While “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person,” horses can be quite hazardous animals.
People only familiar with horses from attending shows or watching them on television view horses as perfect pets.
They can be just that, and frequently are, but many accidents around the world sadly are horse related.
Meredith Chapman, doctoral safety student, emphasized importance of risk management in the horse industry at a recent equitation science conference.
“X days since last accident” is a sign hanging at most high-risk industry sites, except the equestrian industry, Chapman said.
“Working with horses is risky and sometimes dangerous,” Chapman rationalized. “But so is mountain climbing, motorcycle racing, karate, boxing, and non-sport professions like construction, transportation and certain factory employment.
“In contrast to these fields, though, horse-related activities receive less attention to risk management,” Chapman recognized.
People working with horses seem to accept that, traditionally speaking, “equestrianism is high-risk.” which reinforces horses’ high accident rate.
“Horse people often just assume that horses can be dangerous and an inherent part of being around horses. That is in and of itself dangerous,” Chapman said.
“The horse industry should follow risk assessment and management procedures the way other high-risk industries do,” Chapman asserted. “We would likely see a drop in horse accidents and fatality rate.”
Nearly 7 million people ride horses in the United States, statistics indicated.
About 80,000 people are treated for horse related accidents annually in hospital emergency rooms throughout the country, calculations verified.
More than 100 deaths are reported across that nation each year from horse related activities, the statisticians reported.
An average of 20 times as many head injuries occur for each horse related fatality
Concussions account for about 5 percent of emergency room visits, a figure that is more than double that for other major sports.
“Fatality and injury rates are similar in other countries around the globe. There has been no real improvement in the statistics over the years,” Chapman indicated.
“These accidents are having devastating effects on people’s health, emotional state, and financial situations,” Chapman said.
Reputation of the horse industry is being harmed. “It’s a world which is curiously steeped in the tradition that it’s just risky,” Chapman continued. “We see other industries evolve in their accident statistics by addressing risks head-on so to prevent them but not horses.”
To investigate people’s views and traditional beliefs associated with horse-related activities, Chapman analyzed more than 1,700 survey responses.
Her questionnaire addressed safety beliefs, values and interests from horse people, owners, riders, and enthusiasts.
Survey results revealed that 10 percent of respondents felt they could do nothing to mitigate risks around horses.
“However, 12.5 percent felt that it was acceptable to drug a horse to make it safer to ride,” Chapman pointed out.
“Interestingly, more than a quarter of the respondents stated they would place their horse’s safety before their own,” Chapman emphasized.
Professionals such as trainers and grooms had more knowledge and application of safety than amateur and leisure horse enthusiasts.
“Survey respondents listed helmets as their most likely choice to control risks,” Chapman said. “However, oddly enough they considered training to be the least effective option.”
Chapman did admit that “helmets still reign supreme over all other safety controls for humans interacting with horses.”
Still this is rated the lowest and least effective safety control for any other “high-risk” workplaces, Chapman said.
“Helmets help protect riders from injury in all kinds of high-risk situations,” Chapman added. “But they’re not meant to replace more effective options such as proper training, appropriate rider-horse matching, and safe environments.”
To reduce injuries, riders should wear properly fitting heeled boots and gloves. It’s essential to avoid loose-fitting clothing, regularly maintain and inspect equipment, replace worn parts, and use appropriately sized stirrups.
Safety practices of horseback riders may improve when they are trained by experienced instructors, according to Chapman.
Those riding coaches should have successfully completed a horse-safety course from an accredited organization, emphasizing and following safe riding techniques.
“Riding safety should improve for riders who use appropriate techniques to stop, start, turn and dismount a horse,” Chapman said.
In comparison to other high-risk industries and sports, horse people have no uniformity of safety-related standards, training methods, or regulations.
“What we need to see is a ‘landslide’ of equestrian tradition, cultural beliefs, and values to a more risk-aversive platform. That being similar to the mindset of other high-risk sports and industries,” Chapman concluded.