Sunday, 15 June 2008

Safety, oldwebpage

This doesn't feature the automatic vehicle cutoff. Page update imminent. The rest of it is valid, if out of date. The saddlechariot is noiw a lot safer.

While I have made safety the priority throughout the design process, this does not mean Saddlechariots are safe. Equestrian sports are, I believe, the most dangerous participant sports worldwide. Once you attach a pony, horse, donkey, mule, ass, zebra or other equid to the Saddlechariot, it becomes an equestrian activity.

Sitting on top of, or being pulled in a vehicle, by a powerful, unpredictable animal is dangerous. But if you have horses or ponies they need exercise and some variety in their lives. Exercising horses or ponies is risky. Not exercising them is cruel. The choice is yours. I am just trying to make exercising small ponies as safe as possible."Exit strategy" is business speak for cut and run before the bubble bursts, but it is the heart of my design. Since I never really wanted to get on a horse, or even Henry, drawn vehicle, I looked long and hard at how I would get off, if things went haywire.

Carriage Driving presupposes the existence of a groom, but then Carriage Driving was developed by, and for, a group with servants coming out of their ears. In addition to their own retinue they could summon any passing yokel and expect him to be competent with horses and obedient to their every whim.

The Saddlechariot was developed almost entirely in the 21st century by a man with no servants, and although arrogant, without the physical courage to shout at passing yokels and demand they hold my horse. I was clearly going to have to do something different. I have built a safe one man vehicle.

The Saddlechariot allows the charioteer, to mount and dismount, easily, safely, at speed and under the most adverse conditions.

Sally Walrond in "Breaking a Horse to Harness" says "It is not a pleasant experience to sit helplessly in a vehicle whilst the motive power proceeds to demolish the dashboard and splinter bar before he makes contact with the driver and passenger. Her solution is never to drive a kicker. My solution is to build a vehicle where you are safe even if a non kicker suddenly starts becomes a kicker, for whatever reason. That's why I have an exit strategy!

Getting off the Saddlechariot involves stepping back 8" and down 8". That is it. Mounting is the reverse. My nephew was mounting and dismounting at a canter within a couple of hours of starting to drive. If a horse starts to kick, rear, show signs of panic, or if you hear cars screaming towards you, the sound of a helicopter, snarling dogs or whatever, get off, go to its head, calm it down. If you can't calm your horse down, learn Natural Driving. before continuing. A trained animal is vital to safety, and vastly more pleasant to drive. But it is you who needs the training, or you can't give your animal the right signals.

I had the ability to cut and run on my first Saddlechariot, but an early test driver managed to box a panicking pony and Saddlechariot in between some cars. Trying to undo buckles in a stiff leather harness, in a hurry, next to a very scared pony, was not something I ever intended to repeat. Carriage Driving advice is to carry a knife to cut the harness off. As a cook, my knives will go through tough leather with ease but I am not stupid (or is it brave) enough to take any of my knives near a panicking animal.

Back to Cowardice as a design tool. I designed my own harness and don't need to carry a knife. (Is it still legal to carry a knife on a carriage? I know the police have got awfully tough.)

This takes the exit strategy one stage further. It takes a couple of seconds with no knives in sight, no fiddly buckles, no knots, to extract pony from vehicle, using my harness. To ensure maximium safety I always train people to take the vehicle off by using the emergency procedure at all times. Then, when there is an emergency, they are using the standard technique.

You can get off the vehicle easily.

You can get the vehicle off the pony easily.

You don't want either of these things to happen unexpectedly. Henry has taken the Saddlechariot into ditches at a fast canter, hit trees, large rocks and gateways and the harness has been fine. I have jumped the Saddlechariot, hammered it Xcountry and can even bunnyhop it round Henry without holding on.

If you want to stay on the Saddlechariot, you stay on. But the choice is always there if an emergency exit looks like sense. I have got off at high speed to stop an alsation going for Henry's face, and when he lost his nerve about a helicopter landing at a pop concert. I got off and removed the vehicle when he decided to freak out during a massive hailstorm at Appleby show so we could shelter in the beer tent.

I will go almost anywhere because if things get hairy, I get the off the Saddlechariot, get the Saddlechariot off Henry and I'm just a guy holding a pony. Even I can cope with holding a 10.1hh pony, and if it gets too scary.......I can let go.

Rule 1 Getting on a horse or pony drawn vehicle is dangerous, make getting off easy and safe.

Rule 2 Putting a horse or pony in a vehicle is dangerous, make getting out easy and safe.

This double exit strategy is vital. It allows you to escape from a dangerous situation, ie being on a horse or pony drawn vehicle, and it allows you to get your pony out of a dangerous siutuation, being in a horse or pony drawn vehicle.

The next stage was to make the vehicle safer to be on. Traditional vehicles look stunning and the skills of those like George Bowman driving are a pleasure to watch. I respect skill and I respect courage. Having neither I design vehicles for unskilled cowards which means traditional is no virtue.

Spoked wheels are traditional and spoked wheels are one of my pet hates. Henry is a small family pony and I designed Saddlechariots round a small family pony with a small family climbing over, under and through everything in sight.

The thought of a vehicle moving off with a child's arm, leg or head through the spokes is too ghastly to contemplate. Rather than avoid contemplating horrific accidents, I avoid the spokes which could cause them. I use "kite buggy" wheel technology. The nutters who drive kite buggies are achieving insane speeds, cornering at insane angles and dropping back on the ground from serious altitude. Wheels that will survive such treatment will cope with anything a Saddlechariot might be put through.

Horror of horrors, I am using pneumatic tyres. Early in the design process I asked a senior official why pneumatic tyres are banned in competition. "They might puncture and go bang which would frighten the horses." I said I watched John Wayne movies and I could feel the frost coming down the telephone line as I was informed that "that's just a film." So I asked whether the Light Brigade left their horses at the top of the Valley of Death because of all the Russian guns going bang at the bottom. I am still waiting for an answer.

Pneumatic tyres were supplied around 1845 by R.W. Thompson to the Duke of Northumberland who did over 1000 miles in a horse drawn vehicle using them but they are not traditional...... Anyway tubeless tyres don't go bang and I use tubeless.

Two points are relevant. Solid tyres damage anything they go over, pasture, tracks, lawns, verges, people's arms, legs and heads. They have numerous disadvantages and no advantages so I don't use them.

Secondly, if your horse is frightened of bangs it is inadequately or incorrectly trained. If your horse is frightened of the noise the vehicle makes, you could silence the vehicle but I won't. The first time you drive across maize stubble or a wooden bridge your animal that is used to silence, will freak. Again we are back to training. See Natural Driving.

Stability is an issue with any vehicle, and the traditional approach is to go wider. Modern competition vehicles have a groom behaving like a racing sidecar passenger, but I have already rejected the "servant" safety device as not being very safe, especially for the servant. Employment law being what it is today, I couldn't afford the insurance let alone the wages.

Since the Saddlechariot is not a carriage, you can ride it like a quad bike, shifting your body weight into the corners and it will turn very tight indeed. If you sit like a Carriage Driver it is not stable cornering hard at high speeds.

The Saddlechariot is as light as possible, only 35kg, because I didn't want anything heavy landing on me in a crash.

It is curved with no unnecessary projections so it tends to brush past obstacles rather than getting wedged.

The harness breaks where it is designed to break, which to be honest is most places. The Breeching is designed to take the strain if the Saddlechariot is shunted from behind by a car. The breaking strain is in excess of 500kg. Over that load, nothing is going to save the pony. From every other angle, the harness will break long before the pony. I don't use leather because I want a known and predictable breaking strain. The traces are each held by two 4mm aluminium pop rivets with the strain at right angles to the long axis. Don't try this on carriages, it won't work. The rest of the harness is joined with plastic sidelock buckles. These fail long before the animal is hurt. On minor bits I use split rings with a 35lb test factor.

The Saddlechariot structure is Stainless Steel. This ensures no risk of hidden corrosion causing unexpected failure. Where the steel structure does fail, it fails progressively reducing any loading on the animals back, but does not fail catastrophically. I have tested a badly damaged Saddlechariot, (I had cantered into a telegraph pole practising bending) which had a badly ripped T-piece and was very tricky to drive across my favourite rough terrain test area. It was pig to drive but the break only opened out further so I was forced to get off. It did not break off even cantering.

I have had one seriously painful and nearly fatal accident on a Saddlechariot. I was trying to drive for the first time a 16.3 horse who I had been assured was dead lazy and whose only vice was standing still. The owner had worked her with chains and ropes but this was to be the first time in shafts.
I was feeling cocky, and thought I could be clever so I put this animal in a vehicle the right height, but with shafts that fit my slim 14.2hh ConnemaraX. They were too short and too narrow by miles.

I decided to work without blinkers and to substitute the Liverpool bit for a snaffle. We put her in and out of the vehicle at least 10 times and she stood dead still, so we took her to the sandschool, put her in and set off leading her. I thought it all looked fine and said let go after a minute or so, shook the reins and off we trotted. As we changed rein across the middle the other shaft touched her flank and she accelerated to a canter.

From then on she accelerated turning tighter and tighter with the Saddlechariot sliding beautifully across the sand till the tyre dropped into the outside groove and I flipped straight over into the very solid post and rail fence. I ended up with a football sized haematoma on my hip, luckily unbroken, grazes on my head from hitting the fence and half of the solution to the problem in my head. I would prefer my next "eureka" moment in the bath.

I reached the horse as she was caught at the gate after a couple of high speed laps, took the Saddlechariot off, got the owner to lead her back into the middle and put it on again and again and again. It did at least take my mind off the pain. She had a slight graze because I forgot to use a kicking strap, (a sound principle on a beginner) and was otherwise unmarked. Vehicle and harness were undamaged.

Leaving aside the sheer stupidity, the obvious answer was a large enough vehicle so the shafts didn't touch her flank, or a redesign of the shafts so they couldn't. Both of these are done. But they are typical of my non horseman's approach that I design my way out of trouble. The other way is Natural Driving. Monty Robert's biography taught me the useful fact that a horse will lean into pressure on its flank as a natural defence against predators. They also hate people on top of them for the same reason, you sit where a lion lands. The shaft touches where a wild dog bites. Before riding or driving they have to be desensitised to the relevant threat. The secret is training with loads of groundwork.

One day I hope I will get another chance to put that 16.3 animal in a Saddlechariot. This time I will know what I am doing. By the way, if any of those watching had cameras, I would love pictures.


1 comment:

csib said...

Certainly a very interesting new approach to horse driving.
Is there more information available on the vehicle and your self-designed harness?
I would be very interested!
And my readers, too!