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Recently, our friends’ young son broke his collar bone riding a horse, or rather falling from a horse. His injury made me curious about the dangers of riding horses, so I decided to research horseback riding accidents and safety.
Riding a horse is dangerous; they are large, unpredictable animals that can cause injuries to a rider in many different ways. But the risk of injury, when compared to other activities such as motorcycle riding, mountain climbing, or even riding in a car, is difficult to determine.
The majority of horse owners ride their animals multiple times a week and never experience a severe injury. But most of these equestrians are raised with horses and learn at a young age to respect their animals’ size, strength, and temperament.
Riding a horse has inherent risks.
When you’re on the back of a standard riding horse, you’re likely sitting more than six feet off the ground on a 1,000-pound animal that can run over 35 miles.
If a horse gets spooked or takes a bad step, an accident or injury is likely to follow. The best way to prevent a horse from spooking is to know what causes it to spook and awareness of approaching dangers.
Some common triggers are strange animals, crowds, loud noises, and wasp. Sometimes you can take steps to avoid dangers, but some situations also catch you by surprise, so always be in control of your animal.
The most common injuries from horseback riding are broken bones and bruises.
Our neighbor was cleaning her horses’ stall when her horse kicked her in the chest breaking her ribs. She is the second person from our area to suffer broken bones from a horse kick recently, and this made me wonder if it is a common occurrence.
The most severe injuries occur when riders are thrown from horses and land on their head; this can result in brain damage or paralysis. But the most common injuries caused by horses are fractures, bruises, abrasions, and concussions, many of which happen when a horse kicks or steps on a person.
People get injured not only while riding but also when on the ground near horses, so it’s imperative to be aware of your surrounding and use safe practices when close to these animals.
You can reduce the risk of injury when riding a horse.
Horseback riding injuries occur because of the riders’ behavior or actions of the horses. Experienced riders and those who pay attention to the advice of skilled equestrians don’t often get injured.
Horseback riding safety starts with the right equipment.
While horseback riding is dangerous, there are some safety measures you can take to reduce the risk of injury and have a fun time as well.
Wear a safety helmet when riding a horse.
Riding helmets are designed to protect you from injury caused by an impact to your head. A proper riding helmet will absorb some of the energy of a collision and disperse the force over a wide area.
Helmets also protect your head from piercing limbs and sharp objects with their tough exterior shell. To get optimal protection from a helmet, it should fit your head correctly and be secured with a chin strap.
When you are shopping for a helmet, be sure to choose a model approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Ovation makes high-quality helmets, click here to read Amazon customer reviews and find out why they are the number one equestrian helmet.
Helmets are critical and can save a person’s life. Many U.S. states require riders under 14 years old to wear helmets. To determine if your state requires helmets, you can likely find out by contacting a local riding facility.
If you’re interested in learning more about riding helmets for kids you can read my article here.
Make sure your saddle is the right size for you.
When riding a horse, it’s essential to have a saddle that fits you, not only to keep you on the horses back but also for comfort and control. Both you and your horse will perform better and be more comfortable with a correctly sized saddle.
There isn’t much difference in determining the correct fit between Western and English saddles. When you sit in the seat, move yourself to the saddle pocket. If the saddle is sized correctly, you should fit two fingers between the swells of the saddle and your leg.
With English saddles, two fingers in front and the back of your seat are recommended; however, many riders find spaces as full as four fingers acceptable. With a western saddle, that much space would likely be too large and could cause you to flop around.
Saddle pads play an intricate role in fitting a saddle on horses. If you want to learn more about saddle pads and how to choose the right one for your horse click here for English or here for Western-style riding.
Check the tack before mounting.
Just like a pre-flight examination for an airplane, get into the habit of performing a safety check on your tack before riding a horse. A safety check will prevent some injuries.
Be sure to check the saddle, girth, bit, bridle, reins, and stirrups for cracks and worn areas. Properly care for leather, this means to clean and oil it every two to four weeks. Poor leather care leads to dry rot and breakage.
Wear proper riding attire.
It’s crucial to dress appropriately when riding, and the most critical item is proper footwear. You should wear a pair of sturdy cowboy boots in case a horse steps on your feet, and it needs to have a heel to prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup and getting stuck.
It would be best if you didn’t ride with loose-fitting clothes, and your shirt should be tucked into your pants. Gloves are helpful to grip the reins and prevent them from slipping from your hands.
It’s also recommended that children ride with a body protector. Click here to read my review of kids riding vests.
Sound decisions can reduce the chances of injury.
Take riding lessons from a professional.
The best way to become a safe rider is to take lessons from an experienced riding instructor. A seasoned equestrian can provide valuable insights that will help you not only learn to ride but build your confidence around horses.
In any new endeavor, it’s essential to learn the basics correctly; this is especially true in horseback riding. Most beginner riding lessons include how to tack a horse, lead a horse, and verbal cues used in conjunction with physical signals.
Once you display your comfort in these areas, they teach you the proper way to mount and sit on a horse. Next, you advance to walking and trotting your animal and eventually progress to fully running.
They also explain how to move your body in the saddle properly when riding a horse. An important lesson often overlooked is cleaning and grooming. Most reputable horse riding facilities go over in detail the steps necessary to properly groom your horse both before and after riding.
Riding lessons doesn’t guarantee you won’t get injured, but it does reduce the risk and makes you a more confident rider.
Be familiar with the area you intend to ride in.
If you’re an inexperienced rider, you should not ride alone outside of a paddock, arena, or pasture. Before riding, check the area you plan to ride and ensure there are no holes or dangerous terrain.
When trail riding in a group stay at least one horse length between you and the horse you’re following, also pay attention to the other riders. Recognize their skill levels and the temperament of the horses.
Never take a horse you just bought or a green horse on a trail ride with a bunch of other horses, or near roadways and when you are still learning about a horse, ride in a fenced area.
Ride a horse that fits your skill level.
When choosing a horse to ride, your priority is safety. If you’re just starting to ride, you need a seasoned horse that’s willing to work and has a calm, steady temperament—a horse, anyone, can mount and ride without worry.
Riding a horse that’s not suitable for your skill level is frustrating and dangerous. You don’t want to be on the back of an animal that’s skittish and jumps when it sees shadows.
You can tell a lot about a horse before you ever get on its back just by watching it for a little while. Does the horse lead quietly and wait patiently to be tied up. Does it pin its ears, or continuously move when being groomed?
These are signs the horse is not comfortable or maybe too energetic for a novice rider. Hot horses can land you in a hospital bed, so match your riding skills with the temperament and physical abilities of the horse you ride.
Riding a horse is dangerous, but the risk of injury can be reduced.
Riding a horse is dangerous, how dangerous is not clear. Most of the studies that try to quantify risk, use incomplete data such as how many people ride horses, how often does a horse owner ride per week, etc..
However, studies do show the risk of injury is relative to the equine activity of the participant. For example, showjumping is much more dangerous than leisure riding.
Riding horses is an enjoyable activity, but it does involve a risk of injury. This risk can be reduced by following simple safety steps like the ones outlined above.