University of Kentucky Launches Rider Safety Awareness Campaign

Kentucky's first lady, Jane Beshear, and representatives from the University of Kentucky officially launched "Saddle Up Safely," a rider safety awareness campaign, at a press conference today.

Led by UK HealthCare in response to the large number of riders admitted to UK's Emergency Department, the five-year campaign aims to increase awareness and educate riders not only in Kentucky, but nationally and internationally, about riding and horse handling safety. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the number and severity of rider injuries. Launched during the lead-up to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, the campaign's purpose is to help make a great sport safer.

Jane Beshear

Jane Beshear and others launched the Saddle Up Safely campaign today at the Kentucky Horse Park.

"So often, injuries are incurred due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of equine behavior," Beshear said. "Through this program, we hope to educate current and future riders in an effort to curb preventable injuries.  The Games provide the perfect opportunity to highlight this initiative." 

The statistics underscore the need. According to national figures, an estimated 30 million people ride horses each year, generating approximately 79,000 emergency room visits, with more than 13% of those patients admitted to the hospital. (Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 2007 estimates). While injuries to arms and legs are the most commonly treated, neck and head injuries rank second in frequency and are a significant percentage of those admitted.

Statistically, while motorcycle riders experience a serious injury every 7,000 hours of riding, horseback riders experience one every 350 hours. It is estimated that one in five equestrians will be seriously injured during their riding careers. And novice riders, especially children and young adults, are eight times more likely to suffer a serious injury than professional equestrians.

A 2007 American Journal of Surgery article showed that half of patients in the study believed their injuries were preventable and were the fault of the rider.
The campaign will incorporate several tools to reach people. Included are a series of informational brochures; an interactive Web Site featuring safety tips and stories from riders who were injured, as well as a horse rider safety blog; continuing medical education opportunities for medical personnel and first responders; education-based programs; a speakers bureau, or auxiliary, comprised of volunteers who will speak to organizations or events around the state; and a presence in the UK Village at the World Equestrian Games, with the opportunity to educate the event's 600,000-plus anticipated visitors.

"We expect through the Saddle Up Safely program to educate horse riders from novice to experts on some of the practical tips they can take to reduce the number and severity of injuries that they might experience," said Bill Gombeski, UK HealthCare director of strategic marketing.

A series of informational brochures is in development. These brochures will be available to organizations, at events, and upon request. Topics include horseback riding safety, with tips and information on riding safety; "Can you catch a disease from a horse?" highlighting the diseases that can be passed from horses to humans; equine-assisted therapy and how it's being used to treat people with special needs; "Safety starts on the ground,"  which recognizes that riders spend as much or more of their time with their horses on the ground rather than in the saddle, upping the chances of injury; a horseback riding safety guide developed specifically for children; and "Lessons I learned," which provides tips from riders who were injured.

An educational Web Site will feature the informational brochures listed above, and it will share stories from riders who have been injured and their advice on what they would or should have done differently. In addition, the site will provide safety tips from the horse riding public, and it will even offer contributors a chance to enter into a random drawing for World Equestrian Games tickets.

One of the features on the site will be a horse riding safety blog, hosted by Fernanda Camargo, DVM, PhD, in UK's College of Agriculture. Camargo also heads up Kentucky's 4-H Horse Program, and much of her material will feature and target youth. The blog will also offer safety suggestions, review and discuss safety topics, and provide visitors the opportunity to ask.

"The Saddle Up Safely project is a perfect collaboration, blending the talents of UK's programs to produce a guide that will make a difference in Kentucky and is a fitting legacy project for the World Equestrian Games," said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research of UK's College of Agriculture, Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station director and administrative leader for the Equine Initiative. "Our objective is to celebrate the joy of horsemanship and to help make it safer."

The campaign is a unique collaboration of expertise and participation between UK and the private sector.  Major participants include UK HealthCare; UK Chandler Emergency/Trauma Services; the UK College of Agriculture and its Equine Initiative, Gluck Equine Research Center and Animal and Food Sciences Department; UK Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center; UK's Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center & Pediatrics; First Lady Jane Beshear; Alltech; Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital; Kentucky Horse Park; and Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Corporate partners currently confirmed include Alltech, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Ariat, Craig Printers, the Lexington Herald-Leader, The Horse, the Kentucky Department of Public Health, Kentucky Horse Park, PHI, and Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.

Holly Wiemers, MS, is the communications director for UK's Equine Initiative

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK's Equine Initiative.

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