Horseback Riding (Care of the Young Athlete)

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Horseback riding (equestrian) is a common
activity in the United States; about 30 million people go horseback riding every
year. Unlike other sports, the risk of injury is highest for the most
inexperienced riders. As riders gain experience, they learn how to avoid injury
as they learn to properly handle the horse.

Most horseback riding injuries happen when a rider
falls or is thrown from a horse. Falls are more likely to produce serious
injuries if the horse is moving quickly or if the rider is dragged or crushed by
the horse. However, not all injuries happen while riding. The most serious
injuries while off the horse are from horse kicks.

The following is information from the American
Academy of Pediatrics about how to prevent horseback riding injuries. Also
included is an overview of common horseback riding injuries.

Injury prevention and safety tips

  • Stable conditions. Proper
    care of the horses is important. Stables should be well maintained and
    staffed with trained professionals.

  • Horse safety. Riders should
    always be careful around horses and should be instructed to never walk
    behind a horse, or make sudden movements or loud noises near them.
    Riders should never ride unsupervised or ride horses with unknown
    temperaments. A trained professional should check that all equipment is
    in good working order. Girth strap, stirrup leathers, and reins should
    be securely fastened before children are allowed to ride.

  • Equipment. Safety gear
    should fit properly and be well maintained.

    • Helmets should be
      worn by riders every time they ride. Helmets should meet the
      standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials and
      be certified by Safety Equipment Institute.

    • Riding boots should
      be sturdy, have a small heel, and completely cover the

    • Saddles and
      should fit the rider correctly. Young
      children and inexperienced riders should use safety stirrups
      (that break away if a rider falls off the horse) or toe stoppers
      (covers to keep the foot from sliding through the stirrup).

    • Protective vests
      can reduce the impact of a fall, especially for inexperienced

Common injuries

Head injuries

Concussions in horseback riding usually
occur when a riders’ head hits the ground after a severe fall. A
concussion is any injury to the brain that disrupts normal brain function on
a temporary or permanent basis.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion range
from subtle to obvious and usually happen right after the injury but may
take hours to days to show up. Athletes who have had concussions may report
feeling normal before their brain has fully recovered. With most
concussions, the rider is not knocked out or

Prematurely returning to riding after a
concussion can lead to another concussion or even death. An athlete with a
history of concussion is more susceptible to another injury than an athlete
with no history of concussion. Head injuries are usually more severe when
helmets are not worn.

All concussions are serious, and all athletes with suspected
concussions should not return to riding until they see a doctor.

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are a common injury in
horseback riders. They can prevent athletes from being able to ride. Ankle
sprains often happen when a rider falls or is thrown from a horse and lands
improperly, causing the ankle to roll in (invert). An ankle sprain is more
likely to happen if a rider had a previous sprain, especially a recent

Treatment begins with rest, ice,
compression, and elevation (RICE). Athletes should see a doctor as soon as
possible if they cannot walk on the injured ankle or have severe pain.
X-rays may be needed.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries usually happen when a rider
falls onto an outstretched hand. Both bone and ligament injuries in the
wrist can occur with a fall.

Treatment begins with RICE. Athletes should
see a doctor if their wrists are swollen or painful the next day. X-rays may
be needed.


Horseback riding injuries can be prevented when
riders use the appropriate equipment and safety guidelines are followed, and
after the rider has gained more experience.