The Most Common Horse-Riding Injuries to Avoid

September 08, 2022 4 min read

The Most Common Horse-Riding Injuries to Avoid

Horse riding is one of the most fun things you can ever do, but all experienced horse people will tell you that it comes with a lot of aches and pains. Every ride is an intense workout, and there isn’t a horse trainer alive who doesn’t get off the saddle feeling a little sore.

In some unfortunate cases, a number of those aches and pains come from injuries. Riders can suffer from anything from a few bruises to broken bones, depending on how accidents play out. And since we can’t predict accidents, the best thing horse people can do is prepare for some of the more common injuries you can get while riding. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics on:

By knowing how these injuries happen, what injury recovery might be like, and how to prevent them in the first place, you can make riding as safe as possible for both yourself and your trusty steed.

 

Broken Collarbones

When your horse is spooked or bucks while you’re riding, there’s a good chance that you’re going to fall off. Since they’re falling from a seated position, most people will instinctively try to break their fall with their arms. This causes the shock from the landing to be concentrated on your arms and shoulders, which often leads to damage to one of the most vulnerable bones in this area: the collarbone.

This type of injury happens so often among professional riders that it’s known as a “jockey’s fracture.” Thankfully, injury recovery is usually a simple matter of keeping your arm in a sling for a few weeks to a few months while the bone heals. You’ll need to get an x-ray to determine how bad the break is, and to see if any loose bone fragments need to be removed.
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A badly damaged collarbone caused by a hard fall

 

Wrist Injuries

Many people tend to push their arms straight out in front of them as they fall, landing on their palms as they crash to the ground. When you fall from a horse, however, this happens from a higher position, and at a higher speed. Landing with your palms flat on the ground in this situation could result in serious damage to your wrists.

As with broken collarbones, you’ll need to get an x-ray for this injury. Depending on the severity of the break, surgery might be needed to remove loose objects, repair broken ligaments and tendons, and install internal supports for the bone. The wrist will then have to be kept in a splint or cast until injury recovery is complete.

Riders might also find themselves more prone to wrist sprains and general pain in the area. These typically occur when your grip on the reins is too tight, angled wrong, or if you forget to release it when you fall. Sprains just need to be immobilized anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal, while chronic pain can be managed with physical therapy.

 

Concussions

When riders take a spill, there’s always a chance that they’ll hurt their heads in some way. Head injuries are among the most common injuries people riding horses experience. While all of them should be taken seriously, concussions are the one thing you need to be cautious of with every fall. 

Concussions happen when one’s head is struck or suddenly jolted, causing the brain to crash into the skull or get twisted around. Because the damage is internal, the injury isn’t always obvious, which in turn increases the risk of the concussion being left untreated. If you fall off your horse and hit your head, you need to keep an eye out for these common signs:

  • You can’t remember what happened immediately before or after you hit your head.
  • You feel confused.
  • You’re suddenly clumsy.
  • You’re bothered by lights and sounds.
  • You’re experiencing nausea or are vomiting. 
  • You’re having headaches.
  • You’re seeing double.
  • You just don’t “feel right.”

If you feel any of these symptoms, get yourself checked by a doctor immediately. Acting quickly helps minimize the chances of suffering more serious brain damage in the long run. 

In most cases, concussions don’t require any treatment for injury recovery; just a few weeks of  rest should be enough to clear the symptoms. If, however, your symptoms include slurred speech, convulsions, loss of consciousness (even if just for a few seconds), persistent headaches and/or vomiting, or changes in behavior, this might be a sign of a hematoma or a pooling of blood in the brain. Call 911 immediately after these symptoms are noticed.

 

Lower Back Pain

Riding a horse takes a lot of physical effort–you’re constantly adjusting your balance, pulling on the reins, trying to get a thousand-pound animal to cooperate with you at high speeds. The thing is though, it’s so much fun that some horse people might not realize that their bodies are taking a beating.

A lot of that physical toll just so happens to be on your lower back. It’s one of the closest points of contact you have to your horse’s center of mass, and it supports both your core and your leg movements. Over time, the abuse your lower back receives could result in chronic pain, which is an easily manageable injury albeit an inconvenient one.

You can prevent this from happening by practicing proper riding posture. Good posture helps distribute the force of your and your horse’s movement more evenly across your back. This, in turn, allows your back to use more of its muscles to support you while riding.

At the same time, you can also make your back more resistant to strain with exercise and stretching. You’ll want a combination of muscle strength to support your body, and the flexibility to let those muscles move smoothly. Try incorporating a little bit of yoga into your daily habit for the latter. As a bonus, staying in shape will also help make injury recovery easier, but hopefully you’ll never have to play that card.

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Chronic pain in the lower back is an inconvenience if not treated right away

 

How to Prevent Fall Injuries

Since some of the most serious riding injuries happen during falls, it’s important to know how to avoid getting hurt. No matter how skilled you are as a rider, there’s always a chance you’ll find yourself crashing to the ground while riding.

For people riding horses, minimizing the risk of a fall injury involves three general steps: 1) helping your horse stay calm, 2) learning how to fall more safely, and 3) using proper gear.

Helping your horse stay calm

While it’s almost impossible to prevent spooking entirely, you can learn to pay attention to their cues and train them to communicate if something is making them uneasy. Some trainers, for example, teach their horses to lower their heads if something’s bothering them. By learning your horse’s body English, as well as teaching it a few “words” you can understand, you’ll be able to anticipate spooking and adjust accordingly. Getting the help of a professional horse trainer might be a good investment, in this respect. 

If your horse has a bucking issue, you’ll want to determine whether it’s a physical issue or a behavioral issue. Bucking could simply be a matter of your horse’s tack being uncomfortable on their bodies, and can easily be solved by using gear that prevents horse muscle pain and other issues. A horse can also buck when they feel pain from an injury, so consult with your equine veterinarian if you believe this might be the problem. Finally, most behavioral bucking can be solved with regular training that builds the horse’s trust in you.

Learning how to fall

The way you fall can have a huge effect on your injury risk. Falling–and landing–the right way can leave you with nothing but a bruised ego, which is the best kind of “injury” horse people can have. A good fall is all about timing, direction, position, and follow-through.

In terms of timing, you’ll need to develop an awareness of when to start separating yourself from your horse. Most people will instinctively try to stay on their horses for as long as possible, not realizing that doing so might keep them out of the window for a safe fall. Holding onto the reins for too long, for example, could result in you getting dragged along as your horse takes a tumble.

Once you’ve decided that your best course of action is to let go of your horse and fall, you’ll want to slip your feet out of the stirrups, release the reins, and plan your next move.

The next thing to consider is the direction of your fall. Generally, you’ll want to push off from the direction your horse is going. Some of the most severe injuries happen when people riding horses collide with their steeds, as well as the worst-case scenario of horses falling on their riders. Going your separate ways in a fall keeps both horses and horse people safer.

Now that you know where you’re going to land, you need to make sure that the position you’re landing in minimizes injuries. As much as possible, you’ll want to try to land on your feet, as they’re the body parts that are closest to the ground. The lower the body part, the lower the fall–and the lower the force with which you land.  

Finally, you’ll want to follow through on the fall with a relaxed roll. The more tense your muscles are when you land, the greater the resistance your body has pushing against the shock of your fall. Since your body doesn’t have the benefit of powerful horse muscle to brace for all that impact, it’s more likely that resisting the fall will lead to breaks and fractures.

Rather than resisting the shock, you’ll want your body to absorb it as evenly as possible. By tucking your knees in as you land and rolling with the impact, you’re distributing the shock to as many parts of your body as possible. Instead of having all that force concentrated on one part, you’ll have smaller pockets of force hitting different areas, greatly reducing injury risk.

After the roll, you’ll want to assess both your condition and your horse’s. If either of you shows any sign of injury, get yourselves checked by your respective healthcare professionals. Many small injuries get much worse over time if left untreated, drastically reducing your or your horse’s mobility and quality of life.

Using proper gear

Finally, you should make sure you’re wearing protective gear whenever you go for a ride. Accidents happen, and you want to be prepared for them as much as possible. Always ride with at least a helmet, horseback riding boots, and safety stirrups on. If you’re comfortable wearing a crash vest, it can be very helpful in preventing chest and back injuries. Make sure you have an ID or any card with useful medical information like blood type and allergies in case an accident causes you to lose consciousness.

Equally important, however, is the gear on your horse. High-quality tack keeps your horse comfortable, which helps prevent any erratic movements like bucking. Falls can also be caused by reins or saddles breaking, so you want to make sure that the gear you use is durable. Loose tack can also lead to falls; every piece must be properly fitted onto your horse. You can check out our collection of gel pads, horse boots, and bit accessories for some great options.

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Horse riding can result in a few bruises to broken bones

As long as you know what to expect when it comes to riding injuries, you’ll know how to make sure they don’t get much worse after any accidents. Preparation and prevention are the best ways you can keep yourself and your horse as injury-free as possible.

Click here for our selection of quality horse tack!