletes at the zeniths of their careers.

We're all aware of cyberbullying, whether we've seen it on Twitter or Facebook or those horrid mean comments left on YouTube videos and in forums. Anonymity emboldens people. There’s no one for the victim to confront. Welcome to the Internet. 

What is bullying? According to The Pony Club, bullying is defined as "deliberate hurtful behavior by an adult or child, usually repetitive behavior, which may result in pain or distress to the victim. It can take different forms including emotional, physical, racist, verbal, sexual or online bullying". In organizational behavior terms, particularly among adolescents, bullying is termed "relational aggression".

Just ask Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. Critics of her subdued award ceremony behavior on television at the Rio 2016 Olympics gave rise to an especially vicious social media hate campaign that targeted Douglas at the moment when she should have been at her highest. 

Last month, Douglas came forward, told her story on national television, and announced that she would work as a spokesperson for a social media campaign called #HackHarassment. She’s standing up for herself, and for everyone who’s been the victim of haters online.

This story might end here except that, a few days after Douglas's story broke, it took an equestrian twist.

On New Year’s Eve, the horse world stopped in its tracks when it read a British newspaper interview with Irish equestrian Susan Oakes. Oakes holds the world record for sidesaddle puissance and triple bar jumping. She, like Gabby Douglas, is at the top of her game, but she has been at the bottom of her self-esteem and even contemplated suicide. 

Bullying advice from

The picture that Oakes paints of equestrian sports is of a world so corrupted by bullying that harassment is compromising participation in sports, or even the decision of some people to own horses or take lessons at all. According to Samantha Thurlow, founder of #notonmyyard, about five people a week come forward to tell their experiences, and how many came to leave equestrianism because of the way they were treated by others. Oakes was one of them.

In Susan Oakes’ case, she was harassed by horse dealers. She said in her interview with The Telegraph, “I went down some roads so dark that I didn’t think there would be a tomorrow. At night, I actually prayed that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.”

“I have seen people hospitalized for depression caused by stable bullies,” she continued. “This campaign - Not On My Yard - can really make a difference. If people feel protected and empowered to speak up, it will help immensely.”

According to Thurlow and Oakes, people who are bullied change their routines to avoid harassers. They ride at odd hours. They don’t go to certain shows. They might move a horse to a stall at the other end of the stable. They start investing in more padlocks for their tack trunks. They think about where they park their cars. Most alarmingly, they fear for their horses; they lock up medications, feed and supplements, and scrub buckets extra clean. They check their tack straps and stirrup leathers. They start to show up to take their horses out for paddock time themselves. They stop trusting.

They start to wonder if their harassers know where they live.

While most say that their reputations were damaged, or even ruined, by their attackers, it can be much worse than rumors. The ultimate fear for a horse owner is always wondering if your horse is safe and if you can trust the people with access to his stable or paddock. People gave examples of horses that had had their tails or manes cut. Gates that were left open. Trailers that were vandalized.

The campaign has been endorsed by horse world icons like Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks, dressage judge Stephen Clarke, and British showjumper Geoff Billington.

Great Britain doesn’t have a corner on the market for equestrian bullying awareness. Websites in Canada and Australia also focus on equestrian bullying.

In the United States, we have countless examples of harassment, including intimidation of horse show judges and stewards during competition, and even pressure on horse show organizers over the selection of the judges. 

Going horse shopping must have been the origin of the expression “buyer beware”; potential buyers quickly learn that it is more important to know even more about the seller and/or agent, than about the horse itself.

What we don’t have yet is a global campaign to promote what we should take for granted: a culture of fairness and respect for each other. It seems so obvious. It is the picture that all breed and sport associations paint, but who’s working to make sure that it’s a reality for the people who are potential lifelong competitors and owners?

If we lose them, we have lost our future.

Of course, it is easy to say that the world is a less friendly place these days, and that equestrianism simply reflects that. It’s also easy to say that it’s a tough world out there, and both children and adults need to learn to stand up to bullies, face adversity and "get on with their lives". And doesn’t the love they receive from the horse make up for the pain?

When we hear of the equine studies major in Arizona who committed suicide after harsh criticism from instructors, or the farrier apprentice in England who ended his life, we know the answer. When we look at the comments on young riders' YouTube videos, we know the answer. When we see vilification of riders on Facebook, we know the answer.

The answer is to get involved, to stand up, and to be a friend or mentor to someone who may need your support. The answer is for trainers and stable owners to create a culture of helping others and of inclusion, even while teaching competition and improvement of skills. The answer is to intervene on social media when someone is being verbally beaten up. 

Bullying, especially by young girls, is an intense and complex behavior that may not be easily resolved. Some say that drawing attention to it either makes it worse or drives it into secret behavior instead of in the open. But it can be excluded from places where animals live and work, and where the safety of boarders and students and spectators is at risk. Horse activities and even shows can be adjusted to have more team-building activities.

Owning a horse should be a joy that you can share with others. It shouldn’t be about fear or embarrassment or dread or self-loathing. Please do what you can in 2017 to work with organizations and businesses to build awareness of bullying and to promote a more inclusive equestrian landscape where bullying is not tolerated.


To learn more:

Tudor Rose Equine's #NotOnMyYard anti-bullying campaign Facebook page

Gabby Douglas story in the Washington Post

Susan Oakes' world record puissance jumping video

FEI feature on #notonmyyard campaign

World champion horse rider reveals bullying ordeal as intimidation in equestrian sports reaches 'epidemic'

Arizona: Professors' bullying led to daughter's suicide


Also check weblinks to equine-assisted therapy and social work programs that use team-approach exercises, with and without horses, to de-fuse bullying. An interesting document is a teacher education essay, "It's Not Just Girls Being Girls: Relational Aggression at the New Hampshire Equestrian Academy Charter School" by Casey Robinson.



Top photo: Roger H. Goun






Fran Jurga The Jurga Report
by Fran Jurga
Fran Jurga keeps you up-to-date in this blog on news about horse health, care, equine science and research that affects horses. © The Jurga Report. Content cannot be reproduced without permission. View more blogs

Along for the ride: Are horse-drawn city carriages being pulled in different directions?

By Fran Jurga,
January 03, 2017

Wherever you live, you probably aren’t far from a commercial carriage or sleigh ride. Whether you’re skiing in Colorado, touring Manhattan, or viewing the pyramids in Egypt,  a horse and carriage ride may be an option for your tourism dollars.

Are carriages rides quaint or cruel? That used to be the question, but in 2017, you might need to check your GPS before you answer. Events in 2016 showed us how complicated a carriage ride can get, as attorneys, veterinarians, protesters, lawmakers, police, researchers and even street maintenance experts and a United Nations agency brought new ammunition to the battle for and against your decision to go for a carriage ride...or not.

• • • • • 

If you think you’re going to go on a romantic carriage ride with your significant other some night on your next vacation, you’d better be prepared to move over. It could be pretty crowded in the back of that carriage, thanks to all the special interests who want to be sure they know what’s going on.

In 2016, we saw our usual share of news about both accidents involving horse carriages on city streets and protests against their very existence. It’s been going on for years. But also in 2016, we saw the subject broaden out, particularly in the area of city politics. 

The question is no longer whether city officials will bow to the wishes of protesters and ban the carriages; the question is how and if protester concerns and carriage owners rights to make a living can be balanced out so the rides continue, but are safer for the horses.

Let’s begin in a European city that seems to be the world capital of carriages: Vienna, Austria. You might think of this city as being identified with the dancing white stallions of the Spanish Riding School, but for those who have never had the privilege of watching a performance in the ancient riding hall, the symbolism of horses in Vienna is rooted in the “fiakers”, equally-ancient horse-drawn carriages who will trot you around the city center on a tour, or take you to a destination. 

Consider this: you can pull up to Mozart’s grave in a horse and carriage, since the fiakers offer a horse-drawn tour of the cemetery where he is buried. All you need to bring along is your own string quartet.

When the Spanish Riding School was granted protection as a cultural heritage treasure by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015, you can imagine that the less royally-bred carriage and draft horses out on the street might have felt a little snubbed. Given the pressure to end the carriage trade from animal advocate organizations, the fiakers need all the ammunition they can muster to insure their future. So, they have applied to the UN for protection as a cultural icon. 

Such a grant would be as an “intangible asset of culture”, and the fiakers and Lipizzaners wouldn’t be the only horses protected in this way. In Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, UNESCO protects the ancient mounted game of kor-buru. French classical equitation as practiced at the Cadre Noir of Saumur, in France, is also protected, along with the National Horse Breeding Farm in Kladruby, Czech Republic.

Whether their request will be granted is a horse news stories for a future report, but one thing is certain: if the fiakers are protected by UNESCO, other cities’ carriage trades may also qualify, or at least be able to point to Vienna and UNESCO as evidence of legitimacy for the use of horses on city streets.

Critics of the fiakers’ application to UNESCO question whether the agency needs or wants to be associated with questionable horse welfare practices, but horses and donkeys work hard every day at many UNESCO sites worldwide.

In Vienna, the horses face opposition from an unlikely foe that is completely unrelated to animal advocacy. The city road maintenance department estimates that it would cost 700,000 euros (about US$728,000) to repair the streets that have become pitted from the carriage horses’ studded shoes. The city mandated a test of non-abrasive plastic shoes in 2007, but the drivers didn’t like them and went back to steel shoes with the offensive tungsten studs, which may help prevent the horses from slipping but which dig expensive trench-like furrows on the surface of streets.

New York

While Vienna’s horses are certainly making the news, and stimulating conversations worldwide about the role of carriage horses in a city’s culture, other cities are facing more politically-potent problems. The 2013 election promise made by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to rid Central Park and mid-town Manhattan of its carriage rides is legendary. Almost four years later, the horses are still there and the brouhaha over their right to be there has, as with the fiakers, elevated the discussion of carriage rides to the realm of politics, rather than what animals should be doing in service to humans and in the face of danger.

The mayor earned 73 percent of the votes in the election, yet 61 percent of New Yorkers said in a poll that they wanted to see the horses stay in the city. He quickly found himself up against both public sentiment and some powerful interests who came to the defense of the horses and their drivers, such as the Teamsters Union, which was originally founded as the union of horse freight drivers.

The New York horses were back in the news last week when three leaders of NYCLASS, an anti-carriage political action committee that was a high profile donor to de Blasio in his election. Celebrations by the carriage trade may be short-lived, as the NYCLASS resignation press release includes a promise that the three are working on “new endeavors for animal rights”. 

The success of NYCLASS--and its deep pockets--in helping get de Blasio elected has opened the door for other political advocacy groups in other cities with animal-friendly agendas. Animals have legitimate clout on election day now.

Kansas City

When a carriage horse bolted in Kansas City, Missouri last month, it made the news. The horse, its driver and two passengers were injured when the runaway horse's fearful flight was finally stopped in a collision. Within days, anti-carriage campaigners collected 15,000 signatures on a petition, insisting that carriage rides be stopped in the city. At the same time, a petition was launched to save the carriage horses. Kansas City has been the scene of 40 carriage horse accidents since 2014, according to a news story in the Kansas City Star.

St. Charles

Also last month, a frightened carriage horse in St. Charles, Missouri bolted himself and his carriage right into the nearby icy Missouri River, where he drowned, still attached to the carriage. Rescuers were unable to save him.

PETA was quick to respond to the unusual drowning death and is encouraging people to work to ban carriage rides in their cities and towns. According to PETA, carriage rides have been banned in these US cities:  Biloxi, Mississippi; Camden, New Jersey; Key West, Palm Beach, Pompano Beach, and Treasure Island, Florida; and Salt Lake City, Utah. 

“Watch out, New York City! You’re next” PETA promises on its website.


If you visit the city of Charleston, South Carolina, you can’t miss the horse and mule carriages. They are almost a “must do” activity for tourists. But behind the scenes, Charleston is a city that has worked hard to make things fair to the horses, while also pacifying animal advocates’ concerns wherever possible. 

While traffic safety may be the main concern in some cities, hot weather is the concern in Charleston. This month, the city will vote on new regulations that will withdraw the animals from city streets when the mercury climbs above 95 degrees, down three degrees from the old limit of 98. The city also measures the heat index, or “feels like” temperature, placing the limit for horses at 110 F, down from 125.

In Charleston, horses and meteorology are subjects that often overlap. Veterinarians and animal advocates also worked on the new regulations. Critics complain that the new regulations are based on information that was not researched using working carriage horses. They have suggested that new research studies be launched so working horses’ unique needs can be studied and met. The research was based on meteorological data for the city over a four-year period, in exactly the conditions experienced by the horses.

Charleston’s carriage horses and mules were the subject of a research paper published in Elsevier's Journal of Equine Veterinary Science in 2014. “Retrospective Review of Carriage Horse & Mule Welfare in Charleston, South Carolina (2009-2012)” by the University of Vienna’s Dr. Julie Rosser is one of the few studies on commercial carriage horses in the United States.

The Charleston Animal Society (CAS) is also worried about maximum load limits for the large tour carriages, and about traffic congestion along the routes that the horses and mules travel.



The caleche horses of Montreal are popular, and the city is reminiscent of Vienna in its old world charm that makes riding in a carriage seem like a quick immersion into a PBS Masterpiece filmset.

But Montreal is also a very modern city, and many people feel the horses are incongruous. To work on the problem, the mayor announced a one-year moratorium on carriages in the city last year. The drivers would lose their jobs. And what would become of the horses who could no longer earn their keep?

The moratorium lasted exactly two days, and the horses were back on the streets under a judge’s court order. But the news had already traveled around the world: a major North American city had banned horse carriages.

The reversal of the order was not so widely publicized.

This story took on another dimension in December. In one of the most dramatic pro-carriage news stories of the past decade, the city government in Montreal did an about-face and voted to appropriate $500,000--or the equivalent of $20,000 per horse in the city--to upgrade the service. The money won’t go directly to carriage owners but will be used to improve the infrastructure and make the industry more established. The city would also pay to microchip the horses, build shelters for the horses and potentially invest in a citywide uniform code for drivers.

"The first priority is to respect the horses and make sure they are in conditions that are decent," the mayor said.

The city may not intend the funding to be interpreted “pro-carriage”. It is more like "pro-solution". Like every other city where carriages on the streets, there are no easy answers and almost no possibility that either side is going to back down.

However you look at it, the situation is not where it was ten years ago, or even five years ago. It’s no longer protesters and carriage drivers shouting at each other. Each side is armed with consultants, researchers and attorneys...and maybe even a politician, meteorologist and pavement expert or two.

That’s a heavy load for a horse to pull down any street in any city. You have to wonder where it is headed next.



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