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Horses and Health Insurance

Every December, I sign up for the best PPO (preferred provider organization) insurance plan I can afford because if I get chucked off a horse and need to go to the hospital, they will at least let me in the door.

Keep in mind; if I am conscious, I will probably ask someone to drive me because the insurance might not cover the cost of the ambulance.

I am an American, a citizen of the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the only first-world nation without some form of universal healthcare coverage. It is the country where the number one reason to file for bankruptcy is medical debt, where many of those who work in the equine industry as trainers, grooms, barn hands, and breeders go without coverage because they often cannot afford the premiums.

I have often wondered while grooming a horse, what it would be like to be able to ride and only fear getting injured, instead of compounding the worry with thoughts on how that injury might leave me financially ruined? I have also wondered what else I could pay for if that expensive premium with its crazy high deductible was just a little more humane?

It could be crass to talk about horses and health insurance, yet the topics are directly linked. Horses and wealth have been bedfellows for thousands of years, and horses and injury are too. Any horse-loving human can tell you a story about this injury or that. I knew someone who needed knee surgery after slipping on the upturned edge of a rubber stall mat and someone else who broke her arm when a young horse reared up and struck her.

I know of hospitalizations, ER visits, long-term nerve damage, and stints in wheelchairs.

As for me, I went to the doctor when I tore the cartilage in my knee when bucked off. Later, a chiropractor put my hips back in place after a mare kicked me when I got too close to her foal while filling a water bucket. The unforgettable thud of hoof on the flesh of my thigh echoing through the barn still lingers in my memory.

So far, my injuries have been small, and my treatment affordable. I am also fortunate because if I do get hurt or sick, I don’t currently own a horse. If I fell down the abyss of medical debt, I would have to give up lessons and sell off my saddles. For others, medical debt means parting with an animal they love.

While I write this, equestrian events all over the world, such as Saut Hermès, the Midwest Horse Fair, and the Winter Equestrian Festival are canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. These cancellations are troubling for those who depend on the events for their livelihoods. But the COVID-19 pandemic bearing down on the millions of Americans who are underinsured like me or not insured at all could lead to chaos.

Whether it’s treating a pandemic or treating the injuries, quality, accessible, affordable healthcare is essential to the wellbeing of equestrians everywhere. We should start addressing healthcare reform as the serious equine industry issue it is. Because even taboos can hurt us.

Gretchen Lida is an essayist and an equestrian. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. She is a contributing writer to Book Riot, Horse Network, and the Washington Independent Review of Books. Gretchen is working on her first book. She lives in Chicago and is still a Colorado native.

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