Horse racing can be one of the most exciting sports for both the participants and the crowd, but the sport exposes participants to injuries unique to them. According to research, horse riding is more dangerous than football, motorcycle riding, skiing, and automobile racing. (1)
While horse racing injuries have shown a decline over the years, equestrians are still at risk of the most common causes of injuries, such as falls (80%) and crushing injuries caused by the horse (20%). These accidents often could cause minor to significant damage to the head, spine, arm, face, extremities, pelvis, and abdomen. (1)(2)
Owners and trainers play a crucial role in making horse racing safer, but this is an even bigger matter for equestrians, especially since they’re the ones in direct contact with the horses themselves. Whether they are a rookie or a seasoned rider, they should always be aware of the following tips to help reduce the risk of horse racing injuries.
Preparing to race
It’s worth noting that most severe cases of injuries in the sport are linked to the lack of safety gear and rider mistakes. Here are a few preparation tips for equestrians on keeping horse racing safe, even before the race has started.
- Understand the ride: A rider must know as much of their horse as possible because it will let them anticipate the animal’s moves. A quick look at online horse racing video sites such as https://www.youtube.com/c/PuntersAustralia and other resources of similar nature can provide you with valuable insights. (2)
- Study the track well: More technical tracks will require more skills to navigate, and this also means there’s a greater risk of falling and injuries. A rider should check the terrain and the different hurdles that the horse must go over. If possible, the rider and the horse should consider making a few test runs on a similar track days before the actual race.
- Select an appropriate horse: Any horse participating in the race must be in peak condition. This is even more important in handicap horse races, where participants are expected to show unparalleled strength and endurance on the track. It’s possible to study the horse’s performance history by checking Punters Australia and other equine racing resources online.
- Wear a protective helmet: With falls being the most common cause of serious injuries in the sport, equestrians should always make sure their head is protected with a sturdy helmet.
- Ensure all riding equipment is working: Aside from wearing a helmet, equestrians must check the other pieces of the tack. Problems with any part of the tack may cause equipment failure, which could increase the risk of falling and other accidents during the actual race. Equestrians must pay attention to the stirrups and saddle before mounting the equine, making sure they are properly fitted for the horse and the rider.
- Check if you have the correct footwear for the race. You should not be asking what are roper boots, but rather checking if you have the right riding equipment for the race. Equestrians must pay attention to the stirrups and saddle before mounting the equine, making sure they are properly fitted for the horse and the rider.
During the race
Despite months of training with the same horse and track, equestrians still risk falling or getting injured on the day of the race. Even the most experienced equestrians should observe the following safety precautions:
- Prepare to react to your horse: During the race, horses are easily startled and will react to sudden movements and noises. The rider must be able to react to this and keep the horse under control and on track.
- Avoid forcing your horse to show off: Equestrians know how to make their horses run faster just by using their legs. However, it’s not advisable to ‘force’ the horse into making unnecessary jumps or flourishes as it increases the risk of tripping, injuring the rider and the horse.
- Observe your horse: Looking at the horse’s head and ear movements speak volumes. For instance, if the horse’s ears are pinned sideward, it could mean that it’s exhausted. A horse with ears held towards the back feels angry or threatened, and may charge at other horses while on the track.
- Drop and roll: If a jockey falls off the horse, they risk getting trampled by their own horse or other horses speeding on the track. The safest way to get off the track is by keeping a low profile and rolling to the side. (2) (3) (4)
Horse racing has been around for centuries, and new regulations have helped make the sport safer than it’s ever been. However, there will always be a risk of accidents due to the nature of the sport. Equestrians should remember these nine injury prevention tips to help keep this risk to a minimum.
- “Protective and risk factors in amateur equestrians and description of injury patterns: A retrospective data analysis and a case-control survey”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042925/
- “Preventing Equestrian Injuries”, Source: monash.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/217651/horse.pdf
- “Horseback Riding Injury Prevention”, Source: https://www.wellingtonadvancedmed.com/2019/03/22/horseback-riding-injury-prevention/
- “Horse-related injuries: Causes, preventability, and where educational efforts should be focused”, Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311932.2018.1432168
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