Horseback Riding
Injuries and Safety Tips

An estimated 30 million Americans ride horses each year. However, more than 2,300 riders under the age of 25 years are hospitalized annually because of horseback-riding injuries. The reason is that some activities, such as jumping and cross-country, are inherently risky because horses can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, travel as fast as 30 mph, and stand as tall as 3 meters high. Most injuries result from falling off the horse, which can lead to severe and sometimes fatal injuries.

Believe it or not!
Horseback riding carries a higher injury rate than motorcycle riding. On average, motorcyclists suffer an injury once every 7000 hours of riding. By contrast, an equestrian (horseback rider) may have a serious accident once every 350 hours.

Locations and types of injury
Injuries commonly occur in the upper extremities, such as the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Lower extremity injuries, involving the knee, ankle, and foot, are more frequent in rodeos and less common in other equestrian activities. Although most accidents occur while riding a horse, some take place in the stable while handling, grooming, or feeding the horse.

Some injuries, such as an injury to the spinal region, can leave permanent impairment, possibly resulting in paralysis. Others may cause long-term side effects, such as seizures from a head injury.

The most frequent types of injuries are bruises, strains, and sprains, which affect the soft tissues (skin, ligaments, tendons, and muscles). Other types of injuries include fractures (broken bones), dislocations, and concussions.

Deaths resulting from horseback riding injuries are not very common. Most deaths are a result of a traumatic injury to the head.

Hard shell helmets should be worn at all times when you are mounted on the horse. The helmet must always be securely fastened and should be replaced after any significant impact.

Numerous injuries are related to being caught in the stirrup and dragged by the horse. A properly matched boot-stirrup combination is very important. Release catches are available on some saddles to prevent dragging if your foot is caught in the stirrup. Correct positioning of the foot in the stirrup is also important.

Riders should wear properly fitted boots and nonskid gloves. Do not wear loose-fitting or baggy clothing. All riding equipment should be maintained and inspected thoroughly before venturing out.

Body-protecting gear, such as the KevlarT Body Protector, can be used to prevent soft tissue injuries and rib fractures; however, it does not protect the spine from injury and does not protect against a massive crushing blow to the chest.

No horseplay allowed!
Amateur riders should not attempt jumps or daredevil stunts. Some horses that are domesticated and tamed are safer than others, but no horse is 100% safe. Increasing the rider's awareness of the potential risks, wearing protective gear, and keeping equipment in good working order can reduce the risk of horseback riding injuries.

Gloria M. Beim, M.D.
Crested Butte, Colorado