An estimated 30 million Americans ride horses each year. The risk of injury is highest in competitive sports such as polo and equestrian events or in circumstances where beginners are poorly supervised. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 205,000 people were treated for horseback riding related injuries in 2004. On average, the chances of being injured while horseback riding are 20 times greater than when riding a motorcycle.

The most common injuries are sprains, contusions and fractures of the wrist, elbow, shoulder or collar bone. The primary cause of injury is falling from the horse. Other common causes involve faulty ropes, reins and other equipment or improper use of that equipment. Nearly 20% of all related injuries occur during horse-handling activities.

Treatment and Prevention

Beginners are well advised to seek lessons from a qualified professional. Proper technique and safe horse handling should be emphasized at all levels. A rider’s experience, size and skills should always be evaluated before selecting a horse.

Generally, we treat horseback riding injuries with rest as well as by icing and elevating the affected area. In more serious cases, however, especially of bone injuries, the bones and joints may require surgical repair. Immediate medical assistance should be sought as improper or incomplete treatment may prevent the body from healing correctly. This can leave the affected area vulnerable to debilitating conditions such as diseases of the joint or bone and osteoarthritis.