23 August 2010

Hand Holding

One of the first things I teach my students is the proper way to hold a lead or a lunge line.  Over the years I've noted that the safe and functional folding of the line back and forth across the palm has become less and less common in horse circles. In fact, one of my students came back from a large show where she had happily worked as ground crew and told me that a number of people came up to her and asked why she held her lunge line "funny."

I don't know if her explanations impressed those who asked, but, unfortunately, I now have a news story to point to that should: "UF Student's Hand Severed after Horse Gets Spooked."

Actually, a number of safety violations occurred in this incident. A more detailed version of this story added that the student who wrapped the lead around her wrist was sitting inside a vehicle and holding the horse through a rolled down window. When I read she was inside a car, I hyperventilated, but, for now, I'll just address the problem with the lead wrapped around a wrist.

The across-the-palm method of holding a lead or lunge is--or was--common knowledge.  I learned it from an old US Cavalry officer, but the importance of a safe hold shows up in a good many well known books.  For example, The Complete Riding and Driving System, Book Six: Lunging explains WHY a safe hold is important:

If the lunge is gathered incorrectly, one cannot pay out the lunge quickly or smoothly enough when the horse is moving off. A lunge which is gathered untidily is dangerous and can, if there is an emergency, cost the trainer his hand, or give the horse too hard a jerk in the mouth. The loops should lie nearly on top of one another so that they can slide freely when the hand is opened slightly. (33)

This comment in The Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation repeats almost word for word what I heard from the old cavalry officer some forty years ago.  Only the cavalry officer clarified HOW to fold the loops.  Not folding the loops correctly creates the problem.

Some otherwise excellent books teach people how to lose their hands.  For example, page 21 of Sheila Inderwick's 1977 Lungeing the Horse and Rider shows how a person should position of the hand during lunging:

While the hand hold is lovely, the looping itself here is NOT safe.  First, the lunge line itself has a loop end.  It's as if the manufacturers wanted to tempt people to slip the loop up around the wrist.  Of course, this loop most likely comes from the driving handhold loop tradition.  In any event, on a lunge line, it's merely a temptation. I try to get people to buy lines without end loops.  The lunge lines with circular stoppers at the end are my favorites.  More seriously though, the looping shown goes AROUND the hand, not across the palm.  Were a horse to take off, the lunge person could most likely let go, but this line could tighten around the hand. Do you want to take this chance?

The across the palm method leaves the lunger or leader with two sets of loops sticking out from either side of the hand. There's nothing wrapped around the hand at all. Opening the fingers can release one loop at a time. Opening the whole hand allows the line to fall away cleanly.

Flipping through my book collection, from beginner manuals to advanced works, I found quite a few commentaries on this safer method of holding a lead or line.  This one appears on page 135 of Susan E. Harris's The United States Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship:  Basics for Beginners/D Level.

I'm not sure why horse safety has diminished of late, perhaps it's because most horse people today consider them pets, more like big dogs than the easily panicked prey animals they are. Unfortunately, around horses, what you don't know can cost you a hand or a life. Be safe, cross your palm.