It was a beautiful, crisp December morning, a perfect day for our annual mock fox hunt. Mist rose from the fields as the first flight galloped off in pursuit of a clever “fox.”
The second flight – made up entirely of nervous children and adults with no desire to gallop – tacked up, warmed up, checked tack carefully, checked brakes carefully. They assembled for their safety briefing and set off down the driveway, looking forward to a peaceful walk through the woods.
Then the llama happened.
Luckily, no horses or riders were seriously harmed … and we did find the last loose horse 48 hours later.
The Llama Incident, as it came to be known, has become one of our most-told stories. We think it’s a great reminder that no matter how carefully you prepare, when it comes to horses, stuff happens.
We teach our students to expect the unexpected, and try to prepare them for the inevitable moment where they’ll have to make a quick decision to get out of trouble. While we can’t predict every weird situation they’ll face with their horses, we’ve found that we can hone crisis management skills by talking through scenarios.
Enter Stuff Happens sets: pocket-size cards featuring hypothetical equine disasters in progress.
We started using Stuff Happens cards in a clinic prepping students for their first out-of-town horse show, and quickly realized their value. Now they are a staple in our camps and clinics and provide us with an easy, portable activity for unexpected rain delays.
While names have been changed to protect the innocent, most of the scenarios on these cards have actually happened to us or to someone we know!
hover over or tap these sample cards:
Why do we like these cards so much?
Here are a few ways we’ve used the cards in our instructional program:
#1 - Draw your own disaster
Deal cards like playing cards to students. The number of cards you deal will depend on the size of your group and the time allowed, but we suggest at least 3 cards per student if possible.
Students take turns reading their card out loud and the group discusses how to solve the problem together.
If you read the cards out yourself, you can combine the discussion with any activity where your students’ hands are occupied. This is great for pasture mucking, tack cleaning, and quiet indoor camp hours out of the elements.
You can also use this method in private lessons, discussing each scenario with your student one-on-one.
#2 - disaster detectives
Spread cards out on a flat surface, text up. Call out a safety rule and challenge students to find the card that demonstrates the rule’s importance.
#3 - be the disaster
Divide students into small teams and assign each team a card.
Ask them to act out the scenario, with one student playing the part of horse. This usually involves a lot of laughter, making it a great icebreaker activity.
#4 - the disaster games
Incorporate cards into another group game, such as Pony Pictionary or Taboo. Could you draw a situation requiring a rider to use a pulley rein, or a trailering disaster just waiting to happen?
#5 - design new disasters
Give students a set of cards as an example. Ask them to create new cards of their own. If they are experienced students, chances are good that they have true stories of their own that are great card material!
#6 - prepare your staff for professional disasters
Incorporate our free Stuff Happens While Instructing set in your training program for assistant instructors or camp counselors. Anyone teaching lessons and managing a barn will recognize these potential disasters – including bizarre incidents that only students and horses can provide!
You might even use a few cards in an interview for a prospective employee.
It's our hope that all your disasters are small ones ... but we bet you've got epic stories of your own
You probably have enough anecdotes to create a card set or two.
We think there’s a lot of value in sharing some of the lessons YOU learned the hard way. You never know when a discussion about past disasters could save a horse or rider from harm in the future.
Besides, if there’s one thing horse people enjoy, it’s sharing stories of all of the wild, crazy, I-couldn’t-make-this-up stuff that has happened to us!
NOTE: We found a few of these unattributed images on social media – let us know if you should be credited.