Common Injuries Suffered By Horse Riders

Have You Been Injured?

Have You Been Doing an Exercise Program?

Have You Returned to Riding Yet?

bruise by horse websizeAn estimated 30 million Americans ride horses each year. However, more than 2,300 riders under the age of 25 years are hospitalized annually because of horseback-riding injuries. Some riding activities, such as jumping and cross-country, are inherently risky because horses are unpredictable, flighty and can weigh up to 11000kg. When galloping a horse can travel as fast as 30 mph, and stand as tall as 3 meters high. If a horse comes down the impact is enormous. Most injuries result from falling off the horse, which can lead to severe and sometimes fatal injuries. Believe it or not! Horseback riding carries a higher injury rate than motorcycle riding. On average, motorcyclists suffer an injury once every 7000 hours of riding. By contrast, an equestrian (horseback rider) may have a serious accident once every 350 hours.

Locations and types of injury

shoulder injury websizeInjuries commonly occur in the upper extremities,  the wrist, elbow, and shoulder are easy targets for being pinned or caught or flung around causing an injury. The lower extremity injuries, involving the knee, ankle, and foot, are more frequent in rodeos and less common in other equestrian activities. Although most accidents occur while riding a horse, some take place in the stable while handling, grooming, or feeding the horse. The stable is a dangerous area for repetitive type injuries. The lower back is susceptible to strains and trauma from lifting. The horse is in close proximity and always at risk of kicking or biting or fleeing another horse. People can be kicked, crushed, pushed over at any time. Serious injuries, such as an injury to the spinal region, can leave permanent impairment, possibly resulting in paralysis. 

15932304 back acheA herniated disc is the most common injury.Others may cause long-term side effects, such as seizures from a head injury. Even a simple mild injury can result in permanent loss of range and or strength on various body parts. The most frequent types of injuries are bruises, strains, and sprains, which affect the soft tissues (skin, ligaments, tendons, and muscles). Other types of injuries include fractures (broken bones), dislocations, and concussions.The seriousness of the injury will determine the time away from the horse and from work. Many injury's can be healed with rest, however, many require surgery and a lengthy rehab period. Deaths resulting from horseback riding injuries are not very common. Most deaths are a result of a traumatic injury to the head.


Approved safety standard hard shell helmets should be worn at all times when you are mounted on the horse. The helmet must always be securely fastened and should be replaced after any significant impact. Many riding and pony clubs have very strict rules regarding the use of helmets. However, many trail riding and pleasure riding clubs choose the not wear a helmet leaving them vulnerable to severe injury. Numerous injuries are related to being caught in the stirrup and dragged by the horse. A properly matched boot-stirrup combination is very important. The size of the boot must be 2cm smaller than the stirrup width. Release catches are available on some saddles to prevent dragging if your foot is caught in the stirrup.

stock photo 7007831 riding boot Correct positioning of the foot in the stirrup is also important. This is taught at all registered riding and pony clubs. Riders should wear properly fitted boots and nonskid gloves. Do not wear loose-fitting or baggy clothing. All riding equipment should be maintained and inspected thoroughly before venturing out. Body-protecting gear can be used to prevent soft tissue injuries and rib fractures; however, it does not protect the spine from injury and does not protect against a massive crushing blow to the chest. Some horses are safer than others, but no horse is 100% safe. 

For Information on The Applied Posture Riding Program go to the Home Page.

Sports Med. 1990 Jan;9(1):36-47.

Common injuries in horseback riding. A review.


United States Pony Clubs, Inc., American Medical Equestrian Association, Waynesville, NC 28786.


The most common location of horse-related injuries is the upper extremity (24% to 61%) with injuries to the lower extremity second in frequency (36% to 40%). The head and face sustain 20% of horse-related injuries. The most common type of injury is a soft tissue injury (92% to 1%), followed by a fracture (57% to 3%). A concussion is the third most common type of injury (63% to 2%). The most frequent cause of hospitalization is a concussion (38% to 4%) with fracture second. The most common injury which leaves residual impairment is an injury to the central nervous system. The age at which most injuries occurred is less than 21 years. In the latest NEISS report (1987-1988), injuries have decreased in the younger riders but have increased in the older riders (above 24 years). More women are injured than men, but over the age of 44 years, more men are injured than women, with the difference more marked in the 1987-1988 NEISS report. Previous horse-related injuries are reported frequently (37% to 25%). In mortality studies from Australia and the United States, head injuries caused the majority of deaths (78% and 60%), followed by chest injuries (9%). In the Australian study, each sex had 50% of the deaths. In the United States, 60% were male, 40% female. Above the age of 24 years, male deaths increasingly predominate, being 15 male deaths to 1 female above the age of 64. A concussion is divided into 3 divisions of severity which require different medical evaluation and treatment: mild in which rider is stunned or disoriented for a brief period; moderate in which there is a loss of consciousness for less than 5 minutes; and severe in which there is a loss of consciousness for more than 5 minutes. An investigative need is cited in the areas of previous horse-related injury, lessons, experience vs knowledge, epilepsy, drowning, gender, deaths, safety helmets, stirrups, and body protectors. No horse is a safe horse; some are safer than others but the horse is a potentially lethal animal. Prevention of accidents and injuries is dependent upon using knowledge previously obtained from studying horse activities. Much more information is available than in the past through the medical studies that have been done and the recommendations made by these investigators. The medical community has a responsibility to educate the horse riding public and to participate in investigations requested by the horse organizations. If you want to improve your Rider skill, balance confidence and ride better and safer then have a look at my program
The medical community has a responsibility to educate the horse riding public and to participate in investigations requested by the horse organizations. If you want to improve your Rider skill, balance confidence and ride better and safer then have a look at my program
If you want to improve your Rider skill, balance confidence and ride better and safer then have a look at my program Applied Posture Riding.