I work for a large lesson/boarding facility - we have about 50 school horses, 50 boarder horses, and a couple hundred students come through each week. I am concerned because we have had a string of pretty nasty falls recently and I am wondering if this is normal for such a large facility or if there is something unsafe happening. Is there an average number of falls that is acceptable for a facility? Is it pure chance whether a fall is minor or requires an ambulance?
Through my work with CHA, I have worked with numerous large program operators (50-100+ school horses; 200-300 students per week) that have virtually zero incident rates. I am not a believer in the statement that falling off and having injuries is just a part of the sport. I believe if you have that attitude then you will have wrecks and injuries.
I am not aware of any statistics that say how many falls or injuries are normal, but I think we should all have a zero tolerance policy. Without question, riding is a risky sport and there is nothing we can do to totally eliminate the inherent risk involved with horses. However, risks can be mitigated and with a serious focus on safety, there will be fewer injuries. Certainly some riding activities are riskier than others, such as jumping, and you would expect a higher fall rate with the riskier activities.
Whether or not there is an injury associated with a fall depends on many factors, however, many people advocate teaching people how to fall by relaxing and rolling into the fall rather than bracing against it. There are many good models for this in martial arts and it may not be a bad idea to address this with your students.
Every time there is an incident, whether someone is hurt or not, there should be an incident report made and careful scrutiny by managers as to how the incident might have been prevented. There are few, if any, freak accidents and almost every incident is preventable in some way. When incidents are reported and reviewed, they become excellent training tools for improving the safety record at the facility.
I have spoken with many instructors that share your frustration in seeing the opportunity to improve the safety record at a facility, but feeling powerless to take action. The best you can do is work within the system and be persistent in making suggestions on how to improve. If you have exhausted this approach and made no progress and you still feel that the safety at the facility is unacceptable, then you may have to consider resigning. If that is the case, you should write down all of your concerns and send them in a certified letter to the owner/manager and/or board of directors. Also send a registered copy to yourself, but do not open it, just save it for your files, in the event that any future litigation arises.
The most important thing is for you to keep your high standards in safety, maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward incidents and injuries and when incidents do occur, always examine them closely and find a way to prevent it from happening again.