Concussion Awareness for Equestrians

Would you know if someone was suffering from a concussion? Here’s what to watch for.

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Concussion Awareness for Equestrians
Helmets are designed to limit the types of forces that cause skull fracture and intracranial hemorrhage--injuries that can kill a rider or leave him or her with permanent neurologic problems. | Photo: iStock
Did you know that the average amount of traumatic brain injury-related deaths in equestrian sport is more than seven times that of traumatic brain injury-related deaths in contact sports (such as American football)? That’s an average of 60 deaths in equestrian sports each year.

Many of those deaths can be due to inaccurate diagnosis of a concussion.

Concussion Basics

According to the Center for Disease Control, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, which causes the brain or head to move back and forth rapidly. When that happens, inside your head your brain will bounce or twist around, damaging the brain cells, thus creating chemical changes in the brain.

Concussions cannot be captured on any imaging because there are no abnormalities, says Lola Chambless, MD, a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and longtime eventing rider. “The symptoms are purely a clinical diagnosis—you will not see anything on a CT scan or MRI.”

Signs and symptoms of a concussion are:

  • Appearing dazed or confused;
  • Headache;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Balance problems or dizziness; and
  • Feeling groggy or sluggish.

Is It a Concussion?

Because many falls happen when you’re not at a sanctioned equestrian event, many concussions can go undiagnosed.

“Things like that happen all the time, and most people generally are not going to seek medical attention unless they are very symptomatic,” says Chambless.

Chambless has worked with the National Football League to help come up with a concussion protocol to be used along the sidelines at the games to help diagnose players with concussions. And while the protocol’s questions are football specific, they can be modified for any sport. She strongly encourages trainers, instructors, and riders to all learn to ask these questions any time a fellow rider comes off their horse or sustains a blow to the head.

The series of questions are fairly simple to essentially test immediate and short-term memory of the person in question. Questions can include:

  • Where are we riding today?
  • What color is your saddle pad?
  • Where did you last show your horse?
  • What’s your horse’s name?

If the rider cannot answer one of these questions, it is recommended that he or she visit a physician for further evaluation.

And aftercare for concussions is just as important. Someone who has suffered from a previous concussion should try to avoid taking any unnecessary risks with training, but most importantly prevent secondary injury. Secondary injury is when a rider returns to the saddle before they’ve fully recovered from a concussion, putting them at a much greater risk for long-term or permanent issues from a concussion.

Can a Helmet Prevent a Concussion?

While approved helmets do reduce the chance of a lethal head injury and can save your life, they do not prevent concussions.

Helmets are designed to limit the types of forces that cause skull fracture and intracranial hemorrhage, which are things that are going to kill you or leave you with neurologic problems. Unfortunately, they are not designed to affect the forces that generally we believe can cause a concussion.

“Unfortunately, there is no safety gear out there currently that really reduces your chances of concussion from a fall of six feet, which is basically what your assuming you’re going to fall from in most equestrian injuries,” says Chambless. “We can’t prevent people from falling off, but we can make it a lesser risk by wearing a helmet and riding in safe situations.”

2017 International Helmet Awareness Day has teamed up with leading helmet manufacturers to host the eighth International Helmet Awareness Day on Sept. 16-17.

To find out more about International Helmet Awareness Day, visit and learn how leading helmet manufacturers are offering special discounts to help keep you safe in the saddle this year.

To locate a participating retailer visit this link and search by “name” or “geographic location.” Participating retailers will continue to be added on a daily basis prior to the event.

Follow the Riders4Helmets campaign at,, and


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