Contemplating the Welfare and Training of Horses

Pony Access – by Simon Mulholland

Pony Access is the end result of a random visit I made to the St. Pauls Trust City Farm in Balsall Heath, Birmingham back in 2006 ish. I went to demonstrate my safe pony drawn vehicle, the Saddlechariot system, with Henry the pony, for potential inner city farm use.

I wasn’t convinced it would work in an inner city environment, but I am always willing to try something new. Henry and I arrived early, so I took him for a drive around the neighbourhood to calm him down. Ambling along a street, we were both alarmed to hear screams, until we realised that children from the school playground ahead, had caught sight of Henry. As we pulled up next to the chain link fence, a forest of hands came through to stroke, scratch or just touch Henry. Over and over again, I heard “I’ve never touched a horse before!”

Henry at Balsall Heath

If the teachers hadn’t asked me to move on after half an hour, as the children had already missed the first fifteen minutes of the next lesson, Henry would be there still. There are over a million horses in the UK, but for millions of people, they might as well be on the moon.

Beau, a huge, hairy biker at St Paul’s Trust introduced Henry and me to the community and over the next couple of days, and succeeding visits with Henry, and then Obama, I learned how much people love ponies. Henry and Obama have driven all over Balsall Heath, working with Beau and various community groups, meeting endless friendliness, and enthusiasm for meeting, or just seeing ponies.

Ponies cut across all social, political, religious, cultural and ethnic barriers. Henry and Obama were my passport to Balsall Heath. I decided, way back on my first visit to St Paul’s Trust, Balsall Heath, that working with ponies, with people, was what I wanted to do.

In Exeter, in 2009, I had the good fortune to meet a number of disabled people, Ari, Damien, Agnetha, Sarah, Sarah and Bex and with endless support and encouragement from Bookcycle and the equally vital support of Kevin and the crowd from Organic Arts, who got vital funding from Devon County Council’s Aiming High Fund, I built, after many false starts, the iBex Saddlechariot, an all terrain, wheelchair enabled, safe vehicle. John Howson, a blacksmith, an artist and a craftsman turned my messy, but functioning concept vehicle, into something smooth and sleek, and has been helping me improve it ever since.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, Pony Access can take people in wheelchairs along beaches, across Dartmoor, through forests and round towns. We can collect rubbish and recycling with community groups, or timber from forests, or do row crop work on organic farms, or deliver and collect books for Bookcycle, or teach people to drive a pony, all in total safety.

With the iBex Saddlechariot, and what I had learned working with all these diverse groups, Pony Access became a reality.

The other half of Pony Access is training ponies. I had the good fortune to meet Nick Sanders of Rowanoak, in Brecon. Together we hammered out the basic principles of Pony Access training, and argued incessantly about details, before we realised that there are millions of correct routes to almost anywhere. Some take longer, some are harder work, all that matters is that they get there, safely.

Temple Grandin was a massive influence. Her work on Animal Behaviour started a whole chain of research and I have studied the work of many trainers and ethologists. Patricia Barlow Irick and Victor Ros Pueo have shown me lots of ideas, and I have gone off at endless tangents. But Henry, and then Obama, have taught me most.

Pony Access has a very simple agenda. And consequently a very simple training program. We want ponies that will work safely with people. There are endless varieties of work. From taking disabled veterans yomping across Dartmoor, to meeting very small children. And just about everything in between. We use the ponies for the work they find easy. If standing around being scratched is their idea of heaven, then it is easy to take them to a school playground and let them stand and be scratched. If they want to be moving, and exploring new places, yomping across Dartmoor is easy.Testing stability at Dame Hannah Roger's, Seal Hayne.

If I have twenty ponies, and I take them into a competition, only one can win. But I can find jobs for all twenty where each pony will shine, within a varied operation like Pony Access. Pony Access asks ponies to do what they find easy. And easy is low stress, and low stress is safe. And safety is what Pony Access is about.

The next section, Pony Access, why it is different, describes the differences between Pony Access and the traditional horse industry’s approach.

The section after that describes how we do what we do.

Pony Access, why it is different.

Pony Access works with everyone, providing access to ponies and access with ponies.

Since we work with everyone, we work with people with learning difficulties, and with mobility issues. Pony Access works with schools and health professionals who work within an ethical framework, therefore Pony Access needs an ethical framework.

Obama working at Bevern View.

This document is my attempt to answer any ethical questions that arise from Pony Access. It is not a complete document and probably never will be. As we expand, we will discover new problems and new solutions.

Pony Access is being developed on the basis that it is not staffed by Health Professionals or educationalists. Pony Access provides the ponies and the system that makes access to ponies safe. It is up to the teachers and Health professionals to decide what services they require and what the benefits are. Pony Access provides SAFE activities so that the health and educational professionals do not have to work out the benefits against the risks. We remove the risks.

Pony Access uses a vehicle, the iBex Saddlechariot, specifically designed to be safe for those with disabilities and for novices. The instant pony release system ensures the user is not endangered by any silly behaviour, up to, and including bolting, of the pony. The vehicle appears impossible to turn over as you can see.

We do not accept that any level of risk of injury to our clients is acceptable. For the ponies, this means good management and an ethical training system. Pony Access believe that good management and ethical training produce safer ponies, and the evidence supports this belief.

This document addresses the safety implications of various scenarios. The scenarios I describe may or may not be appropriate for any individual. That is a decision for the individual and their therapist or teacher. These are examples of what is possible, and the reasons the activity is safe.

Pony Access’s primary ethical responsibility is “First, do no harm.” (Primum non nocere. )To do this we need a safe operating system, fully compliant with Health and Safety principles. To ensure that we do no harm, we have to compare Pony Access safety with the safety record of the existing horse industry. If we were more dangerous, we would fail the “first, do no harm” test. It is for this reason that we have had to compare Pony Access Safety standards with the existing equine industry in the UK. I specify the UK because I live and work there and understand the system. Therefore what I say may or may not apply to horse practice elsewhere.

Bex enjoying the view in Exeter.

This document is based on Simon Mulholland’s 12 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles, and 11 years experience designing and building safe, pony drawn vehicles for the disabled. Over these years Simon has learned from two ponies in particular, Henry and Obama. Experience with Henry and Obama working in schools, inner city areas, and working with people with learning difficulties and mobility issues has produced an understanding of what can be done, and how to do it safely.

Traditional Equestrian Safety

versus Pony Access safety.

Pony Access is demonstrably safe. However any discussion of the Safety of pony or horse based systems has to look at the data from the existing equine industry.

I don’t like making comparisons because it makes enemies, however any new program is going to be compared with existing systems. On the principle of “First, do no harm,” any change to the existing order has to be assessed. If it is more dangerous than the existing systems, it contravenes the “First, do no harm” rule. I might be able to argue greater benefits, so the cost-benefit analysis would be in favour but this is a complex and uncertain route. Instead I have used cowardice as a design tool and developed a vehicle and operating system that keeps me safe.

Pony Access looks at all risks as unacceptable. Pony Access uses safe vehicles, safe systems.

The safety record of the traditional equestrian industry is not good. Pony Access is not part of the traditional equestrian industry because we don’t want to be traditional, we insist on being safe. But to understand the Pony Access safety systems, you need to understand the risks inherent in the current equestrian industry. Pony Access has removed all these risks from their own operations. The following catalogue of death and injury is all avoidable using Pony Access principles.

Professor Nutt in Nutt, D. (2008). “Equasy — an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”. Journal of Psychopharmacology 23 (1): 3–5.

This paper describes the risks of Equacy which “stands for Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the horse.”

Professor Nutt’s data states that Equacy (riding horses) has 30 times the risk of acute harm to a person compared with MDMA, commonly known as Ecstacy. He quotes a one in ten thousand risk of acute harm to a person from Ecstacy, and one in three hundred and fifty from riding.

A less scientific article titled Three-Day Eventing, Horse Sense: Three-day eventing is the ultimate test of horse and rider claims that eventing “is the world’s most dangerous mainstream sport, suffering more fatalities among participants than football, boxing and motor racing combined.” (Global Traveller 2007 Three-Day Eventing. Richard Newton.)

Richard Newton’s article was written in 2007, and the article is in praise of eventing. The annual death toll of 11 from eventing ( is seen as a reason to watch the “sport”. In contrast Formula One had managed 13 years without any deaths in 2007, and Formula 1 attracts millions more viewers. Formula 1′s safety record still stands at the start of January 2013. Safety is achievable. Traditional equestrian activities don’t seem to be interested in achieving it.

Pony Access does NOT involve riding. Riding is too traditional to change, and the risk of death or injury is present from the second you get on top of the animal for the first time. The reason is simple. A fall from height. Once you are on top of a horse, the only way off is down. Getting off a moving horse while riding astride is not easy, so in case of accident, the rider tends to fall head first. According to Professor Nutt’s data, in some shire counties, riding is a greater cause of head injuries than road traffic accidents.

Pony Access does not provide riding in any form because we cannot see a way to make it completely safe. By contrast we can make driving the iBex Saddlechariot pony drawn vehicle completely safe, and we can make working with ponies on the ground safe, so that is what we do. By not riding, we instantly eliminate all riding related safety problems.

Pony drawn vehicles.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot system. This is a pony drawn vehicle designed by a coward, me, to be safe. Before I explain what makes it safe for wheelchair users, driving on their own, across rough terrain, we need to look at the historical data about traditional Carriage driving risks.

Traditional carriage driving is dangerous. Two ladies with no connection to equestrian activities have died as a result of carriage driving in the last two years. One was a passenger on a tourist carriage on Sark where the horse bolted, went up the verge and overturned the carriage killing Dora Jufer and injuring 8 others. If they had been using the iBex saddlechariot safety system, nobody would have been injured, Dora Jufer would not have been killed.

(BBC News, 6July 2012.

In 2011 a lady visited her local park in Suffolk and died after a horse hitched to a carriage bolted and crashed into spectators at an event in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Carole Bullett would be alive if the iBex Saddlechariot system had been used.

(BBC News 20 June 2011.

There are no safety systems to cope with a bolting horse in traditional carriage driving. This fact is demonstrated in the 2012 Risk Assessment for The North East Driving Trials Limited, a competitive carriage driving society.

Appendix A


1) Introduction

By far the highest risk is the HORSE which is an accident waiting to happen.

Runaways by a horse or of a horse attached to a vehicle are very serious and all reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent this happening. This is stating the obvious and equally obvious is the preventative measure…… we just leave them grazing happily in the fields !!!!

(North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p10)

That is all there is about bolting horses with vehicles attached. We leave them in the field or ignore the problem. The 58 page document points out frequently the risk of loose horses with vehicles, and suggests that if the air ambulance is called for an accident Drivers may wish to uncouple the horse(s) from their carriage and they should be allowed adequate time to re-couple after the helicopter has departed. (North Eastern Driving Trials Ltd Health and Safety Manual January 2012. p49)

Therefore Carriage driving experts acknowledge that a horse out of a vehicle is massively less of a risk than one in a vehicle, but assume that there isn’t any solution, because there isn’t a TRADITIONAL solution.

The iBex Saddlechariot was designed to cope with a bolting horse and a wheelchair using solo driver. It does it safely.

First we must look at the hazard, a bolting horse. The definition of a bolting horse states (of a horse or other animal) Run away suddenly out of control: “the horses bolted”. Three factors run throughout all the definitions, suddenness, speed and lack of control

The reason for bolting is simple for the horse. If it is scared its natural instinctive behaviour is to run very fast, away from threats. Horses are open country animals, so they run to open space. A wide, empty horizon is safety.

The horse doesn’t hang around thinking about bolting. To be an effective defence against predators, it needs to be instantaneous, and when running away from a threat, there is only one speed, as fast as possible.

Controlling a bolting horse is a contradiction in terms. A bolting horse has got out of control. A good horseman may be able to get the animal back under control but this will take time and luck, neither of which are available.

Training cannot eliminate basic instincts. If a pony or horse panics, it runs. The only way to stop it is brute force. No single person can stop a panicking pony, let alone a horse.

If you add a vehicle to a bolting horse, the situation is many times worse. The vehicle follows the panicking animal, panicking it further. The animal doesn’t consider the width of the vehicle, and will go through gaps that a horse will fit through but which the vehicle won’t. The vehicle is therefore banging and bouncing, further scaring the animal. This creates a positive feedback system, the faster the horse goes, the faster the thing follows him, making more and more noise and crashing into his sides and so on.

A vehicle and horse can total over a ton in weight easily, moving faster than Usain Bolt, and unable to manoeuvre or avoid obstacles or people. The results are described in the two accident reports above.

Pony Access uses the iBex Saddlechariot. The driver has a rip cord. When anything goes wrong, or when it looks like there is a risk something might go wrong, the driver pulls the ripcord and the animal is released instantly. If the animal is bolting, the vehicle stops following it. If the bolting animal aims for a gap wide enough for the animal to fit through, it fits through without a vehicle mashing anything in its way. The animal will avoid people, and objects, and aim for open space where it can see any approaching threats. Once it reaches a suitable place it stops, and pretty soon starts grazing.

The first thing the animal does, if it is allowed, is to remove itself from the vehicle. It does not hang around mugging the passengers of stealing the driver’s mobile. Heading for open space is the natural instinct of a plains living prey species. There are still risks from a bolting pony, but using the rest of the Hierarchy of Controls, the risks can be reduced to minimal. Using small ponies, not attaching metal shoes, careful pony selection, non violent training methods and all the principles discussed in the next section.

What about the driver and any passengers? Releasing the animal, applies the brakes. The driver is sitting on what has become garden furniture. The animal has departed at speed. The major risk is boredom. At least with passengers, he has someone to talk to.

The instant release system can be operated by the driver and by any helpers on the ground who can all have a ripcord. A remote control release system is available so an experienced person can oversee the activity, maybe with trainees, and still operate the safety system from a distance.

Pony Access can provide all terrain access for those with mobility problems, and provide an entry level, equestrian activity, in complete safety. I have only discussed the most serious hazard, the bolting horse with vehicle attached, but the answer to most problems is the same, release the pony and the problems of a pony drawn vehicle are removed. The risk assessment, details all the other factors which Pony Access has considered and made safe.

A bolting horse with a vehicle attached is the most dangerous scenario. With Pony Access, this is not a risk.

Pony Access as an educational/mental health resource.

People like ponies, they enjoy contact with them, stroking them, brushing them, leading them around and interacting with them. This is believed to have major benefits, but we need a comprehensive risk assessment, to know whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Again we start with the historical risks. To do this we have to look at the safety culture of the traditional equestrian industry.
According to “A review of the human-horse relationship “ published in “Applied Animal Behaviour Science 109, 1-24, 2008.” states “Despite a long history of human-horse relationship, horse-related incidents and accidents do occur amongst professional and non professional “horse persons”. Recent studies show that their occurrence depend more on the frequency and amount of interactions with horses than on the level of competency, suggesting a strong need for specific research and training of
humans working with horses.”
If the level of competence has no apparent bearing on the level of accidents, it suggests there are major problems in the traditional equestrian industry, defining competence. Further on in the same study they note that “for vets working with horses;that the tendency to be injured was more related to the degree of exposure to horses (increasing number of equine patients for vets who didn’t work exclusively with horses) than to experience: the practitioners who did not own a horse were less often kicked by horses. The same conclusion was reached in other studies performed in Switzerland”
Vets who are not horsey, and not owning a horse is a simple definition of horsey for a group who have the skills and contacts and earning levels to keep and afford a horse, are less likely to be injured than horsey vets.
Clearly something is very wrong with safety principles in the horse industry if experience has no increase in safety, and if ownership of a horse increases the risk of accidents among trained professionals when working with other horses.

When safety is mentioned, the traditional horse industry focuses on hard hats. This may look like a sensible approach to safety, but in modern Health and Safety circles, Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, which includes hard hats, boots, gloves etc, is considered to be the last resort when all other safety systems have failed.

Health and Safety specifies that BEFORE you use PPE, you must try all the methods that come before PPE in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls.

We need a quick digression to establish what hazards the hard hats are protecting you from. You cannot use motorcycle helmets on horses despite their ability to cope with the Suzuki Hayabusa road speeds of 300kph. Equestrian hard hats are different and are tested on a horse shoe shaped anvil, in addition to the standard tests.

Snell Foundation – Helmet Development and StandardsAn Excerpt From; “FRONTIERS IN HEAD AND NECK TRAUMA Clinical and Biomechanical” N. Yoganandan et al. (Eds.) OS Press, OHMSHA (c) 1998

The use of a horseshoe shaped anvil suggests the horseshoe is a hazard.

The American Medical Equestrian Association confirms the point. And states The equestrian hazard anvil has a deep and sharp design, meant to approximate the angle of a horseshoe or a jump standard edge.

(American Medical Equestrian Association. February 1996 Vol V1, Number 1 Why Not Use A Bicycle Helmet for Horseback Riding? )

Health and Safety, (HaS) is very clear about hazards, and the process for dealing with them. The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls is the global system used by HaS professionals. If you are not familiar with the principles of HaS, click this link for the information.

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls insist the first approach is to try removal, as the iBex Saddlechariot does with a bolting pony. The hazard is a bolting pony, pulling the ripcord removes the hazard of a bolting pony in a vehicle.

Horseshoes clearly can be removed. Horses are born without them, and millions of them live and work without metal nailed to their feet. The Manual of Horsemanship produced by The British Horse Society and The Pony Club (1966 p209, 1993 p217) states,

Working Unshod.

This is quite a feasible proposition provided work on hard gritty roads or flinty tracks is avoided. Not only is there a saving in shoeing charges and visits to the forge, but an unshod pony is more secure on every type of surface and hence more surefooted. Furthermore, the injury resulting from a kick is materially lessened.”

Ponies without shoes are clearly safer than those with shoes. They are more surefooted, and one of the factors that scares prey species more than anything is losing their footing. (Temple Grandin. Animals in Translation. 2005 p268.)

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that the first thing to try is removal of the hazard, or “elimination”. Removing the shoes removes the requirement for special equestrian hard hats.

If the horse has a foot problem and the vet says it needs shoes to protect its feet, what then?

The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls states that before trying Hard Hats, which are Personal Protective Equipment, (PPE), and the least desirable and final option, you should try substitution. Is there anything other than a lump of metal that can protect the horse’s foot?

My pony wears Old Mac Hoofboots, which have been on the market for years, and compete against a whole range of rubber soled, fabric upper, trainers for ponies and horses. These do not have the risks of injury associated with steel sharp cornered horseshoes. Substitution also seems to remove the need for special equestrian hard hats.

Using Personal Protective Equipment (helmets) specifically designed to protect against a hazard, horseshoes, without trying any of the methods detailed in the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls, breaks every rule of Health and Safety Policy.

Pony Access policy is simple. We do not use metal horseshoes, considering them to be knuckledusters for horses.

We try to leave hard hats were they belong in a professional attitude to Health and Safety, as a last resort. When clients are driving on the iBex we use Bicycle Helmets to BS EN 1078:1997 as agreed with our insurers. The vehicle has hard surfaces, balance across rough ground may be tricky, a hard hat makes sense to protect against any unforeseen problems. We use hard hats to cover any hazards we can’t predict, not to solve problems that are clearly obvious and to which there are simple answers.

The reasoning behind horseshoes and specially tested helmets is odd, and seems to contravene Health and Safety policy. The traditional horse industry attitude to whips, is just as odd, and again seems to contradict basic Health and Safety policy.

The Jockey Club, now renamed the British Horseracing Authority, insists that whips are a safety feature, therefore Personal Protective Equipment, and therefore by definition, a last resort when all other ways of controlling the hazard have failed.

They stateIt is the policy of the Authority, as set out in the Rules of Racing, that a jockey is required to carry a whip and that its use is optional.”

The Rules reflect the policy of the Authority that the whip can be used in racing only for safety, correction and encouragement – anything else is unacceptable as  far as the sport is concerned.”  Use for ‘safety’ would include using the whip to assist in avoiding a dangerous  situation.”

This research suggest otherwise. Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK

“Results: The risk of falling was significantly associated with whip use and race progress. Horses which were being whipped and progressing through the race were at greater than 7 times the risk of falling compared to horses which were not being whipped and which had no change in position or lost position through the field.

Conclusions: This study has identified whip use and the position of the horse with respect to others in the field as potential risk factors for horse falls.”

(Whip use and race progress are associated with horse falls in hurdle and steeplechase racing in the UK Article first published online: 5 JAN 2010 DOI: 10.2746/0425164044868387 G. L. PINCHBECK*, P. D. CLEGG, C. J. PROUDMAN, K. L. MORGAN, N. P. FRENCH

If the whip is a safety device, instructions for its use as Personal Protective Equipment should exist. I can find no trace anywhere of advice on using the whip as a safety device. There are no tests of the effectiveness of different whips as Personal Protective Equipment that I can find.

I have read all 117 pages of “Health and Safety in the Racing and Breeding Industry. Guidelines on Good Practice August 2007” and the 2010 edition and it doesn’t mention the whip or its use, anywhere. Since this document is endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority, and the National Trainers Federation, and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association , the National Stud, the Stable Lads Association and the British Racing School and the Northern Racing College, and is endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive, if the whip is a safety device, it would be mentioned, discussed and the best practice for using it would be described.

It isn’t.

It isn’t just the Jockey Club who insist on the whip, the British Horse Society insist you bring one to exams, this is their checklist.


Before you leave home, check you’ve brought the correct whips, spurs, hats, gloves, body protectors, paperwork (booking letter and membership card; at a Stage 2, exam you may be required to show the Chief Assessor your Riding and Road Safety certificate), pens, pencils and reference books.”

The Pony Club test ten year old children to see they know how to Hold the reins correctly and carry a whip in either hand.” (

I can find no instruction from either the BHS or the Pony Club how the whip should be used as a safety device. I only know my pony is absolutely terrified of whips, and panics when he sees one.

In racing, research shows whips are a possible cause of accidents. Racing has no known training system for the whip as a safety device, yet it is compulsory. Horses are known to react to pain by accelerating, which is why people use whips on racehorses. There seem to be no safety benefits from rapid acceleration in any intelligent use of a horse. The British Horse Society and the Pony Club insist that people carry them. The Pony Club test children as young as ten years old to see they can carry a whip, but provide no information how they may be used as a safety device.

This seems to contravene all principles of Health and Safety. I will revert to whips later, to discuss the positive safety benefits of not allowing whips or any other weapon to be used.

The horse industry’s attitude to helmets and whips apparently contravenes the most basic principles of Health and Safety. It makes no sense to insist on head protection against a hazard that is unnecessary for most animals. It makes no sense to insist that everyone carries a whip which is clearly associated with increased risks for those who are disqualified for not carrying one.

The lack of logic in the traditional horse industry extends to council advice to equestrian businesses on Health and Safety.

Let’s look at the advice and see how it can be improved.

Gosport Borough Council issue guidelines to Riding establishments with copious information on electrical risks, Hazardous substances, dust etc, but very little on the major risk, horses. Here is the information and advice they do give.

3. Horses
Horses are large, heavy and unpredictable animals but risks can
be reduced by taking the following steps:

  • Providing adequate training for staff.
  • Ensuring competency of handling through training, qualifications and experience.
  • Observing recognised methods of horse restraint.
  • Providing suitable personal protective equipment (safety footwear, protective headgear etc.).
  • Good standards of general horse handling (loading/unloading;han