Horseback Riding Carries Big Risk for Serious Injury: Study

FRIDAY, Oct. 15, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Days in the saddle can be risky, with horseback riding a potentially deadly activity, according to a new study.

“Hospital admission risk from horseback riding is higher than football, auto and motorcycle racing, and skiing,” the study authors noted. Chest injuries are most common among riders, but head and neck injuries are the deadliest.

The findings show that “equestrian-related injuries are a frequently ignored public health issue,” wrote lead author Dr. Jeffrey Skubic and colleagues. Skubic is a trauma surgeon from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

The researchers analyzed data on nearly 25,000 adults, average age 47, treated for horse riding-related injuries at U.S. trauma centers between 2007 and 2016. The proportion of men and women was almost equal.

Chest injuries were the most common (37%), followed by arm and leg injuries (26.5%) and head injuries (23%). Abdominal injuries were the least common (13.5%). Severe neurological damage occurred in about 4% of the patients, mostly due to head and neck injuries.

By age group, more than one-quarter of the patients were ages 50-59, and 22% were 60 and older. Those ages 30-39 accounted for the smallest proportion of patients (13%).

More than half the patients were sent home without requiring additional health care, while 7% were transferred to a rehab or skilled nursing facility, according to the study. The findings appeared Oct. 14 in the online journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

During the study period, 320 of the patients died. Head and neck injuries were the leading cause of death (75%), while only 2% of those with arm or leg injuries died.

Those with head and neck injuries were 44 times more likely to die than those with arm/leg injuries, while those with chest and abdominal injuries were about 6 times more likely to die than those with arm/leg injuries, the researchers determined.

And patients who arrived at the emergency department with a systolic blood pressure of less than 90 mm Hg were 23 times more likely to die than patients with a higher reading.

“When taken together, these data suggest that the dangers of equestrian activities have been severely underappreciated. When controlled for hours of activity, horseback riding resulted in a higher proportion of hospital admission than other higher-risk activities like skiing,” Skubic and colleagues said in a journal news release.

They noted that protective gear can save lives, but isn’t always worn.

“Studies have shown that a large fraction of riders involved in equestrian injuries were not wearing helmets at the time of their accident. It stands to reason that raising awareness of the possible injuries and increasing preventive measures to protect against head injuries would significantly reduce mortality,” the authors added.

More information

Saddle Up Safely offers horseback-riding safety advice.

SOURCE: Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open, news release, Oct. 14, 2021