Injuries Common Among Experienced Riders, Study Finds

Results of a retrospective study performed by doctors at an Alberta trauma center shed a new light on the incidence and type of injuries sustained by equestrians. Additionally, the doctors found that experienced riders were more likely to suffer severe injuries than previously reported.



The researchers advocated the use of protective helmets and vests, regardless of riding experience.

Doctors at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Alberta reviewed the records of patients admitted to the level 1 trauma center for patients over 16 years of age from 1995 to 2005. Of 7,941 trauma patients, 151 (2%) were injured while participating in an equestrian activity. Doctors gathered more information on the riders, their mounts, and accident, via a questionnaire mailed to available patients.

The most common injuries were sustained to the chest (54%) and head (48%), and 45% of the patients required surgery. The authors of the study noted that chest trauma has been underappreciated in past studies of equestrian injuries, and that the high experience level of the majority of the injured riders in this study might have had an impact on the type of injury sustained.

Overall, the study population could be characterized as experienced riders and was consistent with the equestrian population of the area. The average patient was male, 47-years-old, had 27 years of riding experience, and was riding Western. Almost half (47%) had previously been injured while working with horses. Most of the riders owned the horse on which they were injured, and were riding for work or recreational purposes. The average horse involved was a 7-year-old Quarter Horse, ridden on a daily (36%) or weekly (36%) basis.

"We are very surprised to see the experience of the badly injured riders and their mounts," said Robert Mulloy, MD, FRCSC. "Calgary has a lot of money and there are hundreds of expensive and rarely ridden horses. We expected that they would have been the cause of the injuries and they were not."

Most of the riders (60%) were thrown or fell off of a horse, 16% were crushed by a falling horse, and 8% were kicked. A horse stepped on 4% of patients, causing injury, and 13% were injured in other ways. Most of the respondents said the horse was spooked (35%). Other responses regarding the cause of the injury included a horse that was not trained for what the rider was asking for (27%), had a bad temperament (15%), or fell (12%). Equipment failure was cited for 6% of injuries. Rider inexperience accounted for 5%.

The doctors noted that the majority of riders did not wear helmets or protective equipment other than footwear. Given the common trends of injury to the head and chest, they advocated the use of both helmets and protective vests.

Following their accidents, 87% of patients said they had returned to riding, but 55% still had ongoing physical difficulties related to the injury. Nearly half (47%) of patients questioned said they altered their riding habits or demands on the animal as a result of the injury.

The study, "Equestrian injuries: incidence, injury patterns, and risk factors for 10 years of major traumatic injuries," was published in the May 2007 issue of The American Journal of Surgery. Researchers on the study included Mulloy, Chad G. Ball, MD, MSc, Jill E. Ball, BHScOT, and Andrew W. Kirkpatrick, MD, FRCSC, FACS.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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