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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The following statistics show a lot of variation. I'm not trying to push any particular view. Just want to present a variety of accident statistics for folks to wade through, if so inclined:
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Researchers report conflicting evidence as to whether experience or number of years riding reduces injury rates. A study conducted in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho found that novice riders are the most likely to be injured (Mayberry et al., 2007). The same was true of a study completed in Hong Kong (Yim et al., 2007). Additionally, recreational riders had higher rates of injury than professional equestrians in Australia (Lim et al., 2003). These findings suggest that inexperienced riders are more at risk.

However, more experienced riders may take on more challenging mounts and activities which increases injury risk. The average years of riding experience for Canadian adults admitted to a trauma center for severe horse-related injuries was 27 yrs as determined from a 10 year study (Ball, Ball, Kirkpatrick, & Mulloy, 2007). Also, data collected in Austin, Texas, found that inexperienced dudes accounted for 38% of the livestock-injured patients, while ranchers and cowboys accounted for 43% of livestock-injured patients (Criddle, 2001). It is important to remember that accidents can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of experience.

Equestrian Injury Statistics

It has been reported that horseback riding has the highest mortality rate of all sports, with death rate as approximately 1 per million populations per annum in South Africa (Pounder, 1984 Pounder, D. J. (1984) and 0.5 per million populations per annum in Sweden (Ingemarson, Grevsten, & Thorean, 1989 Ingemarson, H., Grevsten, S., & Thorean, L. (1989). Horse-related injuries are reported to occur at a rate less than 1 per 1,000 riding hours (Paix, 1999 Paix, B. (1999) and younger females are at a higher risk (Abu-Zidan & Rao, 2003 Abu-Zidan, F. M., & Rao, S. (2003). Several studies have also shown that anywhere from 38–64% of injured riders said they could have prevented the injury and that the injuries were due to horse rider/handler error (Ball, Ball, Mulloy, Datta, & Kirkpatrick, 2009 Ball, J. E., Ball, C. G., Mulloy, R. H., Datta, I., & Kirkpatrick, A. W. (2009). Many respondents also believed that with education and good knowledge of horse behavior, several of these injuries could be prevented (Chitnavis, Gibbons, Hirigoyen, Parry, & Simpson, 1996 Chitnavis, J. P., Gibbons, C., Hirigoyen, M., Parry, J., & Simpson, A. H. (1996).

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311932.2018.1432168

A significant number of injuries (30%–40%) occur to persons on the ground near the horse.1–3

Few statistics are available on the number of equestrian injuries. British Columbia (BC), with 75 000 horses, ranks fifth among Canadian provinces for horse population and there are an estimated 33 000 riders in BC (DVM Olson, Agriculture Canada; personal communication, October 1997). The rate of serious injuries in horseback riding has been reported to be one per 350 to one per 1000 hours of riding2 in the USA. This research was undertaken to gain some knowledge of Canadian statistics...

...Results

There were 1950 admissions from 1991–96, a mean of 390 per year. During these five years 15 people died, nine of head injuries (60%). Sixty per cent of the deceased were female. They varied in age from 4–71 years old. None of those dying of head injury wore a helmet. The 40% of fatalities who did not die of head trauma were either crushed by the horse, drowned when they fell into rivers, or suffered from multiple trauma, including one cougar and one bear attack on the mounted rider.

The ages of patients admitted ranged from 1–83 years old. Patients under the age of 16 accounted for 25% of the admissions. Thirty six per cent were 16–34 years old, with the remaining 37% being 35–83 years old. Forty two (2%) were 5 years old or younger. Forty seven per cent per year stayed only 1 day. Thirty nine per cent stayed 2–6 days, and 14% stayed between 7 and 289 days. Females accounted for 62% of the admissions to hospital...

...The most common type of injury was a fracture (54.2%). Concussions made up 9% of the total. The rest were crush injuries, contusions, and unspecified injuries. Many patients had multiple injuries.

The 42 riders less than 5 years of age suffered from a different pattern of injury than their older counterparts. These children had upper limb fractures 48% of the time, head injury 29% of the time, and 22% were lower limb or other injuries. One 4 year old died from a head injury while riding double with her father.

The rate of hospital admissions for equestrians was 11.8/1000 riders or, assuming one hour per day riding on average, 0.49/1000 hours of riding....

...The rate of serious injuries in horseback riding has been reported to be one per 350 to one per 1000 hours of riding.2 The BC study revealed the admission rate to be 0.49/1000 hours riding. Compare this with the injury rate for motorcycle riding, 0.14/1000 hours of riding.2

https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/6/1/59
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
During 1987 and 1988, an estimated 92,763 emergency room visits were made in the United States for injuries related to horseback riding. Although the greatest number of injuries occurred in the 25-44-year age group, injury rates were highest for 5-24-year-olds, especially for females (Table 1).

Nearly half the injuries occurred at home or on a farm (Table 2). Soft tissue injury (e.g., laceration, contusion, or abrasion) was the most common diagnosis, followed by fracture or dislocation, strain or sprain, and concussion (Table 2). Most injuries to the extremities and trunk involved soft tissue, fractures and dislocations, and strains and sprains. Head and neck injuries were mainly soft tissue (56.9%), concussions (18.5%), and fractures or dislocations (11.0%). The 14,120 fractures to upper extremities represented the single most common site and type of injury.

Of the injured persons, 9.9% required hospitalization. More than two thirds of hospitalized persons had head and neck (42.2%) or trunk injuries (25.2%). The most common diagnoses for these patients were fractures or dislocations (55.1%) and concussions (17.2%)...

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001626.htm

A profile of horse riding injuries in adult horse riders Kwa Zulu Natal Horse Society

Paix (1999) and Abu-Zidan and Rao (2003) results also showed that the highest injury rates were amongst those competing at the highest levels and doing more advanced exercises and tasks.

The conclusion to Sorli’s (2000) five-year study was that head injuries and other serious traumatic injuries occur with equestrian activities and the use of appropriate safety equipment, including helmets should be promoted. Abu Zidan and Rao (2003) found that those with a helmet had significantly less incidence of intracranial injuries than those not wearing one and Fantus and Fildes (2007) found a fourfold greater mortality for the non-helmeted rider compared to those wearing a helmet.

Of all the horse riding activities, according to Silver (2002) and Paix (1999) jumping is most likely to produce an injury, and according to Paix (1999), the cross country phase of eventing is more than 70 times as dangerous as horse riding in general, with an overall injury rate of one per 14 hours of cross country riding....

...Table 4.9 shows that most injuries occurred whilst jumping (63.8%) and the least occurred during flatwork (10.3%). [Note: Table 4.9 has 63.8% jumping, 25.9% hacking, and 10.3% flatwork. What we don't have in the study is a comparison of time spent jumping versus hacking versus flatwork, so hourly rates are not available. I strongly suspect the amount of time spent hacking is greater than the amount of time spent jumping.]

--- A profile of horse riding injuries in adult horse riders Kwa Zulu Natal Horse Society (PDF file on my laptop, don't have a working link any more)

Horseback Riding

While head injuries comprise about 18 percent of all horseback riding injuries, they are the number one reason for hospital admission. A 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that horseback riding resulted in 11.7 percent of all traumatic brain injuries in recreational sports from 2001 to 2005, the highest of any athletic activity. Of the estimated 14,446 horseback-related head injuries treated in 2009, 3,798 were serious enough to require hospitalization. There were an estimated 4,958 concussions and 97 skull fractures. Subdural hematomas and brain hemorrhages comprised many of the serious injuries. According to the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, head injuries account for an estimated 60 percent of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents.

There are factors that may increase the risk of falling, such as a green horse, slippery footing, or bareback riding, but it is the height from which the rider falls that most significantly impacts the severity of the injury. According to the Ontario Equestrian Federation, a rider sitting on a horse is elevated eight feet or more above the ground, and a fall from just two feet can cause permanent brain damage. Riders ages 10-14 are most likely to be involved in an accident with a horse.

While serious head injury can occur while wearing a helmet, the data very clearly shows that the severity of the head injury can be decreased through helmet wear. While helmets are required in equestrian sports that involve jumping, including eventing and show jumping, in high level dressage competitions, the riders generally wear top hats, which provide no protection. Accidents are less common in competitive dressage, but accidents can occur. While most dressage riders do not wear helmets even when practicing, they are allowed both during practice and competition.

https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Sports-related-Head-Injury
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Horse riding carries a high participant morbidity and mortality. Whereas a motor-cyclist can expect a serious incident at the rate of 1 per 7000 h, the horse-rider can expect a serious accident once in every 350 h, ie 20 times as dangerous as motor cycling.4 This depends on the type of riding. A Cambridge University study of 1000 riding accident hospital admissions has shown:5

* One injury for 100 h of leisure riding
* One injury for 5 h for amateur racing over jumps
* One injury for 1 h of cross-country eventing

Recent surveys have shown that 20% of injured riders attending hospital are admitted and approximately 60% of these have head injuries...

...The first paper from the Radcliffe Infirmary Accident Department, Oxford8 was a retrospective study of people who sustained injuries as a result of horse riding related accidents, who attended the Accident Department and were admitted to hospital. This was followed up by a comparison 20 years later by Chitnavis et al 9 who undertook a prospective study of attendance at the Accident Department in 1991. They found a reduction in total admissions of 46% because of a fall in head injuries most likely due to the use of riding helmets. Of 177 patients seen with 236 injuries, 42 (24%) were admitted to hospital. There were four spinal fractures....

...In an overall review of horse riding injuries,10 head injuries outnumbered spinal injuries at about 5 : 1 which would indicate that the force required to cause a head injury is rather less than that required to fracture the spine (Figure 1).

With regard to admission to spinal units for horse riding accidents, there are far more lumbar and thoracic injuries than cervical in contrast to all other sporting injuries (Table 12) which are almost entirely cervical injuries, indicating that there are different mechanisms involved.17 In all other sporting injuries where the head leads it is almost inevitable that the cervical spine, which is more vulnerable, will be fractured rather than the lumbar or thoracic spine. The only rugby injury in which the thoracic spine was involved was when a drunken rugby player fell downstairs after a game. This would be in keeping with the speculation that in horse riding accidents there are two methods of riding: either jockey style (cross country position) with the head forward, where the rider would be more likely to sustain a cervical injury accompanied inevitably by a head injury, and classical style where the head is held high and the rider would be likely to fall on to the buttocks.8

Jumping is the most dangerous horse riding activity.13,14,15,16,18 In Australia, injury rates were found to be especially high among event riders14 (Figure 2) and in the USA cross country schooling accounted for 22.5% of accidents at pony clubs.15 USCTA statistics16 show that most serious injuries occurred in a jumping phase (Figure 3). There were 12 back injuries in 1993 and seven in 1995, all occurring in cross country....

...The speed of falling is thought by many to be relevant to the likelihood of serious injury as slow falls are sometimes the worst in this respect. The proximity of other horses seems to be the major problem for jockeys as their tuck and roll technique seems to ameliorate quite a lot of injuries. Recent fatalities in eventing have nearly always been when the horse has fallen on the prone rider....

...Conclusion

Horse riding is a dangerous sport. There has been an increase in spinal cord injury admissions due to horse riding. Women riders are more likely to be admitted with serious injury but there are more women riding and the number of accidents to female riders is probably in proportion to the total number of women riders. Lumbar and thoracic fractures are much more common than cervical fractures, the likelihood being that this is due to fall on the buttocks or being thrown against obstructions. The injuries are more likely to occur in point to point and jumping than in flat racing or in social riding. Figures about hunting are not available and are pure speculation.

Spinal injuries resulting from horse riding accidents (https://www.nature.com/articles/3101280)

The place where most accidents occurred was on cross country. Cross country involves jumping fixed obstacles at speed. If a hors hits one of these obstacles, either the rider or horse and rider will fall. The second most common area was either stadium or other unspecified. Warmup areas for the jumping phases were the next most likely place for an injury. It comes as no surprise the jumping phases accounted for 86% of the injuries. Dressage accounted for only 1% and the stable area and other accounted for 12%, again indicating the surprisingly large number of unmounted injuries.

American Medical Equestrian Association (Link inop now)
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JAMA, April 10, 1996, vol 275, no 14, p. 1072

Synopsis: During 1992-93 in Oklahoma, horseback riding was the leading cause of sports-related head injury, (109 of 9409 injuries or 1.2% associated with riding and 23 additional injuries attributable to horses) Of the 109, there were 3 deaths (3%). The injury statistics were:

Males 55, female 54
Age range 3 yr to 71 yrs, median 30 yrs
Most commonly seen in spring and summer
48% occurred on Saturday or Sunday
95% involved riders who struck their heads on the ground or a nearby object after falling from the horse
4% were kicked or rolled on after falling from the horse
1% hit head on a pole while riding and fell to the ground
90% were associated with recreational activities
10% were work-related
107 were hospitalized with a median LOS of 2 days
79% had one or more indicators of a severe brain injury, including:
Loss of consciousness 63%
Posttraumatic amnesia 46%
Persistent neurologic sequelae 13% (seizures, cognitive/vision/speech deficits, motor impairment)

Among the 23 injuries not riding related, 21 (91%) resulted from a direct kick to the head by the horse, where 1 died immediately and 2 required CPR. 13 of these injuries occurred in children less that 13 yrs old. - Cited here: https://equimed.com/health-centers/...statistics-about-equine-related-head-injuries
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
An estimated 102 904 persons with non-fatal horse related injuries (35.7 per 100 000 population) were treated in American emergency departments each year from 2001 to 2003 inclusive. Non-fatal injury rates were higher for females (41.5 per 100 000) than for males (29.8 per 100 000). Most patients were injured while mounted on a horse (66.1%), commonly from falling or being thrown by the horse; while not mounted, injuries most often resulted from being kicked by the horse. The body parts most often injured were the head/neck region (23.2%), lower extremity (22.2%), and upper extremity (21.5%). The most common principal diagnoses were contusions/abrasions (31.4%) and fractures (25.2%). For each year that was studied, an estimated 11 502 people sustained traumatic brain injuries from horse related incidents. Overall, more than 11% of those injured were admitted to hospital.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564310/

A prospective survey of patients with horse-related injuries attending the accident and emergency department of a public district hospital in Hong Kong within the year 2002. The data were analysed and compared with previous studies.

Results: Fifty-five patients were collected in the study. The mean age was 32.7 years. Forty-four (80.0%) of them were riders and 11 (20.0%) were non-riders. Thirteen (23.6%) were grooms. Fifteen patients (27.3%) were admitted and seven (46.7%) of those admitted required operations. There was no fatality. Thirtynine patients (70.9%) suffered from single injury while the rest (29.1%) had multiple injuries. Most injuries (60.0%) were minor but fractures or dislocations occurred in 16 patients (29.1%). Isolated head and facial injuries occurred in 14.5% of patients. Most were simple concussion. Thirteen patients (23.6%) suffered from isolated upper limb injuries, with more than half sustaining fractures or dislocations. Falling from horse (60.0%) was the most frequent mechanism of injury. Among the non-riding patients, 72.7% were kicked or trodden by horse. There was no association between rider's status, previous riding or injury experiences, or the presence of supervision at the time of riding with the rate of admission.

SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research
 

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I only know of one person around here that has died as a result of a horse riding injury. Young, YOUNG barrel racer, a good friend of my own friend, Brooke. She wanted a fire-breathing barrel horse and got one. Snugged him down with a tie-down. They can't rear if they have a tie down, right? Wrong. She got in the alley to run, and he took her over backwards and put the saddle horn through her chest.


(THIS is why I told my daughter early on to not believe a tie down will stop rearing. It won't. You can't slap it on a horse as a 'cure for a symptom. They'll still rear, they'll still flip backwards, even with a tie down on)


As I was discussing with a friend yesterday - He's a guy I went to high school with, used to be serious weekend roper and horseman until a back injury (Unrelated to riding and horses) hobbled him up - These injuries while on the ground, such as injured hands, kicks, bruises, broken feet from being stepped on, bites, etc... are often a result of complacency. We all do it. We all get used to being around our horses and it just takes that one moment where a series of unfortunate events and lack of situational awareness to collide and someone gets hurt or killed in a split second.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I once looked at accident statistics in rodeo. I thought stuff like steer wrestling would have huge injury problems...but they don't. Bull riding is obviously very dangerous. IIRC, barrel racing is one of the more dangerous rodeo sports, although nothing close to bull riding.

I find the statistics to be all over the board. Maybe because the riding world is very diverse and risk with horses is not evenly distributed. Here is another one on high risk: Riding Under the Influence!
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This report summarizes a study by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) to characterize all horseback-riding-associated deaths during 1979-1989 and to determine what proportion of riders had used alcohol before death.

Thirty horseback-riding (including mule-riding) -associated deaths were identified; on average, one to three occurred each year. Sixteen (53%) decedents were male. Decedents' ages ranged from 7 to 68 years (median: 33.5 years).

Twenty-five persons were mounted on a horse at the time of the fatal event; four persons were trampled or kicked; and for one person, rider status was unknown. Twenty-one (70%) riders died when they fell or were thrown from the horse. Twenty (67%) riders died following head injuries (including one rider who drowned after striking his head, losing consciousness, and rolling into water); nine (30%) riders died from internal chest or abdominal injuries; and one rider drowned when he rode his horse into a lake.

Of 18 decedents tested for blood alcohol, six (33%) had detectable blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.6-3.6 g/dL (Table 1, page 341). Of 13 decedents who fell or were thrown from their horses, five (39%) had detectable BACs; none of the four decedents who were kicked or trampled had detectable BACs; and the rider who drowned had a BAC of 0.9 g/dL.

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00016699.htm
 

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I found that height played a large part on serious head injuries. Something I find hard to accept is small children riding horses. I guess a lot of this is because it is something rarely seen in the UK.

Statistics are great to look at but generally with something like this can be way out as many do not even report injuries!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I find the statistics show...what the folks collecting them want? Maybe that is harsh. The diversity might reflect the diversity of riding. And riders.

On another thread, I mentioned my DIL being "cargo". She's reasonably stable on a horse. A horse who feels the need to suddenly sprint forward or who stops suddenly won't dislodge her. As long as she rides the right horses, she can ride pretty safely for the rest of her life. She has no desire to improve her riding, but she also has no desire to ride any sort of challenging horse. She likes being around horses. Likes being on a horse while out on a trail with someone else. Is as happy at a walk or jog as going fast. Maybe happier.

She's a good riding companion. She's light. She doesn't haul on the reins. She gives the horse a lot of freedom, and our two 20-year old horses don't take advantage of it. If anything, they actually try to take care of a rider who trusts them. She's ridden Bandit in the arena. Bounces a bit, but she's light enough that Bandit doesn't care.

She knows her limitations. She has no desire to mount up on a fire-breathing dragon. She has no desire to ride a spooky horse, or jump things or race across rough terrain. The horses she rides feel the same way.

While she has to accept some risk in riding, her overall risk is pretty low. Her risk, like her desire, is very different from a barrel racer, jumper, trainer, etc. After 10 years of riding, I'm finally riding a horse who rarely spooks, who keeps his mind when he spooks...and I'm starting to enjoy how relaxing it can be to ride a horse who keeps his head and his footing! My risk isn't zero, but it is way lower than it used to be! And of course, I don't jump or race or leap off my horse onto steers or ride in parades or anything else too far out of my horse's comfort zone. Or mine.

I guess a lot of riders would be bored to tears riding like I do. I guess I like "horse hiking" - going for a hike with my horse. That is pretty low risk, provided I don't ask my horse to hike through a human neighborhood. One of my neighbor's Halloween decorations included a giant, animated spider. A giant, moving spider! It is hard to blame a horse for feeling tense riding past neighbors like that. I realized 80-90% of his spooks took place during the first 1/4 mile ride through the neighborhood. So I've taken to leading him on that 5 minute walk on pavement. I mount up when we get to dirt. He's happier and I'm safer, but there is no way to quantify things statistically because what I do is so different from what so many other people do.

Bandit's idea of a high threat environment:



Bandit where he feels safe. Or if not "safe", at least where he finds the threats understandable:

 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Actually...define dangerous. I would argue the risk for SOME sort of injury is quite high. Bad bruises, a broken bone, being sore for days after a tumble, getting knocked flat trying to doctor a horse - I think these are very common. Don't know how anyone can ride and never get hurt at all.

OTOH, the risk of death isn't all that high. For example, British Columbia has 33,000 riders and 75,000 horses and averaged 3 deaths a year. If half of those were either alcohol-related or in the category of easily prevented (helmet, better tack, better matching of horse and rider), then you would have 1.5 deaths a year distributed among 33,000 riders. So a genuine risk, but not a suicidal one! "The BC study revealed the admission rate to be 0.49/1000 hours riding. Compare this with the injury rate for motorcycle riding, 0.14/1000 hours of riding."

I'm disturbed by how often I see "It takes XX falls to become a real rider!" One cannot ride without any risk of a fall, but there is a LOT one can do to reduce the number, severity and damage of a fall. I'm using an Abetta saddle now instead of my slick seat leather saddle (that I paid 5 times as much for) simply because I won't slide as much - and thus get as far off balance - in a grippy saddle instead of an ice-smooth saddle. Bandit has taught me how much safer a person can be just by riding a horse more suited to one's abilities. A little humility can go a long way toward a longer life! I often wear a helmet, use cowboy boots 100% of the time, and have adjusted my riding style based on how my horse responds when startled. And this Baptist boy doesn't ride while drunk, although someone watching might not believe me!

How much risk one takes is personal. I'm certainly at higher risk hiking somewhere far off the roads (or paths) than if I stayed at home, but it is SOOOO worth it to me! I think the horse riding world has a tendency to say that since SOME risk is unavoidable, therefor one should just ride and hope. I'd like to see more emphasis on safety by looking at the totality of risk instead of saying "XX falls will make you a real rider"!

Not as safe as staying home, but it would be agony to have to stop going out. I'm not as gung-ho a rider as many are, but I'd hate to live confined to human neighborhoods:

 

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As a therapist I will suggest that "staying at home" is more dangerous than riding horses.

Inactivity is the major reason I end up seeing clients. A sedentary lifestyle increases risk of falls that result in major injury. And contributes to many chronic illnesses and conditions.

I'll keep riding and doing chores.
 

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Interesting what you say about saddles.

A few years back there were several deaths eventing in the UK, these were all rotational falls with the horse landing on the rider. Most of these falls were because the rider was 'glued' to the saddle with deep seats, knee and thigh rolls and virtually unable to fall clear.

I actually won the Horse and Hound letter of the week and a bottle of champagne, pointing this out. Others must have thought the same thing because now cross country saddles have minimum knee rolls, no thigh rolls and are quite flat in the seat.

I could never call myself an athlete! I was quite supple though. I did fall off way more than most because I would try and ride the worse ponies. I also played a lot of gymkhana games, all this taught me how to get my feet under me it I were to hit the ground or, to roll rather than slam down. As with anything practise makes perfect!

Out walking the dogs a while back my toe caught on a flint stone and I went down flat. The friends I was walking with and another couple walking towards us were worried I had hurt myself but, training to the point of it being instinctive, had me get my hands down first so I was in a press up position.

I have had many horses fall on landing from a jump, these falls are not so bad as you are lowered with the horse but it is important to get clear before the horse rolls to its side. I know the last time this happened the horse had my muddy footprint on its shoulder because I kicked myself clear.

i tell you I feel safer on a horse than driving on the roads with some of the Island drivers!
 

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I must say, I feel safer on a horse than driving the Fraser Canyon, but the canyon is gorgeous. I don't have that need to feel safe all the time, but I do have a need to go places and do things and ride my horse. I will not throw caution to the wind but I certainly won't sit at home and be safe.
Road Mountainous landforms Highway Asphalt Road trip

Road Road trip Highway Mode of transport Asphalt

Avalanche control barrier
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If someone is told x number of rides is what it takes to make a real rider, I’ve always thought that was said to make the person who fell off feel better.

But if it is true, I must be the absolute most real rider in the universe. When I was learning to vault and do tricks while standing, I’d sometimes hit the dirt 10-15x a day.
 

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I learned gymnastics and tumbling as a kid. I've been thrown a fair amount- probably what is average for a rider who likes green beans and the buckers, and bareback, and going fast. At present I don't wear a helmet often, I do for jumping, and it would probably behoove me to wear one more. I have had 3 falls without a helmet, all of which suffered no head injuries, though they all had a textbook Indiana Jones shoulder roll (audience confirmed) I also "bailed" instead of riding out for as long as I could- so I got to choose my trajectory.

My good friend growing up has ridden less crazy things, fallen less and went to the ER more. From watching her ride- a lot of it has to do with how you hit the dirt, if you take it on your arms you break them, if you compact your body you do better. Also hanging on for dear life isn't conducive to a clean fall. If you've got a relatively open space to chuck your body preferably over a shoulder to the inside of the ring or anywhere beyond hard upright debris are located.

I always fell and covered my head or neck. Wouldn't do much but it might be the difference between a busted arm and being paralyzed if I took a hoof.

That's my personal experience with it... I have had horse injuries, a busted nose and a concussion as a small child the one time I fell flat on my back (while wearing a helmet) off a 10hh pony bareback (chroic naughty bucket). Other than that *knock on wood* I've gotten out okay.

I'd love to see statistics about injuries riding familiar vs. unfamiliar horses. You'd have to take into account that people who ride familiar horses (presumay their own) often are riding more hours.
 

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I'm disturbed by how often I see "It takes XX falls to become a real rider!" One cannot ride without any risk of a fall, but there is a LOT one can do to reduce the number, severity and damage of a fall.
I agree. Falling off does not improve your riding skills, although there is some protective association that happens in the brain, where it can recognize something that happened just prior to a previous fall and put your body into high alert.

An example is that after having been bucked off, when a horse dropped her head and stiffened, my reflexes reacted very quickly, because my body gave a warning that these things had happened in the past prior to hitting the ground.

Some things I've learned can help reduce falls:

-Don't make your riding surface slick. This can mean avoiding slick pants, a slick saddle seat, spraying a horse with show sheen prior to riding bareback, etc. I've seen a number of falls happen because someone went shooting off a slick surface.

-Make sure the saddle fits the horse, and the saddle fits and/or is adjusted for the rider. People get catapulted off because the stirrups are too short, or too long, they can't get their feet into the stirrups because they're too small, or the horse objects to the tack. Trying to squish into a too small saddle is also not a stable way to ride.

-Follow basic safety measures. Make sure if something happens when mounting that you can get some sort of control of the horse. Many people don't even hold onto the reins, and have them out of reach as well. Have the saddle cinched tight enough that it doesn't slide over to your belly button when you put a foot in the stirrup. Make sure you have the ability to mount and dismount.

-Work on having enough basic balance and skill to ride a sharp corner or small spook. I understand that not everyone can stay on if a horse shoots six feet sideways, but everyone who gets on a horse should be able to stay on if a horse turns suddenly to the left. I've seen many people fall off just because a horse stopped suddenly or turned sharply.

Here's a picture of your basic unsafe rider, ready for the first fall. It would be much better if someone were giving some real instruction before letting her take off on her own horse.
Slippery shorts, knees up, toes down, tennis shoes, no idea of how to hold reins, shorten or lengthen them, or communicate with the horse. Although she has a helmet on, she's ready to fall off and break her arm when the front horse kicks out suddenly.
 
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