We all recognize the physical hazards of horsemanship. It is not just due to falling off while riding. Most injuries to people occur on the ground and are inflicted by horses considered gentle. Why? Because the horse is a prey species, not equipped with defensive weapons like the horns of wild cattle, sheep, goats or antelope — or tusks like those of wild swine or elephants. They can kick, and they can bite, but the horse’s primary defense is flight. To enable this defense horses are exceptionally alert, perceptive, have extremely fast reactions and, additionally, they are a large, strong and swift animal.
So, when horses sense what they interpret as danger, their instinctive behavior is to flee, and if they feel that they cannot flee, they will strike, bite, or kick.
However, there is another common risk in being involved with horses that does not actually involve the horse, and that is the sun.
Life as we know it on this planet would not be possible without the sun, but excessive exposure to sunlight causes a lot of human injury. The most serious of these is skin cancer.
Throughout history horsemen have worn clothing to protect themselves from excessive sunlight. The cloaks and hoods of the Bedouins and the cowboy hat are examples. Most people don’t know that American cowboys do not roll their sleeves up. Thus only their hands and faces are exposed to the powerful Western sun.
Moreover, old time cowboys, and many current ones wear a bandanna, or a scarf around their necks, and many wear gloves, even in hot weather. Thus they minimize the incidence of skin cancer, which we also see, for example, around the eyes of white-faced cattle.
But today we have sunblock lotions and they do an effective job of preventing sun damage to our skin.
As a large animal veterinarian, mostly equine, practicing in sunny Arizona and Southern California, I had to wear short sleeved coveralls on my daily calls. In addition, my favorite recreations were trail riding and skiing. I regret that I did not use sunscreen once it became available. But then, when I grew up, a suntan was considered desirable.
Similarly, my wife grew up when teenaged girls would sun bathe with reflectors held to maximize the tanning effects.
So, learn from the older generation’s mistakes. Protect yourself from the sun.
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