Our knowledge of orthopaedics. Your best health.

from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Horseback Riding Injury Prevention

Horseback riding is great exercise for the entire body. But if you do not take appropriate precautions, you can be seriously injured while riding. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), more than 48,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for horseback riding injuries in 2017.

Horseback riding injuries often occur to the arms as riders try to break a fall. These injuries include bruises, sprains, strains, and fractures of the wrist, shoulder, and elbow. The most serious horseback riding injuries can damage the pelvis, spine, and head and may be life-threatening.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) to prevent horseback riding injuries:

  • All riders should always wear horseback riding helmets that meet proper safety standards.
  • Wear properly-fitted, sturdy leather boots with a minimal heel. Your clothing should be comfortable and not too loose.
  • Inspect all riding equipment to make sure it is not damaged.
  • Be sure the saddle and stirrups are appropriate to your size and are properly adjusted.
  • Secure all riding equipment properly.
  • Children and novice riders should consider using safety stirrups that break away if a rider falls off the horse.
  • Novice riders should take lessons from experienced instructors.
  • Young horseback riders should always be supervised.
  • Amateurs should ride on open, flat terrain or in monitored riding arenas.
  • Jumps and stunts require a higher level of riding skill. Do not attempt these without supervision.
  • If you feel yourself falling from a horse, try to roll to the side (away from the horse) when you hit the ground.
  • Do not ride a horse when you are tired, taking medications, or under the influence of alcohol.
  • Always remember that you are riding an animal that has its own reactions to the sights, sounds, and smells you are both experiencing.
  • Horses are flight animals. They will run away from sudden noises and movements. Stay alert for anything that might startle your horse. Be prepared to respond quickly.
  • When trail riding, do not go off trail, no matter how tempting. Heed warning signs.
  • Never walk behind a horse. It is best to approach them at their shoulder. This is less threatening to them.
  • To gauge a horse's demeanor, watch the horse's head, particularly its ears. The ear movements of a horse will provide you with information about how the horse is reacting to its environment, people, or other animals. A horse will direct one or both of its ears toward a sound. Ears held the side can indicate that a horse is sick, sedated, or sleeping. Ears that are pinned back indicate anger or a threat.
  • If you are giving the horse a treat, be sure to keep your hand open and your fingers extended and flat. Horses can inadvertently bite and break fingers that are cupped around a treat.

Source: US Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (Accessed May 2018)

Last Reviewed

June 2018

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.