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.
Watch a video presentation by Len Clement of Tipperary Helmets “Head Injury Statistics in Equestrian Sport” from the 2nd Safety Symposium for further information.