APRIL 24, 2013
Horseback Riding: Safety Tips "Rein In" Injuries
By Stuart T. Styles, M.D., F.A.A.O.S.
Carmel, NY - An estimated 30 million people ride horses every year in the United States. And according to the U.S. Consumers Product Safety Commission, about 200,000 of them are injured, with as many as 70,000 seen in hospital emergency rooms. The rate of injuries for horseback riding is higher than for motorcycle riding and is highest among riders 5- 24 years old. "A riding horse may weigh up to 1,300 pounds and travel more than 30 miles per hour," says Dr. Stuart Styles of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group. "With the rider sitting six feet above the ground and the momentum generated by the horse's speed, the primary risk of injury is from falls. But people can also be kicked, stepped on or fallen on by a horse."
The most common horseback riding injuries are soft tissue injuries - abrasions, bruises, strains and sprains to the skin, ligaments, tendons and muscles - as well as fractures, dislocations, and concussions. The most serious injuries and the ones with the most potential for long-lasting damage are to the spine, neck and head. "Every precaution must be taken to prevent falls and to protect the rider when they do occur," says Dr. Styles.
Prevention begins with properly matching rider and horse. Riders mounting a horse that is too much for them is one of the most frequent causes of injuries. The rider must be completely honest about his or her riding abilities when choosing a horse. Novices should ride older, calm horses. Only expert riders should ride young, spirited or high-strung animals.
Safety tips cover clothing and equipment as well as riding behavior:
Always wear a horseback riding helmet that meets safety standards. An equestrian helmet is different from those designed for other sports like bicycle or motorcycle riding. It covers more of the head than a bicycle helmet, fits lower on the head and distributes protection more evenly around the head rather than concentrated at the front and top. The helmet has a hard shell on the outside made of an impact-resistant resin or plastic. Beneath the shell are materials designed to absorb the impact of a fall or blow. The helmet must be securely fastened at all times. Replace a helmet that has undergone impact.
Have an instructor or other professional check that your boots are properly matched to your stirrups and that your foot is properly positioned in the stirrup. Young and inexperienced riders should consider using safety stirrups that break away if the rider falls off the horse to prevent the foot getting caught in the stirrup and the rider being dragged by the horse, a frequent cause of injury.
Inspect all equipment - saddle, bridle, etc. - before every ride to ensure that it is in good condition and has no cracks, splits or loose stitching.
Wear clothing that is snug but comfortable. Wear sturdy leather boots that have a one-inch heel that prevents the foot from slipping through the stirrup. Wear non-skid gloves to prevent the reins from slipping out of the hands.
Never ride alone. Young and novice riders should always be supervised by a professional. Attempting any new maneuver, such as jumping, should be done only with appropriate supervision.
Take lessons in riding and handling horses. Learn about horse behavior and especially how to avoid actions and situations that might frighten the horse. Horses can be spooked by sudden, unexpected movements; sudden loud noises, such as alarms, whistles, phones, screaming; large crowds; other animals, such as unleashed dogs; insects; and camera flashes. Learn how to read a horse so you can judge how it is reacting to its environment.
Always approach a horse cautiously and never from the front or the rear. Approaching at the shoulder is less threatening to the horse. Never walk behind a horse.
"Many horseback riding injuries could have been prevented with better education and riding practices," Dr. Styles says. "But it isn't the case that only novice riders suffer falls and injuries. Experienced riders get injured as well, often due to overconfidence or inattention. With appropriate mindfulness of safe practices, riders of all experience levels and all ages can enjoy years of riding with minimal risk to both horse and rider."
Somers Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Group, founded in 1988, is one of the most comprehensive and specialized practices in the region. www.somersortho.com
Stuart T. Styles, M.D., F.A.A.O.S. is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon with Somers Orthpaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and a Clinical Assistant Professor in Orthopaedic surgery at NYU School of Medicine/Hospital for Joint Diseases Orthopaedic Institute.
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