Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension
Horseback riding is a popular activity with an estimated 30 million Americans riding horses each year. Unfortunately, each year more than 2,300 riders under the age of 25 years are hospitalized because of horseback riding injuries.
Horses are, after all, large animals weighing up to 1500 pounds and several feet tall. In addition, they can react quickly and be startled by seemingly minor distractions.
In a two year study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that of the over 100,000 riders (all ages) injured:
- 66. % were mounted on a horse, then falling or being thrown by the horse.
- those not mounted most often were kicked by the horse.
- head/neck region (23.2%) most commonly injured.
- an estimated 11,502 people sustained traumatic brain injuries.
These startling figures illustrate the need for increased safety when around horses. Educating riders on horse behavior is one way to increase safety. More important is the placement and enforcement of horse helmet rules while riding, at horse shows, and barns. For many years, Florida 4-H has enforced helmet rules for their Area and State shows. Page 3 of the Florida 4-H Area & State horse Shows Official rules 2010 states:
All exhibitors are required to wear an SEI or SEI/ASTM approved safety equestrian helmet with fastened chin harness in all classes and all warm-up and make-up areas. Additionally, appropriate footwear and approved helmets must be worn, with harness fastened, at all times when mounted. This pertains to the entire show grounds from the time of arrival until departure. Failure to comply may result in disqualification. (SEI - Safety Equipment Institute, ASTM - American Society of Testing and Measures)
Now it is state law that youth under the age of 16 riding horses on public land be required to wear a helmet. As is often the case, this law was the result of the death of a child. Nicole Hornstein was riding when the horse stumbled and fell, causing Nicole’s head to be slammed into the pavement. Nicole’s family and friends petitioned for the creation and passage of this bill, called Nicole’s Law. To read the bill in its entirety, go to: Florida Horse Helmet Law.
Although horse shows are excluded from the state law, Florida 4-H will continue to require helmets at its shows. Many 4-H clubs require the use of helmets whenever the youth are working with the horses at the barns. While some may complain about the heat or “helmet hair”, slight discomfort is a small price to pay to prevent injury or even death.
On April 24 and 25, thirty-seven Pinellas County 4-H members and their horses will be competing at the Area E 4-H Horse Show along with eleven other counties. It takes place at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa and is free. Spectators are welcome. For the schedule and more information on the show, go to: http://indian.ifas.ufl.edu/areashow/Welcome.html
For more information on the Florida 4-H horse program: http://animal.ufl.edu/youth/horse/Shows.shtml