Horseback Riding 


Every year, millions of Americans participate in horseback riding activities. Riders are often six feet above the ground on horses weighing more than 1,000 pounds capable of 35 mile per hour speeds. So while horseback riding can be very enjoyable, there are inherent dangers in working with horses. In 2007, 78,000 people were seen in U.S. emergency rooms due to horse-related injuries; 9,600 of those were admitted to the hospital for further treatment [

Accidents and injuries do not discriminate. They can happen to experienced and inexperienced riders alike. Most injuries happen during recreational riding rather than in sporting events and may occur while on horseback or on the ground taking care of your horse.

The most common injuries in horseback riding are fractures, bruises and abrasions, sprains and strains, internal injuries, and concussions. Injuries are most often caused by falls, but people can be kicked, stepped on or fallen on by horses. While any horse can cause

injury, calm older horses belong with novice riders and inexperienced or high-strung horses belong with experienced riders.


Dear Fellow Equine Enthusiasts, As a lifelong horseperson and First Lady of the Commonwealth, I understand how important the horse is to Kentucky. We have long been known as the "Horse Capital of the World" and to ensure we retain this title, we must focus on the health and welfare of horse and rider. This is why I am proud to support Saddle Up SAFELY, a rider safety awareness program sponsored by UK HealthCare.

All too often, riding injuries occur due to lack of education or understanding of equine behavior and proper riding practices. In fact, a current study shows that half of equine-related injury patients believed their injuries were preventable and due to rider error. Through Saddle Up SAFELY, UK HealthCare seeks to educate current and future riders about the hazards of riding and simple steps that can be taken to prevent accidents.

Often, riding injuries are attributed to a lack of experience; however, these accidents are not just incurred by novice riders. People who have riding experience are just as susceptible to injuries. Generally speaking, most of these accidents occur because of overconfidence and a lack of awareness in the rider. By learning proper riding techniques and horsemanship and taking the time to practice the safety measures in this brochure, riders of all ages and levels can improve their ability while limiting dangerous situations.

Horseback riding is an extremely rewarding and thrilling sport, but it should be safe as well. Through Saddle Up SAFELY and UK HealthCare, we hope to make a great sport safer and more enjoyable for all riders and equine enthusiasts.

Jane Beshear

Millions of Americans ride horses

each year, and of those only a

small percentage visit an

emergency department.

However, if a horse-related injury

is treated in an emergency room,

approximately 13 percent of

those patients will require

an overnight hospital stay.

                                   What can you do? 

                 First, if you are just learning to ride, take riding lessons from an experienced, certified instructor. Second, if you are an experienced rider, constantly refresh your knowledge of horseback riding and horse handling safety.

Head, neck and spine injuries

Head, neck and spine injuries are often the most severe and head injuries are the most likely to result in death. The likelihood of death from a head injury is greatly increased if the rider is not wearing a helmet. In one study, riders not wearing a helmet were four times more likely to die when injured than those who wore helmets.

Helmets wochiwhile riding and working around horses should be certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). The helmet should fit snugly on the head, with firmly secured but comfortable chin straps. Any helmet that has undergone an impact should be discarded and replaced. Many helmet manufacturers also recommend that helmets be replaced every three to five years due to wear and tear and possible compacting of cushioning materials.

International studies of equestrian-related injuries emphasize that the use of appropriate helmets significantly reduces the number and severity of head injuries.

Modern helmets are affordable and much more comfortable than older versions thanks to better ventilation, lightweight materials and their availability in multiple sizes. Helmets are even available with a Western hat style.

Protect Your Head 

One out of every nine horseback-related injuries seen in an emergency room is  a head injury.

Cause of horse-related injuries of patients

admitted to UK Chandler Hospital via emergency room 2006-09

Fell from horse



Kicked by horse



Thrown/bucked off



Horse fell on rider



Stepped on



Foot caught in stirrup/dragged



Hit fence



Other (hit by car, saddle broke, horse ran over,
rolled ankle, bitten by horse, dismounting)
                            5         2%




Source: UKTrauma Registry

Chest and abdominal injuries

Body protectors are available to reduce the risk of bruises, abrasions, and some rib and shoulder injuries. However, they are not capable of preventing serious spinal, chest and abdominal injuries that may be received from falls or kicks.      

Body protectors are designed to cover either the chest or the chest and abdomen. Some include protection for the shoulders and collarbones.

Protectors can be worn over clothing or under a jacket. They should be fitted according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Age, storage and temperature ranges can affect the protective material and lessen its effectiveness. Manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning, maintenance and replacement of all safety gear should be followed at all times.

Tetanus Shot

Make sure you have had a

tetanus shot within the past

10 years and always get a

booster if you suffer an

open-skin injury such as a

wound or laceration.

Many rider injuries can be prevented or minimized by common sense activities and preparation

A 2007 American Journal of Surgery article showed:

27 percent of injuries to riders were due to demands the rider was placing on the horse - that is, asking the horse to perform a maneuver outside of its skill set.

Half of the patients in the study believed the injuries were preventable and were the fault of the rider.

Arm and leg injuries

Nearly half of all horse-related injuries occur in the arms, fingers and legs. The following precautions can help prevent these injuries:

Wear proper footwear. Wearing proper riding boots and shoes can help prevent many horse-related injuries. Traditional riding boots are typically made of leather. Shoes or boots should have a 1-inch heel that prevents the foot from slipping through the stirrup. They should cover the ankle.

Use safety stirrups. In the event of a fall, safely stirrups break away or unleash the foot and prevent the rider from being dragged.

Use toe stoppers. Toe stoppers are attached to the stirrups and help riders maintain balance and prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup.

Wear gloves. Gloves help prevent the horse's reins from slipping out of your hands and provide some hand protection. Gloves also provide a sturdier grip, particularly in wet weather.

Practice emergency dismounts. Have an experienced instructor show you how to quickly dismount from a horse, which may be necessary on a runaway horse or in other situations.

Always approach the horse with caution. Learn how to read a horse's behavior in order to anticipate sudden movements. Do not walk directly behind

a horse. For less experienced riders, grooming and feeding should be done under experienced supervision. Learn how to safely lead a horse.

Things that can spook a horse

Sudden noises like alarms, screams, vehicles

Sudden or unexpected movements (by people and animals)

Crowds of people 

Wasps and other insects

Dogs that are not confined or on a leash

Umbrellas opening, camera flashes

Other safety tips

Be aware of the weather forecast before riding.

Have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) weather radio in the barn and heed weather warnings.

At the first sight of lightning or rumble of thunder, get off the horse and head for a barn.

Do not stand under trees or by metal gates or fences when it is lightning.

Wear bright orange when riding in the woods during hunting season.

Injuries in children

Nearly one in five emergency department visits for horse-related injuries involve a child under age 15.

Special precautions should be taken when children are riding. Children should:

The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association can direct you to accredited therapeutic equine programs at

  Possess the balance and coordination to stand, sit and walk independently. Their vision must be to the extent that they can interact with the horses and other riders in a safe and efficient manner. They should possess the social skills and maturity that are age appropriate for the lesson, which will allow them to interact properly with the instructors and other students.

  Receive lessons from an experienced, qualified instructor who has a history of safely teaching children. The American Riding Instructors Association and the Certified Horseman's Association offer a list of certified instructors. See the Resources section.

  Take lessons in riding and handling horses. Lessons should take place in a safe, flat, uncluttered, fenced location away from traffic or external noises.

  Ride with supervision and only on horses properly trained for beginner and novice riders.


Equestrian Medical Safety Association

This association provides education, research and resources to protect riders and improve safety within equestrian sports.

369 Montezuma Avenue, No. 342  Santa Fe NM 87501

1-866-441-2632 (toll-free)

American Riding Instructors Association

The American Riding Instructors Association promotes safe, knowledgeable riding instruction and certifies trainers for teaching.

28801 Trenton Court Bonita Springs FL  34134-3337


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Offers fact sheets, videos and podcasts on adult and child safety for horse riding and handling.

1600  Clifton Road Atlanta  GA  30333

1-800-232-4636 (toll-free) 1-888-232-6348 (toll-free)

American Medical Equestrian Association

A variety of fact sheets and other information are available. RO. Box 130848 Birmingham AL  3213-0848

1-866-441-2632 (toll-free)