Inherent Risks in Equine Sports

We all know that riding is a great way to get exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with our horses. However, we must be always aware of the inherent risks involved and how our actions reduce or increase these risks.

What are inherent risks?

Inherent risks are risks that are an unavoidable part of riding and spending time around horses. These risks can include:

  • Being thrown from a horse
  • Being kicked by a horse
  • Being bitten by a horse
  • Broken toes from being stepped on.
  • Being knocked down from a bolting horse

These are risks that we can never get rid of and that is why we are all required to sign a release form. The Release forms state that the rider understands the inherent risks involved in horse activities and riding and agrees to hold the facility or instructor harmless in the event of an injury.

How can you reduce the risk of injury at the barn?

There are several things you can do to reduce the inherent risk:

  • Always wear a helmet. Helmets are the single most effective way to prevent head injuries from falls. According to the National Safety Council, helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 70% in horseback riding accidents. A study by the University of California, Davis found that helmets prevented 97% of head injuries.  The National Safety Council statistics indicate that only about 50% of equestrians wear helmets. In 2019, there were an estimated 80,000 head injuries in equestrian sports. Helmet use could have prevented up to 60,000 of these injuries and reduced the severity of the others.

Helmets are good for 3 to 5 years and are well-ventilated and comfortable. They are also available at every tack store and on Amazon.  I don’t recommend buying a helmet from Amazon.  At least not the first time.  Your helmet needs to fit properly and must be tried on.  There is no reason not to wear a helmet and if you are riding with an instructor that says it’s ok to do so, you should run away.

Take lessons from a qualified instructor. An experienced instructor can teach you how to safely handle horses and avoid dangerous situations both on the ground and while riding.  An experienced well-educated instructor can teach you the theories of riding and this will help you remain safe when riding by yourself.  Professional Instructors invest years into their education, The years of experience teaching and riding will come through in their ability to keep you safe.

There are many instructors out there and we all do things a little differently, so take the time to find someone who suits you, who understands your goals, who has competed in the discipline that you want to ride.  Find someone who listens to you, and you are comfortable with.  If your instructor pushes, you to do things that you are uncomfortable with find a new one.

Be aware of your surroundings. You should never ride where there are no loose horses. Check your tack regularly. You don’t need to ride at the most expensive barn.  But all barns should be clutter-free, workmen-like, and safe. Is it also important that the arena where lessons that place is well maintained, free of clutter, and safe.

  • Don’t ride a horse that is too big or too powerful for you. If you are riding with a new instructor, be honest with your abilities. When new students come to my facility, I always put them on a beginner lesson horse.  That gives the student and I a chance to get to know each other.  In the second lesson, I may feel that they can ride another horse.  But it is always better to be safe than sorry and there is always something to learn even on a beginner lesson horse.
  • Stop riding if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. At my facility, all students are taught how to ride a one-rein halt, and they may use the one-rein halt anytime they feel they need to.  There is no way to teach someone who is scared.  And I can’t always see what the student is feeling.  So, I would rather them stop so we can talk about what they are feeling.  Once the student feels safe again, we can discuss ways to deal with the situation.  I can give them my thoughts about what I would have done and various ways to deal with what happened.
  • Treat your horse like a horse.  So many people want to treat their horses like dogs.  They let their horses pull them around while they are leading them.  They are afraid of hurting the horse, so they just let the horse do whatever it wants.  And then when they get on they wonder why their horse doesn’t listen to their aids.   Horses are no different than children.  If you let your child do whatever they want, they are going to expect to do so.  And children who have no manners and no consideration for others usually don’t have many friends.  Horses who are allowed to push people around become dangerous and no one wants to deal with them. Unfortunately, this puts the rider and handler in danger. I am not saying you should be mean or abusive, but you must establish boundaries and expectations for your horse.  Once boundaries and expectations are established you will find that you enjoy spending more time around your horse. And then you can develop a partnership. Also, there may be a time in your life when you are unable to care for your horse, and the best way for you to ensure that your horse will find an appropriate home is to teach him good manners and a work ethic.  No one wants to be around a spoiled horse any more than they want to be around a spoiled child.

The inherent risk related to horseback riding is because of the nature of horses.   Horses are prey animals, and they have an instinct to flee from danger. This instinct can sometimes cause them to spook or bolt, even if there is no real danger present. They can be startled by sudden movements or noises, and they may react when we least expect it.  Equine sports can be dangerous for riders who are not properly trained or who do not take the necessary safety precautions.  But the pleasures and benefits of riding far outweigh the risk.

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