It takes only one fall from a horse or pony to learn quickly that riding comes with risk. A new study from the United States seeks to determine how high risk our sport is.

The research paper was published in BMJ Journals with the auspicious title: Hearing hoofbeats? Think head and neck trauma: a 10-year NTDB analysis of equestrian-related trauma in the USA. The upshot was that riding horses was more dangerous than playing football, riding motorcycles or downhill skiing. The conclusion was based on frequency of hospital admissions following a sports accident, with equestrians topping the list.

Based on hospital admissions, riding mishaps outrank skiing accidents. (Oleksandr Pyrohov/Pixabay)

According to the study, “the most frequent type of injury was in the thorax, but head and neck injuries produced the highest mortality.”

The study was conducted between 2007-2016, using medical records from over 45,000 patients. Of those patients, the average age was 46, and interestingly, given the gender disparity of our sport, there was a nearly 50-50 split between women and men who were injured.

As mentioned above, injuries in the thoracic region (spinal area in the middle and upper back) were the most common, accounting for 37%. Injuries to the “extremities” ‒ think sprained or broken legs and arms ‒ were found in 26% of riders. But notably, nearly 23% sustained head injuries.

While these numbers paint a bleak picture, it surely isn’t news to most riders. The study’s authors suggest that more preventative measures be taken in terms of protective gear – helmets, vests, etc., as well as a concerted effort by equestrian associations to increase awareness of the risks, and to institute a public awareness campaign.

For more information about riding safely, read:

Horses Are Not Bicycles: Wear the Right Helmet

Preventing Death on the Roads

Helmet Head: Why You Need to Buckle Up Every Time You Ride

The Growing Trend Towards Safety Vests for Show Jumpers