University of Calgary

Study finds horseback riding more dangerous than motorbikes, skiing, and football

By Karen Thomas
Posted September 25, 2007

In a study published in the American Journal of Surgery, a team of trauma surgeons and an occupational therapist from the University of Calgary/Calgary Health Region recommends that everyone who rides horses should wear helmets and vests to prevent major, life-altering injuries.

The clinical research team reviewed the charts of 7941 trauma patients treated at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary between 1995 2005. Led by Dr. Chad Ball along with Jill Ball, an occupational therapist in the trauma program at Foothills, the team discovered that 151 people were severely injured while horseback riding during that 10 year period, with 45% of them requiring surgery.

"For many of the people we interviewed, their riding accident was a life-changing moment," says Jill Ball. "These are riders with an average of 27 years of experience at the time of their injury, riding horses who were also experienced and well-trained. I love horses, and I grew up on horseback. But I now wear a helmet and vest when I go riding."

The authors cite previous studies which show the "hospital admission rate associated with equestrian activity is .49/1000 hours of riding. The rate when motorcycle riding is merely .14/1000 hours."

The study notes that "chest trauma has previously been underappreciated." It also reports that most accidents occurred in "wide open spaces (45%), and on relatively good footing surfaces (38% dry dirt and 37% uncultivated land) on sunny (87%), summer (55%) afternoons."

"Previous studies assumed that major accidents on horseback were caused by rookie riders on untrained horses or bad weather something we now know is simply not true," says Dr. Rob Mulloy, a clinical assistant professor of surgery in U of C’s Faculty of Medicine, and a Calgary Health Region trauma surgeon. "While 64% of the riders we interviewed believe their accident was preventable, only 9% were wearing helmets.

That tells us we need to focus our efforts on experienced horsemen and women, reminding them to respect their training, and embrace the safety equipment that saves lives."

The trauma department at the Foothills Medical Centre provided funding support for this project.

About the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary

The U of C's Faculty of Medicine is a national leader in health research with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research, education and delivery. Through its educational programs, the Faculty of Medicine trains the physicians and scientists who will lead the next generation of health practitioners. Through its clinical work, continuing medical education programs, and close relationship with the Calgary Health Region, the Faculty of Medicine moves new treatments and diagnostic techniques from the laboratory bench to the hospital bedside efficiently and effectively, improving patient care.

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