Although concussion and mental health awareness is growing in the larger world of sport, little research has explored the mental health of equestrians or considered the unique contextual factors and demands horse sports place on athletes.

Annika McGivern, an Equestrian Canada coach and eventer from Victoria, B.C., who is completing an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is currently conducting a study on this topic. In cooperation with her supervisor Dr. Gavin Breslin of Ulster University, McGivern is hoping to begin to fill this gap in research, starting with an online survey, which can be accessed here.

McGivern’s work aims to establish current levels of concussion and mental health levels in equestrian athletes in Canada, the UK, Australia, the U.S. and the Republic of Ireland by assessing symptoms of concussion, well-being, depression and resiliency. Once levels are established, a further aim is to analyse differences, if any, between countries.

She hopes this information will prove useful in the creation of concussion and mental health awareness interventions designed with sensitivity to the unique cultural realities of equestrian sport.

The anonymous online survey, which takes seven minutes to complete, will be online until August 6th. McGivern and Dr. Breslin will analyze the data and release the findings in September.

“Research in other sports is showing that higher prevalence of concussion is correlated with higher incidence of mental illness, particularly depression,” said McGivern. “This is early research, but I think it is highly relevant to the equine community, as many stats now say we experience more concussion as a group than NFL and NHL athletes.

“I believe there is a cultural norm within the equine world for riders to place their horse’s well-being far above their own. However, if riders are suffering mental health issues, they are not able to be their best selves for their horses.”