Horseback riding is the most dangerous sport, study warns

EDINBURG, Texas — Horseback riding is more dangerous than other sports including football, motorcycling, and even skiing, a new study warns. Perhaps surprisingly to many, there are more hospital admissions due to horse riding injuries than other challenging sports.

Millions of Americans enjoy horseback riding, but it can be a risky sport, even for experienced riders. The study by researchers at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley reveals that suffering a chest injury is the most common injury for riders. Data shows that injuries to the head and neck are the most lethal.

To understand more about the dangers of the sport, researchers analyzed data on the injuries sustained by over 24,000 adults while horseback riding between 2007 and 2016. The data, supplied by the U.S. National Trauma Data Bank, shows the average age of those injured were men and women aged 47-years-old. The most common type of injury was injuries to the chest. Head injuries, as well as injuries to the arms and legs, were also common. Abdominal injuries were less likely to occur.

Using a clinical scale to measure a patient’s level of consciousness after sustaining a brain injury, the team finds that 888 patients had suffered from severe neurological damage. While injuries were either categorized as mild or moderate in severity, most of the patients were monitored in the hospital while they recovered. More than a quarter were sent to intensive care for an average of four days. About one in ten of these patients required surgery and some even had to spend their stay in hospital strapped to a ventilator.

Older horseback riders between ages 50 and 59 were more likely to be taken into trauma centers, while those between 30 and 39 were the least likely to be injured. Nearly three in five (57%) patients were discharged to recover at home without requiring any more help.

Sadly, 320 people died of their injuries during the study period. Researchers were able to confirm that the injuries to their necks and heads were the leading causes of death. The study concludes that riders with head and neck injuries were 44 times more likely to die than those with arm or leg injuries. Those with chest injuries were 6 times more likely to die.

Blood pressure at the time of hospitalization also played a role. The study finds that patients arriving to the ER with a systolic blood pressure of less than 90 mmHg, they were 23 times more likely to die than were patients with a higher reading.

Although this is an observational study, “equestrian-related injuries are a frequently ignored public health issue,” study authors write. “When taken together, this data suggests that the dangers of equestrian activities have been severely underappreciated. When controlled for hours of activity, horseback riding resulted in a higher proportion of hospital admission than other higher-risk activities like skiing.

Previous studies have shown that a large fraction of horseback riders who were injured when horse riding were not wearing helmets at the time of their accidents. The realization is prompting the researchers to highlight the need to increase preventative measures to protect against lethal head injuries, to avoid death and other serious consequences.

“Interestingly, hospital admission risk from horseback riding is higher than football, auto and motorcycle racing, and skiing. Recently some attention has been paid by equestrian sporting agencies to the use of protective equipment to prevent injuries, especially as it relates to concussion and brain injuries; however, very few public health campaigns have focused on preventing injuries in riders using horses for leisure and work,” the authors write.

The findings are published by the online journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.

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