Horse Related Injuries in Kentucky: Frequency, Likelihood, Severity, and Precautions

For long-time riders and life-long equestrian enthusiasts, their questions surrounding a potential injury are less “if” and more “when” in most instances. The naturally dangerous aspects that are impossible to remove from horse riding, such as being on top of large and unpredictable animal, make it an activity that comes with inherent risks that are simply unavoidable. This is why Kentucky’s law provides more general protection for the sponsors of farm animal activities than the participants, as the participants should be aware of the potential to be injured. But being involved in an inherently dangerous activity doesn’t mean an injury needs to occur, it means that you need to understand the risks and how to properly mitigate them to remain as safe as possible.

Horse Riding Injuries Occur Frequently

Horses can cause injuries to riders by bucking them, falling, or being too uncontrollable on a ride

How Common Are Horse Activity Injuries?

Once an individual becomes involved in the equine industry, it’s easy to fall in love with the majestic nature of these animals and forget the imposing dangers that are always associated with farm animal activities. Even the most well-trained horses can have accidents that leave riders, spectators, trainers, handlers, or groomers with devastating injuries that last a lifetime. You can never be too careful when you’re around a horse, but being careful and avoiding an equestrian related injury are two different beasts. A lifelong commitment to equine activities is likely to result in at least one incident or another, as one study found that over 80% of the participants who were involved with horse riding activities had a riding injury that required medical care. (Mayberry, Pearson, Wiger, Diggs, and Mullins (2007). And while it may be difficult to fully avoid an injury when spending hundreds of hours riding horses, it is very possible for novice and intermediate riders to be aware of risks before putting themselves in harm’s way.

How Dangerous Is Horseback Riding?

Horseback riding is classified as a farm animal activity, and Kentucky considers such activities as being inherently dangerous with a risk that is to be understood by those participating or spectating such activities. Many studies about the dangers associated with organized sports and recreational activities have come to the same conclusion and deemed horseback riding as a more dangerous activity than car racing, motorcycle racing, football, and skiing. (Buckley, Chalmers, & Langley, 1993; Macnab & Cadman, 1996; Norwood et al., 2000; Sorli, 2005). Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System in 2020 even showed that horseback riding injuries resulted in a rate of hospitalization or death at 20%, or one out of every five injuries, while ATV riding, skiing, snowboarding, bicycling, martial arts, water sports, and boxing all had lower rates of death or hospitalization. Horseback riding actually has the highest likelihood of hospitalization, 16.6% higher than the next closest activity, according to certain reports evaluating 250 recreational activities within the United States. (United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2014).
The high rate of injury associated with horseback riding and other farm animal activities is a commonly misunderstood aspect of these activities many people underestimate. The beauty and majesty of these animals can lure partipants into a false sense of safety and make them blissfully unaware of the dangers. And while the average person may forget to ask pertinent safety questions before horseback riding, an informed participant will know to inquire about different safety aspects, like tack setup and terrain status, before riding.

How Do Horse Related Injuries Happen?

There are many factors that go into how any accident occurs, but there are well-documented trends of how riders, trainers, and others become injured when dealing with horses. No amount of smooth talking can make a horse a rational and agreeable individual; as even domestication cannot stop a horse from being an animal at heart. And domesticated horses are still instinctually prey animals, which means they are more likely to opt for flight, rather than a fight. This makes horses prone to being frightened or “spooked” during an activity, especially when they are uncomfortable or feel threatened. And even the most experienced and well-trained horses can cause injuries to their riders or others when a perceived danger makes them act unpredictably.
Some of the most common reasons for horse related injuries outside of the horse being spooked are the experience level of the horse not being fit for the rider, issues with tack, human error, runaway horses, tripping or falling, and issues with mounting or dismounting. And while you can be injured around a horse in many different ways, there are a few easy things you can do to reduce the chance of being injured in a horse related activity:

  • Be honest about your skill level and know your limits
  • Educate yourself about the tack used for riding horses
  • Do your research on any facility or organization putting on an event
  • Always use an equestrian helmet and other available safety equipment
  • Try your best to always remain calm around your horse
  • Know the weather and avoid storms