January 13, 2021
According to the National Equestrian survey of 2019, between 1.3 and 1.8 million people ride regularly every year in the UK. Horse riding is an extremely popular pastime as a sport or hobby and enjoyed by many people of various ages and backgrounds.
It's stating the obvious to point out that horses are large and powerful animals. A 9 hand pony may weigh about 200kgs, whereas a 16 hand shire horse may weigh as much as 850kgs.
A rider when mounted on their horse will be several metres off the ground.
Horses also have minds of their own and however well trained and calm of temperament, like human beings they can have bad days and be unpredictable. Certainly, it would not take much for a horse to become panicked and to get agitated, particularly with someone it is unfamiliar with or in surroundings that are alien to it.
On the roads, it may be the actions of an ignorant, or at least negligent, car driver that puts both horse and rider at serious risk of injury.
Studies have revealed that the longer someone rides, the greater the likelihood that they suffer injury. The same research paper found that from the sample study of riders, 81% had experienced at least one horseback riding injury requiring medical treatment during their lifetime.
When all these matters are taken into consideration, it is easy to see why many people consider horse riding to be one of the most dangerous sports around.
I have not ridden for many years now but in my teenage years I was always to be found at the local riding stables and worked there throughout every school holiday. I loved to ride and often think I would like to return to it. The risk of injury is one of the things that I am wary of. A friend of mine was thrown from a horse when the horse reared, and he fell off. The horse then toppled onto him as he lay on the ground resulting in a broken pelvis. He was an experienced rider, but it just shows that an unexpected incident can happen to anyone at any time.
What are the most common ways of being injured whilst riding a horse?
- Rider error
- Road traffic accident. Cars, horses and riders on the road together are not an ideal combination
- Unpredictable/difficult horse combined with inexperienced rider/handler
- Faulty or badly fitted riding equipment
- Horse becoming frightened e.g. by loud noises, dogs, a car passing too quickly or too closely on the road
- Teacher error during riding lessons
When equestrian accidents happen, they don't always result in serious injury. Bumps, bruises, sprains and minor cuts are considered by horse riders to be part and parcel of being involved with looking after and riding horses.
However, the risk of suffering serious injury as a result of being involved in a riding accident is very real – just take a look at our horse riding accident infographic.
The 5 most serious injuries sustained in horse riding accidents
A research article from 1990 found that the most common location of injuries sustained in horse riding accidents is the upper body. Probably the most feared type of horse- riding accident injury is that where the rider is thrown from the horse. This can lead to the rider suffering serious or even catastrophic injuries.
1. Head Injuries
Sports medicine led studies have shown that 70% of all reported equestrian accidents resulted in some kind of head injury. Of these, 91% were diagnosed as concussions. The studies have also revealed that even when riding helmets are worn, they fail to prevent large proportions of concussion injuries, let alone more serious head injuries. The helmets must fit well and not have a peak at the front (older helmets used to have these).
Serious head injuries resulting from riding accidents include:
- Fractured skulls
- Brain haemorrhage
- Cerebral oedema (swelling)
- Diffuse axonal injury - damage to the brain cells. This is one of the most serious and dangerous forms of brain injury, that can lead to permanent damage or even death.
2. Spinal injuries
There have been a number of riding accidents where high-profile individuals have suffered serious spinal cord injury after being thrown from their horse. Probably the most well-known such case was that of former Superman actor Christopher Reeve who was thrown from the back of his mount in an accident on May 27th 1995.
The catastrophic spinal cord injury left him paralysed from the waist down and destined him to be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Mr Reeve died at the age of 52.
Fortunately, spinal injuries of this severity resulting from horse riding accidents, are fairly rare but the potential is always there. It is said of Christopher Reeve's injuries that had he fallen 1 cm to either side of where he did, he would either have been killed instantly or he would have walked away with no more than a concussion.
3. Fatal accidents
Not something that anyone wants to contemplate, but as the two serious injury types already mentioned indicate, the difference between suffering a serious riding accident injury and suffering a fatal injury, maybe as little as a matter of millimetres.
Accidents statistics collated by the British Horse Society (BHS) in 2019, revealed that since November 2010, 43 people had lost their lives in accidents on UK roads.
4. Broken Bones and Fractures
It may be pushing it a bit to say that broken or fractured bones are 'an occupational hazard' for horse riders. It is through probably fair to say that they are not a wholly unexpected type of injury. They can be the result of either falling from the horse, as a result of being kicked or of being rolled on by the horse.
Not all broken bone injuries sustained in riding accidents are minor fractures of the wrist or a bone in the arm (debilitating as those still are). Falls can cause broken bones in the back or pelvis. If a horse rolls on its rider as a result of an accident, serious multiple fractures are the potential outcome.
Actor Roy Kinnear's family were awarded personal injury compensation and damages for loss of dependency amounting to £650,000 after Mr Kinnear was thrown from the horse he was riding whilst filming the Return of the Musketeers, in 1988. He died after suffering a severely broken pelvis and internal bleeding, as a result of the fall.
5. Facial injuries
The research published in the 1990 sports medicine article cited earlier in this blog, found that the head and face were the sites of 20% of all horse-related injuries after an equine accident.
Facial injuries can be the result of falls from the horse. They can also be the result of being kicked by an agitated horse lashing out and catching a stable hand in the face or even during a riding lesson injuring a pupil.
Here in Derbyshire, in August 2019, a young teenager suffered a serious facial injury after her horse was spooked by a car exhaust backfiring. The horse galloped off, with the young rider onboard and she collided with a wooden post as she fell off her horse.
Her injuries were so severe that facial reconstruction was necessary. Thankfully the operation carried out at Sheffield Children's Hospital was a great success and the young rider was back at school just one month after the accident.
Horse riding is and will remain a highly popular sport. Those involved in and with horse riding take the safety of both horse and rider seriously. Part of the discipline of learning to ride involves training in the safe care in handling and riding horses.
I also believe that other road users should take more care when approaching and passing horses and riders. I remember there were many occasions when drivers would pass far too closely to the horses and sometimes sound their horn.
Anyone who rides a horse would prefer to stay off the road as much as they could but unfortunately this is not always possible. We all must take responsibility either as horse riders or as drivers.
Despite all the hazards involved with horse riding, it is an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding pastime and one I intend to return to in the near future.
If you are unfortunate enough to be injured in a horse-riding accident and want to know whether you can make a personal injury claim, call Spencers Solicitors on 08000 93 00 94, for a confidential chat. We are experts in dealing with horse riding accident compensation claims. Call now on 08000 93 00 94 or contact us online.
About the author
Carol is a Paralegal within our Serious Injury Team.
Carol, who joined the business in December 2000, has worked in various client facing roles during her tenure, all of which have provided Carol with valuable insight and experience for her role within the Serious Injury Team. Carol assists the team on a wide range of integral tasks involving complex injury including cases involving amputations, serious spinal injuries resulting in permanent disability, brain, head injuries and fatal accidents.
Carol can be contacted on 01246 266749.