by Jan Dawson
President, American Association for Horsemanship Safety
The expectation of safety is what parents and others expect or believe they are due in a given situation. You cannot control this.
The expectation of safety is lowest when a friend with a horse is teaching riding to another friend for free. It goes up a little when a nominal fee is charged. The expectation continues to rise the more formal the situation, the farther away from home, the more commercial the operation. The expectation peaks when students remain at the facility without parents for a long time. So, the top of the heap is the residential camp that keeps kids from one to several weeks far removed from home.
Expectation of Safety = likely to be sued in the event of a serious accident.
The perception of safety can somewhat insulate an operation from suits even when expectation is high. You can control this. You build the perception of safety by emphasizing safety in everything you do. Use procedures for everything. Write it down. Relate all teaching back to safety. This should be a characteristic of your dialogue with your students.
Certification helps. It should be meaningful, technical, taught by professional horsemen and have a legitimate skill level pre-requisite scale that is consistently adhered to.
A consistently high safety awareness that is uniformly adhered to from student to student and class to class will leave your customers with the feeling that you put safety first. There must be consistency between instructors, other staff, as well as the management.
An accident that occurs in a program that is perceived to place primary importance on safety is less likely to lead to a lawsuit than is the same accident in a program perceived to be less safety-conscious. This is because parents and attorneys are less likely to seek negligence as an explanation for the accident the more they perceive that safety-consciousness pervades the operation of the program.
When the perception of safety equals the expectation of safety the chances of being sued go way down.
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