Think you can head out on horseback without a pre-flight check? Think again! Pre-flight checks were born out of necessity….
In 1935, the Boeing Corporation was testing its latest bomber in front of a group of Washington, DC decision makers and leaders from the military. The plane carried such an enormous payload and could fly such long distances that it was nicknamed “The Flying Fortress”. The plane taxied onto the runway and then, with a deafening drone from its four “Cyclone” turbocharged radial engines, the plane lifted off the tarmac.
Less than three hundred feet off the ground, this magnificent silver-skinned gift of murderous might, rolled over on its side and plunged headlong into the earth, bursting into a fireball. The cause of the disaster? The plane was so sophisticated, had so many more instrumentation controls and gauges. The world had never seen a cockpit so overwhelmed with knobs, levers, switches, and gauges. It had everything from cowl flaps to automatic trim adjusters, from intercooler controls to tail wheel locks. The cause of the crash: the pilot, one of the most experienced test pilots alive, had simply forgotten to unlock the hydraulic controls—the equivalent of leaving the parking brake on. The familiar pre-flight checklist was born on that day.
We have to do the same thing every time we set out on the trail. The trick to safety checks is that they only work if you do them precisely the same way every time. So here, the pre-flight check for the trail.
First, watch. Take a close look at your horse as you walk him to the hitching post. Figure out which side of the corral he’s woken up on. Lazy? Feisty? Ornery? Have him step sideways, yielding hips, and then move the forehand over.
Watch for any sign of lameness, of a telltale stiffness, or downright stubbornness.
Second, groom. Look for scratches, cuts, sores. Feel the muscles as you brush. They should feel full and plush. They should roll ahead of your fingertips, like you’re pushing dough down into the corners of a pie tin. Groom. Check.
Hooves. Check. Like the Thomas’ English Muffins. Need to check out every nook and cranny on his feet.
Blanket. Check. Clean, dry, right position. No extra thick pads. Get the blanket centered right over the withers.
Saddle. Check. Good fit. Sweet spot horizontal and in the right position. Sits just right on the shoulder. Cinch up once. Cinch once. Check. Back cinch. Breast collar. Make sure you pull up on saddle blanket so there a little bit of slack in the gullet. Bridle, bit, and reins. Check throatlatch. Check bit—tight enough there’s just one wrinkle in the corner of the mouth. Walk your horse around. Tighten cinch again. Cinch. Check.
Now trot your horse around the round pen. Watch how the saddle rides. Check that your horse is fluid under the saddle. Nothing’s pinching or causing discomfort.
Cinch one last time. Check.
Step into the stirrup and up into the saddle. Breathe your seat deep down in the saddle. Shift your weight around. Check out your horse’s emergency stop, yielding the hindquarters over. Now look up and head out.
Oh, smile! Smile. Check.