A close friend was thrown from her horse on Boxing Day whilst out with a friend on a “gentle hack”. For no apparent reason the horse, totally out of character, reared, spun and bucked. She was thrown off landing on her head, neck and upper back. The good news is that she was wearing a less than one-year-old hat from a very good manufacturer that had been expertly fitted. She was also wearing a body protector. And the ground was fairly soft. She didn’t lose consciousness and a CT scan and examination in A&E showed no signs of serious injury. She could not remember what happened on Xmas Day or Boxing Day, including not recalling any details of the ride or the fall. And she still has only partial recollection two weeks later.
This made me wonder about data on injuries to riders and particularly injuries to the head. There is no getting away from it. Riding horses or ponies, and even just being around them on the ground, carries a high risk of injury. What horse owner hasn’t been stood on or kicked or bitten or knocked over or fallen off? But how dangerous is riding and how effective are hats and body protectors? According to the Medical Equestrian Association, there isn’t any really good data on the prevalence of head injuries in riders or any basis for the apocryphal statement that “horse riding is 20 times more dangerous than motorcycling”.
In their 1991 paper Hazards of Horse-riding as a Popular Sport, Dr’s John Silver and John Lloyd Parry (At the time: Honorary Medical Adviser to The Federation Equestre International (FEI) and the Governing Body of Horse Trials (British Horse Society); Former Chairman of the Medical Equestrian Association) cited a study from 1985 that suggested motorcyclists suffered a serious accident once every 7,000 hours but a horse rider could expect a serious incident once in every 350 hours. They also cited a figure from 1992 of 12 equestrian-related fatalities from 2.87 million participants and noted that in the period from 1994-1999, 3% of all spinal cord injury patients admitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital were female and due to horse riding. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/25/2/105.full.pdf
A 2006 study in the USA identified 102,904 people who had been injured (non-fatally) by horses between 2001 to 2003. 66% were injured due to falling off whilst non-mounted injuries were most commonly due to being kicked. The head and neck was the most common body part to be injured (23%). “For each year that was studied, an estimated 11,502 people sustained traumatic brain injuries from horse-related incidents.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564310/
A 2007 paper also reported, although, without evidence, that “Horseback riding is more dangerous than motorcycle riding, skiing, football, and rugby.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17434372/ Among 7941 trauma patients in Canada, 151 (2%) were injured on horseback. The most common injuries included the chest (54%) followed by the head (48%). Perhaps surprisingly only 9% of patients wore helmets!
Data from the USA suggests that in 2020, shooting accounted for 39,000 deaths, closely followed by road traffic accidents (38,800) and accidents around the home (30,000) – scary! Deaths per year from horse riding were estimated to be around 100. Again, from the USA, the most dangerous sports were estimated from insurance claims and put motor racing top followed by…….horse riding!
https://www.horsefactbook.com/fun/is-horse-riding-dangerous/ No original sources were cited so I can’t verify the accuracy of this data. Using older data, the Medical Equestrian Association reports that in 2011 there were 8 deaths on UK roads from horse riding, 107 from cycling and 362 from motorcycle accidents. https://www.medequestrian.co.uk/rider-safety/benefits-and-risks-of-riding/risks-of-injury-risk-management/
This got me wondering.
How many people always wear a hat? Who wears a hat for other horse activities such as loading or leading? Who has their hat fitted? How old are the hats people are using? How many people have had a head injury in the past year? What’s the risk of a head injury per year? Who’s most at risk? And many many more questions. This spurred me to pilot a questionnaire on head injury amongst the Members which produced just over 100 responses. Pretty good for a pilot. I’m now looking at the responses and deciding what other questions to include before launching this as a public survey. I’m also contacting various other stakeholders who may want to be involved.
Broken legs, arms, etc are not great. But head injuries can change peoples lives forever and can be fatal. I’m motivated to undertake some research in this area to help raise awareness of the risks of injury and how people can reduce the risk of serious head injury by a number of simple steps. But in the meantime…..
PLEASE WEAR A PROFESSIONALLY FITTED HAT
PLEASE CHANGE YOUR HAT IF IT’S DROPPED OR HIT