Preventing Riding Injuries
Yes, Riding is Dangerous
Surprisingly, riding a horse is more dangerous than riding a motorcycle. Horses weigh around 1500lbs and when you are riding one, your head is about 9ft in the air. Not to mention that the horse can travel at high speeds, and can have a mind of its own.
Thousands and thousands of people visit a hospital or doctor’s office every year for injuries caused by horses. Most injuries are a result of falling off a horse, but injuries on the ground (i.e. being kicked or stepped on) also happen.
Deaths are actually uncommon, but not unheard of. Most deaths are from serious head injury.
Head injuries can be prevented, or at least minimized by wearing a proper riding helmet every time you get on a horse. Even if you are just going for a walk on the back of a horse, you should wear a helmet. Even the most well trained horse may unexpectedly spook and dump you.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fall into that trap regularly. When my horses are way out on pasture, I have often gone back with just a halter and leadrope, haltered my lead mare, tied the rope into a rein and jumped on her to save myself the walk back to the barn. Really, I should be taking my helmet along with the halter and lead, and truthfully, I have fallen off a few times when a horse I just intended to ride bareback at a walk, spooked on me.
Most riding related injuries are bruises, sprains, strains and fractures to the wrist shoulder and elbow. They often occur because the rider tries to break their fall with their hand or arm. Lower body injuries, such as those that occur to the knees and ankles, are more common in rodeo sports, and uncommon in other riding. Serious injuries are the ones that result to the spine or head.
Check your equipment regularly to ensure it is not damaged, or worn out. You never know when a pesky mouse might get into the tack room and partially chew a latigo or stirrup leather. Don’t use unsafe equipment. You can pretty much guarantee it will break at the moment you least expect and put you and your horse in danger.
Don’t get a ‘RWI’. Riding a horse is a contact sport that requires an alert, cool head. If you have been drinking, or are under the influence of drugs, don’t ride. Same goes for when you’re extremely tired. We’ve all heard the stories of a cowboy who could fall asleep on the back of his horse and trust it to get him home, and that may be true, but it’s probably not a good thing to risk in actual practice.
Develop a good seat, and expect the unexpected. As mentioned already, even the calmest horse may spook without warning. If you are well positioned, and have a strong seat, you have a much better chance of remaining on the horse and getting it back under control.
Get training for yourself and your horse so you can handle unexpected situations. This may mean taking lessons, or arranging for someone more experienced to ride your horse if you are a novice. It’s also important to spend lots of time working with your horse in a controlled environment (i.e. riding ring), before venturing out into open fields.
Stay in Your Comfort Zone
If you’re scared, don’t do it. Just cause everyone else is doing it, don’t feel you have to gallop, jump, or do anything else that makes you feel unsafe. Of course, there are times to push yourself out of your comfort zone, such as if you are a novice and want to improve your skills, but never let other riders pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. If you are a more experienced rider, don’t try to force a novice to do something, even if it’s something you are totally comfortable doing.
A Healthy Horse is a Happy Horse
Keep your horse in good health. If your horse is sore due to poor hoof or teeth care, it may react out of pain and end up hurting you. Ensure your horse gets regular visits from a farrier and vet as these professionals might spot a problem before you do. If you find your horse’s behaviour has suddenly changed, consult a vet, or possibly an equine chiropractor or massage therapist.
Riding a horse is supposed to be fun, challenging, and good exercise, but getting hurt may change everything. Choosing to work around horses for any length of time is risky, but if you do what you can to minimize the risk, you can have fun for years to come.