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Don't Let Horse Play Throw You

Orthopaedic Surgeons Provide Tips to Prevent Horseback Riding Injuries

Horseback riding is a great way to exercise the entire body. Interaction between horse and rider offers documented therapeutic benefits -- both mentally and physically -- to the rider. However, if appropriate measures are not taken, this sport can pose serious injury threats to the estimated 30 million Americans who ride horses each year. Because there is some unpredictability with a horse, as with any animal, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends riders of all ages and skill levels use common sense and heed proper safety precautions when horseback riding.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2004 more than 205,000 people were treated in hospitals, doctors' offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and hospital emergency rooms for horseback riding-related injuries. The most frequent injuries sustained occur in the upper extremity, often resulting in bruises, strains, sprains and fractures of the wrist, shoulder and elbow. The most serious injuries can involve damage to the spine and head.

"While experience may give riders a sense of security, even the most seasoned equestrians can be injured," said Maureen A. Finnegan, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and member of the AAOS. "Wearing an approved safety helmet, proper riding gear and using well-maintained equipment goes hand-in-hand with common-sense riding and supervision for inexperienced riders."

AAOS offers the following tips to prevent horseback riding injuries:

-- Ensure that all riders always wear equestrian helmets that meet proper safety standards.

-- It is important for novice riders to take lessons from experienced instructors. Always supervise young horseback riders, both on and off the horse.

-- Choose a horse based on its temperament. Pick more experienced horses for novice riders, as they are quieter and more predictable.

-- Select a horse to match the rider's age, skill, experience and size.

-- Inspect all riding equipment to ensure that it is free of damage and secured properly.

-- Riders should wear properly-fitted, sturdy leather boots with a minimal heel. Clothing should be comfortable and not too loose.

-- Children and novice riders should consider using safety stirrups that break away in the event of a fall.

-- Amateur riders should ride on open, flat terrain and should not attempt jumps or stunts unsupervised.

-- If riders feel themselves falling, try to roll to the side, away from the horse, upon ground impact.

-- Horses survive in nature by fleeing from sudden noises or movements. Riders must stay alert to things that might startle the horse and be prepared to respond.

-- Do not ride a horse when tired, medicated or under the influence of alcohol.

Internet users can find additional safety tips and injury prevention information in the Prevent Injuries America!(R) Program section of the Academy's web site, or or call the Academy's Public Service line at 800-824-BONES.

An orthopaedic surgeon is a physician with extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of non-surgical as well as surgical treatment of the musculoskeletal system including bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.

With 28,000 members, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ( ) or ( ), is a not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons, allied health professionals and the public. An advocate for improved patient care, the Academy is participating in the Bone and Joint Decade ( ), the global initiative in the years 2002-2011 to raise awareness of musculoskeletal health to stimulate research and improve people's quality of life. President Bush has declared the years 2002-2011 National Bone and Joint Decade in support of these objectives. The AAOS will celebrate its 75th Anniversary at our 2008 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Visit ( ) and be a part of our history!