Equestrian Sport Statistics & Facts – What You Should Know

Each year in the United States, an estimated 7 million people ride horses. Riding as a sport has a certain amount of inherent risk due to the fact that a rider’s head when mounted in the saddle may be up to 4m or 13ft above ground level and horses are capable of moving at considerable speeds and can be unpredictable. The rate of serious injury per hour, is estimated to be approximately the same for horseback riders as of that for motorcyclists.

There appears to be little difference in the associated risk of suffering a head injury between Western and English styles of riding. The risk does however increase in the disciplines of racing and eventing. Head injuries not only occur while physically riding a horse, but can also occur while on the ground as a result of being kicked in the head, injuries that are sustained while grooming or cleaning a stall, during farrier or veterinary activities, or simply while spectating. It is estimated though that 75-80% of head injuries occur while physically mounted on a horse.

78,279 people visited the emergency room in 2007 as a result of horse riding related injuries. Head injuries comprised about 15 percent, or 11,759 of these visits (NEISS data 2007), and are the number one reason for hospital admissions and the leading cause of death. The annual incidence of horse riding related head injuries is likely higher than the NEISS 2007 figure due to the fact that less severe head injuries may be treated at physician’s offices or an urgent care center, or self-treated and so are never included in the statistics. Concussions account for about 5 percent of emergency room visits, a figure that is more than double that for other major sports. Over 100 deaths per year are estimated to result from equestrian related activities, with 10-20 times as many head injuries occurring for each fatality.

Head Injury Prevention Tips

Statement from the Equestrian Medical Safety Association: “The EMSA strongly recommends the wearing of a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmet with the harness secured during equestrian activities. Head injuries account for approximately 60% of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. Properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmets can prevent death and reduce the severity of head injuries sustained while riding. For a current list of helmets certified by the Safety Equipment Institute to ASTM standard F1163, please go to www.seinet.org and click on “Certified Products”, then click on Equestrian Helmets. ”

Do not wear other riders’ helmets. Your helmet is designed to fit YOUR head. An incorrectly fitting helmet offers NO protection.

If you have had a hard blow impact accident while wearing your helmet, IMMEDIATELY replace it for a new model. There may be damage to the helmet that is not visible to the naked eye.

Select the appropriate standard of helmet for your discipline i.e. Standardbred Racing helmets are made to the Snell Standard.

Helmet manufacturers generally recommend replacing your helmet every 5 years. Helmets take a beating over time from sweat, heat, dust and rain etc.

If you purchase your helmet online, check the date of manufacture.

Purchasing a used helmet can be very risky and is NOT recommended. The helmet may have sustained previous damage not visible to the naked eye.

Always fasten the safety harness on your helmet. A helmet will NOT protect you if it comes off your head before you hit the ground.

A ponytail or different hairstyle can affect the fit of your helmet. When you try on helmets prior to purchase, wear your hair in the style that you expect to wear it when riding.

Do NOT tilt up your helmet. Helmets should be worn with the visor parallel to the ground.

Do NOT wear a helmet designed for use in other sports when riding i.e a bike helmet. Equestrian helmets are specifically designed and tested for a fall from a horse.

For further information please visit the Equestrian Medical Safety Association: www.emsaonline.net. They have a great section on helmet safety and also answer a lot of frequently asked questions.


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  1. When we first got horses 13 years ago, we also bought helmets. I can say they have saved my life – even in a round pen.
    When one of our horses was about two, he ran off with me as I had just put a foot in the stirrup and was lifting myself over him. I ended up with my head thrown against the bottom rail of the round pen. I ended up walking away. A four-inch crease in the bottom of the back of the helmet is physical evidence of the injury I avoided.
    So my wife and I always wear helmets when we ride – any horse, any time.

  2. Bry Loudon says:

    A helmet saved my life once. I was riding a half-Arabian horse, he was in his 20’s, and he bolted with me and i hit my head on a thick log and, when i looked at my helmet a couple weeks later, there was a huge crack in the side and the doctor said that the helmet saved my life. If i hadnt worn my helmet, I would either be dead or have serious brain damage… I was 9 years old and i was in 6th grade.

  3. I’m all for helmets protecting people’s heads. I had one on during a recent serious accident. My horse and I cantered across some grass and he slipped and fell. I slammed to the ground on my left side. The helmet’s visor stuck in the grass and held my head still as my body got flund into the air, snapping my head too far back. I had a mild concussion (thanks to the helmet) and a broken neck (thanks to the helmet’s visor). SEI/ASTM have to date not looked at visors in their safety ratings – a fact that I hope changes at their next meeting, as I believe is planned.

    My point is – your helmet may be rated and certified, but your visor has not been. I recommend visors that come off under pressure or that bend. It isn’t fun to have your head stuck in the ground as your body goes by at a high speed.

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