Recognizing Concussions in Horseback Riders Back »

Equestrian head injuries are often more severe and require more treatment than other types of horse-related injuries. It is important to take measures to protect against these injuries.

Recognizing Concussions

Being aware that concussions and other head injuries can occur is a first step towards getting help for riders that have had an accident or fall. Note that a loss of consciousness does not always accompany concussions.

According to the American Academy of Neurology, the following are symptoms of concussion:

  • Confusion.
  • Amnesia.
  • Difficulty focusing attention.
  • Disorientation.
  • Memory impairment.
  • Slurred or incomprehensible speech.
  • Slowed motor or verbal responses.
  • Observable gross coordination difficulties.
  • Emotional overreactivity or constant change of mood.
  • Any loss of consciousness, however brief.

Additional symptoms may occur within minutes to hours:

  • Headache.
  • Vertigo or dizziness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings.

The following symptoms may persist for days or weeks:

  • Low grade headaches.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Deficits in attention and concentration.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Fatigue.
  • Low frustration tolerance and irritability.
  • Difficulty focusing vision.
  • Sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in ears).
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Anxiety or depression.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has put together a poster listing key symptoms. To learn more about identifying concussions in a rider that has fallen, training is available for coaches and youth event volunteers.  The training has been jointly developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Football League (NFL), and United States Pony Club (USPC).

Head Injury Statistics for Equestrians

Head injuries are the most common cause of fatality in horse-related injuries. Of all sports in the US, equestrian sports are the most common cause of sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults (Winkler et al., 2016). Concussions are the most common type of TBI. Consider that a concussion can occur due to a fall from a person’s own two feet. Yet, the typical rider’s head is about 9 feet above the ground. The added height and/or speed of a horse can increase the impact if a fall occurs. Injuries to the brain, including concussion, comprise 9-15% of equestrian sport injuries (Zuckerman et al., 2015). Additionally, concussions are the third most common type of injury for professional rodeo athletes after knee and shoulder injuries (Butterwick et al., 2002). For more information regarding equestrian injury statistics refer to the article Equestrian injury statistics.


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