Horses can reach speeds up to 60 km/h (37 mph), resulting in more injuries per hour in the saddle than during motorcycle or auto racing. Due to these potential high speeds, the unpredictable behaviour of horses and the distance of the rider from the ground, equestrian athletes are at risk for head and spinal injuries.
Injuries most commonly occur when a rider falls or is thrown off the horse. Falls lead to more serious injuries than other causes.
Approximately 70 per cent of equestrian deaths are the result of head injury. Closed head injuries (where the injury doesn’t open up the brain or skull but rattles or otherwise traumatizes the brain) are among the most common equestrian injuries and are frequently associated with not wearing a helmet. Of all horseback riding-related injuries that result in hospitalization, around 50 per cent are head injuries.
- Equestrian helmets may help prevent serious head injuries, such as skull fractures. It is important to know there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet.
- Check the helmet label to make sure that it has been ASTM / SEI approved.
- Each helmet should have a safety harness bolted to it, including a strap that comes under the chin and is fastened by a buckle or snap.
- Make sure the helmet fits snugly against the head.
- Some helmets have vents to allow air to flow through to keep a rider’s head cool.
- The helmet may have detachable lining and fitting pads and visors.
- Discard damaged helmets or helmets that do not meet current safety accreditation standards.
- Body protectors, such as vests, are designed to reduce trauma from blunt impacts and falls.
- Vests provide some protection to the trunk by reducing the severity of soft-tissue injuries and rib fractures.
- Look for the ASTM certification for this equipment: ASTM F1937-04
- Always wear a boot with a heel to stop the foot from slipping through the stirrup.
- Breakaway or flexible stirrups can prevent the foot from being caught in the iron. They should be considered for small children, beginners and for riders wearing heavier winter riding boots. It is important that the boot fit the stirrup. There must be a minimum of 1 cm of space between the boot and the stirrup iron on each side of the boot.
Gloves designed for riding ensure a secure grip of the reins and offer protection from chafing as well as warmth in cold weather.
Tips for riders
- Have knowledge of how the horse behaves, be aware of the horse’s movements and find a safe way to approach the horse.
- Be physically and mentally fit – being well-rested and focused is key to horseback riding safely.
- Make sure the horse is properly equipped for the ride. All tack and equipment should be checked before the ride.
- Learn how to fall properly – falling using a “tuck and roll” technique may help to reduce injuries.
- Beginner riders should take riding lessons, which help promote safety practices. Lessons are of continuing benefit to accomplished riders, too.
Tips for parents of young equestrians
- Get educated about equestrian safety – this will help with recognizing how injuries occur and how to prevent them.
- Make sure that your child is wearing the appropriate equipment and that the equipment fits properly.
- Choose a horse that is suitable for your child – get an experienced or trained person to assist with this process.
- Make sure you are supervising your child or that your child is riding in a setting supervised by someone reliable and knowledgeable.
Tips for coaches and trainers
- Keep current with changes and trends that affect the equestrian community. Their interests and those of your clientele depend on it. Professional re-evaluation and continuing education is always important, regardless of your experience in the equine field.
- Have a good knowledge of horses and always select an animal appropriate to the rider’s size and ability level.
- Assisting parents with purchasing horses for their children is an important role. Making sure parents choose a horse suitable for their child is essential.
- Never permit a rider on a horse unless they are wearing the appropriate equipment and that the equipment fits properly.
- Make sure that the horse is wearing the right equipment – equipment that does not fit the horse properly may also cause injury to the rider.
- Always supervise the child or adult while riding. One study found the majority of injuries occurred in unsupervised settings.
- Be a role model and set a good example by riding safely and maintaining high standards of stable management.
Tips for organizations
- Have a written policy outlining safety procedures.
- Strictly enforce the rules and regulations of the policy. It is recommended that a safety committee be established for this purpose.
- Horseback riders and parents must respect the rules implemented by the organizations.
- Keep a record of all injuries and have it reviewed periodically by the safety committee to determine activities or areas that may need attention.
- Make safety the first consideration in the planning of any equestrian activity or event.
- Regularly review safety policies.