Ranging from mild concussion to life-threatening traumatic brain injury (TBI), horseback riders are more likely to receive a head injury than athletes who play rugby, football, boxing, soccer, even motorcyclists – high-impact sports in their own rights – each with extremely high concussion rates. As such, recognition and proper management of concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.
All riders, athletes, parents, teachers, coaches, and trainers have a responsibility to educate themselves on concussions. Parachute is Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention and has the best evidence-based solutions to advocate and educate.
According to Parachute, “A concussion is a common form of head and brain injury and can be caused by a direct or indirect hit to the head or body. With a concussion, there is no visible injury to the structure of the brain, meaning that tests like MRIs or CT scans usually appear normal.”
As equestrians, it’s important to understand the inherent risk of getting on an animal weighing over 1000lbs, moving at speed, with a mind of its own – it is becoming increasingly important to minimize the risk.
Even “just walking” while sitting on a horse can subject you to very serious injury in the event of an accident! Wearing protective headgear is the only way to protect your head from serious injury, although wearing a helmet does not eliminate the risk of concussion!
Immediately after a fall, you may feel completely fine, as concussion symptoms may take hours or days to appear. When you get back on to ride or compete with a concussion, you put yourself at unnecessary risk of suffering from another blow that could cause Second Impact Syndrome with devastating, life-changing consequences.
To help limit the risk of re-injury soon after a concussion, Equestrian Canada implemented the Accidents & Return to Play rule. This can be found in the EC Rule book.
Concussion Signs and Symptoms
Below are some common signs and symptoms of concussion. It is important to note that, although symptoms of concussion usually appear immediately after the blow, it may take hours or days before they appear. When a rider has suffered a blow to the head or body in a way that could cause the head and brain to move quickly back and forth, it is important to take immediate action. Do not let the rider get back on their horse, and if they are unconscious – call 911 immediately! Do not move the rider unless you are trained to do so!
- Headache or neck pain
- Poor coordination and/or difficulty balancing
- Blurred or double vision
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Ringing in the ears
- Drowsiness or insomnia
- Loss of consciousness or responsiveness
- Seizure or convulsion
- Feeling mentally foggy or slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering recent information
- Repeats questions
- Forgets instructions
- Does not know the activity/class they were participating in
- Easily distracted
- Behavioural/emotional symptoms
- More emotional than usual
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Sleeping more or less than usual
All riders, coaches, barn owners, and staff need to be able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion to ensure immediate attention, safety, and proper care for boarders, students, and peers.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also developed an app called Heads Up that will help riders learn to spot a possible concussion, and what to do if you think a concussion or brain injury has occurred.
Always remember that helmets are designed to diffuse and absorb energy in the event of a fall or blow to the head. This means that upon impact, although it may show no sign of external damage, the helmet likely sustained internal damage to disperse the energy of the impact, thus protecting your head. You MUST IMMEDIATELY replace your helmet after an impact. Continuing to use a helmet that has sustained damage means that in the event of a subsequent impact, the helmet will not be able to absorb the energy designed to sufficiently protect your head!
Helmets should also be replaced every five years, or as recommended by the manufacturer. Sweat, heat, rain, chemicals, etc. can cause deterioration to the helmet over time, and thus limit the capacity of the helmet to absorb impacts. Replacing your helmet every five years could also mean improvements in technology, safety standards, and fit that will help better protect your brain in the event of a fall/impact.
You cannot replace your brain (yet anyways), so make sure you strap on a properly fitting helmet EVERY time you get on your horse! A little bit of helmet hair is well worth the price of protecting your head!!