The American Horse Council’s 2005 report “The Economic Impact of the Horse Industry on the United States” documents that more than 2 million horse owners are involved in a variety of activities. Millions more people ride horses every year or handle horses as industry workers, family members of owners, and volunteers.

Horse-related human injuries are a reality of working with powerful animals with an intrinsic fight-or-flight response to perceived danger. Most people immediately think of horseback riding as the primary cause of significant injuries, but experienced horsemen and women have been seriously injured and even killed by horses while working with them on the ground.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, or NEISS, is part of the United States Product Safety Commission’s National Injury Information Clearinghouse. It provides anonymous patient data from a sample of hospital emergency rooms across the United States. From this information, the total number of injuries nationwide can be estimated by the commission.

Doris Bixby-Hammett, MD, of the Equestrian Medical Safety Association analyzed the NEISS data specifically for horse-related injuries. Of the 78,279 injuries in 2007, the most common injuries included fractures (28.5%); contusions/abrasions (28.3%); strain/sprain (14.5%); internal injury (8.1%); lacerations (5.7%); concussions (4.6%); dislocations (1.9%); and hematomas (1.2%).

Most frequent injury sites are the lower trunk (19.6%); head (15.0%); upper trunk (13.4%); shoulder (8.2%); and wrist (6.8%).

Within this study patients were treated and released (86.2%), were hospitalized (8.7%), were transferred (3.6%), left without being treated (0.8%), remained for observation (0.6%), and arrived at the hospital deceased (0.1%). Of the 51,768 injuries in which the location of the incident was known/recorded, 60% occurred at home or on the farm and 29.5% occurred at sports events. These percentages are consistent with horse-related injury data from 2002-2006.

Not all people with horse-related injuries are accounted for in this data. Some are not seen at a hospital and not all those with fatal injuries are transported to emergency rooms.

More data are available at the EMSA Web site on gender, age distribution, and specific types of injuries; data requests may be made at the NEISS Web site. However, the injury rate can’t be assessed, because the number, gender, and age distribution of people riding and working with horses in the United States isn’t known.

Other studies have concluded that the use of approved riding helmets could mitigate riding-related head injuries, and this recommendation is strongly supported by the EMSA. The entire equine community needs to make human safety a number one priority through education, required safety equipment at events, and research.

Contact: Dr. Roberta M. Dwyer, 859/257-4757; Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center; University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
Doris Bixby-Hammett, MD, Equestrian Medical Safety Association, Asheville, North Carolina

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.