[UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2023]
The UK has a rich equestrian history, with many enthusiastic horse riders around the nation and many more becoming interested in riding each year. Unfortunately, horse riding isn’t a risk-free pastime, and being aware of the hazards is important.
So, what are the most common incidents that can happen when hacking? And what should you do if something unexpected occurs? Our at-a-glance guide has all the answers you need. Read on to find out more…
Why do horse riding incidents happen?
Horses are big and powerful. That’s a given. But you might not know that the average horse can weigh up to a massive 2,000lbs! To put it into context, the NHS reported in 2021 that the mean weights of men and women in the UK were 187lbs and 158lbs, respectively.
Not only are horses much heavier than us, but they’re also much taller. This means that when mounted on a horse, you’re likely to be a good few metres above the ground.
Horses have minds of their own; no matter how well-trained your horse may be, they can have good and bad days – just like us! When you consider their huge height and weight – as well as their unpredictability – it makes sense that incidents sometimes happen.
What are the most common incidents when riding a horse?
Before we kick things off, we want to let you know that the British Horse Society has a dedicated page where you can report incidents. They use this as evidence to lobby for horse safety and make real change. And it doesn’t matter how big or small the incidents are, each one is included in their national statistics. Here’s the lowdown on the most common cases:
1. Road traffic accidents
At YuMOVE, we know lots of riders prefer not to ride on the road. However, every now and then, it’s the only option.
Unfortunately, there’s always a risk of accidents when taking your horse onto the road – either because of driver error or negligence or your horse becoming spooked.
How can you prevent road traffic accidents when horse riding?
- Wear reflective and bright clothing, no matter the weather
- Always wear a helmet
- Be alert and watch out for traffic, such as cars, bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, and other horseriders
- Make it obvious which direction you’re going in by giving clear signals
- Slow down (or stop completely) when approaching or driving away from horses
- Don’t beep your horn or rev your engine when horses are nearby
2. Inexperienced riders
As we mentioned, horses are strong, tall, heavy, fast and can be unpredictable. That’s why horse riding can occasionally be dangerous – especially if you’re not a seasoned pro!
How to stay safe if you’re a beginner:
If you’re new to the saddle, the safest option is to ride with supervision from an expert instructor and on a mild-tempered horse. An experienced coach can teach you the safest ways to mount and ride a horse and will help you improve quickly. We recommend beginners ride well-schooled horses that will give them the confidence they need.
3. Defective or badly fitted equipment
As with all sports, faulty or poor-fitting kit can increase the risk of injury. If you’re a rider, you must also wear the correct clothing. Think boots with reinforced toes, gloves, a helmet, and high-vis jackets.
What equipment do you need to check when riding a horse?
If you’re unsure how to check your equipment, you should ask an experienced rider to take you through the rigorous safety checks.
4. Horses becoming frightened/distracted
Horses are easily spooked, and they can sometimes get distracted or confused by their surroundings. Here’s a few of the most common reasons your horse may get scared:
- Loud noises. Horses often react with fear when they hear sudden loud noises – like fireworks, car horns and blaring music. This can be dangerous if you’re aboard as the horse may suddenly gallop or unseat you if they’re panicked. Never take your horse out when you know it’s likely to be loud – such as during firework season.
- Other animals. Livestock and other animals can often startle or confuse horses. Especially if there is uncertainty over who has the right of way, try to ride in areas where there isn’t a lot of livestock and keep your horse well away from other animals.
- Off-road gates. If you struggle with using gates when riding your horse, we recommend teaming up with a more confident rider so you can practise opening them safely.
- Pedestrians. Horses can move extremely fast. If they’re passed too quickly (e.g., by runners) or if someone gets too close to them, they may get startled. Always keep a sensible distance between your horse and other people.
5. Poor riding surfaces
Some paths or surfaces can be extremely uneven or slippery – this can cause your horse to stumble. In worst-case scenarios, your horse may fall over which, in turn, will cause harm to you too.
How to stay safe on poor riding surfaces
It’s always worth checking your route before riding on new and unfamiliar terrain. Poor road or path surfaces can cause your horse to stumble and can lead to an accident.
What’s more, hard ground may be uncomfortable for your horse. That’s because your horse’s legs can’t tolerate the high-impact force. You should also inspect your route for areas of extremely hard ground.
How to protect yourself when riding a horse
- Ride horses that are appropriate for your skill level. This means beginners should ride horses that will give them confidence when learning.
- Learn how to ride with an experienced instructor. If you don’t know how to ride a horse, never try to do it alone.
- Wear a helmet every single time you ride. One of the most common types of injury is concussion. That’s why it’s so important to wear a helmet. More serious head injuries are rare but are more likely if you don’t take precautions.
- Dismount if your horse is agitated or distracted. It’s always best to handle these kinds of situations from the ground. Read our guide to find out how to understand your horse’s body language.
- Check your equipment. Keep an extra close eye on the saddle, stirrups, bridle, girth and reins.
- Learn how to do an emergency stop. This guide from Horse and Rider has all the information you’ll need.
- Inspect and plan your route before you head off. Try to avoid areas where there are lots of cars and other things which may frighten your horse.
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We hope this guide was a handy way to learn about some of the most common incidents and how to overcome them. And remember, if something does happen, don’t be discouraged. You know what they say about getting back on the horse...
If you’re looking for more horse tips, check out our helpful horse guides. What are you waiting for? Trot to it!
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