What is the first thing we are told when we fall off a horse? We're told to get back on.
In a previous era, that may well have been the norm. However, according to a 2014 study by Sports Health, nearly half of all equestrians will experience a concussion during their riding career. And if you receive a concussion, the last thing you should do is get back on without clearance from a medical professional.
"Our equestrian culture is steeped in tradition," says Sonia Dantu, Executive Director for the Alberta Equestrian Federation. "While most traditions are rooted in safety and well-being, some traditions are not. Riding without protective headgear and immediately getting back on after a fall are two traditions that, fortunately, are changing."
Many riders get back on immediately after a fall to avoid looking weak, return to training or competition, or even to communicate with the horse. The risk they are taking is that this culture of "immediate return to play" may subject the rider to further injury.
Sport Health's study found the risk of concussion and fatal injuries in horse riding comparable with high-impact sports such as football, soccer, rugby, and motocross. Considering so many equestrian injuries go unrecorded, this comparison is most likely inaccurate – the risks from equestrian sports realistically rank even higher.
Recognition and proper management of concussions when they first occur is critical and can help prevent further injury or even death. With proper management, those with concussions can expect a full recovery. However, getting a consecutive head injury too soon can lead to a slow recovery, and in some cases, devastating consequences.
Says Dantu, "Riders, parents, and event organizers need to recognize and educate themselves about the seriousness of concussion symptoms in a rider that has fallen. Riders with any of these symptoms need to get checked by a medical professional before getting back on to avoid the risk of consequences from another fall."
To learn more about equestrian health and safety, including the signs and symptoms of a concussion, visit our Concussion Awareness web page on Concussion Awareness.
- Alberta Concussion Awareness
- Free online concussion course offered by the University of Calgary and the University of Laval
- Free National Coaches Certification Program eLearning series called “Making Head Way”