Horseback Related Head Injuries and How to Prevent Them

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has represented thousands of people seriously injured by the negligence of others. We know that some of the most serious injuries involve head impacts from blows or falls. Although people commonly associate such injuries with contact sports such as football or soccer, many serious head injuries also result from equestrian activities. This should not be surprising, given the size, strength, and speed of horses, and the large number of people who participate in recreational activities where horses are involved. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood and severity of horse related head injuries.

In 2009, there were 14,446 horseback riding related head injuries, 3,798 of which were serious enough to require hospitalization. If anything, these numbers probably understate the true incidence of such injuries. According to data from the National Trauma Data Bank for 2003 to 2012, riding accounted for 45.2% of traumatic brain injuries among adults, making it the most common cause of such injuries, with contact sports coming in at 20.2%. Data from another source, the National Sample Program of the National Trauma Data Bank, indicates that equestrian activities are also a leading cause of TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) among children and adolescents, coming in at #3 after contact sports and skateboarding. Head injuries represent 60% of all equestrian related deaths and 18% of all equestrian-related injuries.


Photo by Sarah Bedu on Unsplash

Although only 20% of riders report wearing a helmet every time they ride, helmets can dramatically reduce the incidence and severity of head injuries. According to some sources, wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 50%, and the risk of death from a head injury by as much as 70 to 80%.

Always use helmets approved for horse riding, because a helmet designed for one sport may not provide adequate protection for another activity. When buying a helmet, you should check the label to make sure that it has been certified by the ASTM (American Society for Testing & Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) or Snell (Snell Memorial Foundation). The label should also state the date of manufacture, which is good to know if there is a product recall. 

It is very important to make sure that the helmet fits properly. Helmets should fit snugly with little movement in any direction. They should be level from front to back and rest about one inch above the eyebrows. When buying a helmet for a child, it is best to bring him or her with you so that you can make sure of a proper fit. Be sure to ask how the helmet fits, because a helmet that is too small can cause headaches, and the child will be less inclined to wear it. Do not buy helmets that are too big so that the child can “grow into it.”


Photo by Anna Jokiranta from Pexels

Once purchased, helmets need to be properly stored and maintained. Never sit or lean on a helmet. Do not store them in places which are very cold or hot, or where they are exposed to direct sunlight. Do not paint or put stickers on the helmet without checking the label first.

Helmets should be regularly inspected for damage, deterioration, or missing parts, and replaced as needed. As a general rule, helmets should be replaced every five years even if they look like they are in good shape because materials tend to break down over time. Unlike football helmets, riding helmets should be replaced after every impact, even if there is little visible damage.

In addition to wearing helmets, riders and their parents can do other things to avoid riding related head injuries and deaths. Everyone should be aware of factors that increase the risk of falling, like a “green” horse, slippery footing, or bareback riding. Parents should always supervise children, ride with children under 6, choose horses and activities appropriate for a child’s age and skill level, and never tie a child to a saddle or horse. Following these recommendations will help to ensure that riding remains a safe and rewarding activity for all involved.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious head injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, please call us for a free initial consultation at 304-347-5050 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll-free). You may also contact us through our website,


Brainline, Equestrian Safety,

Megan Arszman, Riders4helmets International Helmet Awareness Day, “What Makes a Helmet Safe,” 8/15/18,

CDC, “Get a Heads Up On Equestrian Helmet Safety,”…/helmets/HeadsUp_HelmetFactSheet_Equestrian-508

American Association of Neurological Surgeons, “A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Sports-Related Head Injury,”…and…Sports-Related-Head-Injury

Sean M. Fox, “Horse Related Injuries in Children-Pediatric Morsels,” 11/16/18,

ABC News, “Horse Riding is Leading Cause of Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries, Study Finds,” 4/1/16,…traumatic-brain-injuries/story?id

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