Equestrian Medical Safety Association


Reviews of Industry Related Research

Welcome to the EMSA Research page!

Primary research in the broad topics of safety is beyond the scope of the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, however critical review and translation of equestrian safety research is important. The presentation of such review to the EMSA audience is part of our mission.  The EMSA members, including experts in a number of fields, provide the assessment of current research in the equestrian safety field.

Current focuses include the longstanding issue of helmets and head injury. The literature about body protection via standard ASTM approved safety vests and the newer air vests is growing. There is currently a major emphasis on jump safety, specifically fixed jump safety.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Courtesy of recent publicity in newspapers and other media, traumatic brain injury (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury -MTBI) without loss of consciousness (MTBI-concussion) and its importance has been recognized. Although the publicity surrounding this is largely related to traditional team sports such as American football and ice hockey, it has been well-recognized to be a significant issue in traditionally non-contact sports. It is known now that a serious injury is possible without the head contacting any fixed structure. It is also well-known that there can be significant long-term, deleterious effects when one sustains multiple such injuries (traumatic encephalopathy) over time.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in 2007, equestrian head injuries were the leading cause for hospital admission in those patients with equestrian-related injuries. In 2009, of the 14,446 horse related head injuries, 3798 (26.29%) required hospital admission.

The brain is suspended within  a hard case (the skull). Although current helmet technology is quite good at protecting the skull from impact and subsequent direct injury to the skull and underlying brain, the brain is still subjected to motion as a result of the head moving relative to the body. The usual injury as well as the importance of helmet use (MTBI-concussion) is addressed on the Education page.

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Safety Vests

Safety vests are a current “hot” topic. “Standard” ASTM certified protective vests (see Education page – Equipment) have long been used and are required by the USEA on the cross-country phase of eventing. They have been demonstrated to be particularly useful in avoiding penetrating injuries. The recent popularity of air vests has added to the theoretical protective gear of the rider. The EMSA presented an air vest panel discussion at the 2012 USEA Annual Convention in Colorado Springs. Currently two brands are marketed in North America. They are of significantly different costs and unfortunately, any “research” is manufacturer sponsored and not independent. Subsequently the use of these items has become very popular with the unproven assumption that they provide added protection. In addition in addition to this scientifically unproven assumption that these vests reduce injuries of certain types, both function by inflation via a CO2 canister which is extremely loud on deployment. Both varieties are endorsed by “famous” names in riding which, unfortunately, does not add to their scientific validity, but does enhance their popular appeal.

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Safety Stirrups

Currently not a subject of ongoing research. Special Olympics site has a some examples of safety stirrups for their athletes. Many “safety” stirrups on the market today are designed for experienced able-bodied riders.

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Injury Statistics

There is abundant literature on injury statistics, but relatively little on injury prevention. There is readily available information on hospital ER visits via NEISS (National Electronic Injury Surveillance System) as well as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as numerous others. Unfortunately none of these capture the vast population who sustain seemingly minor injuries and are never seen in a hospital. A good recent article (2010) in the journal Current Sports Medicine is entitled “Equestrian Sports Related Injuries: A Review of Current Literature”.

Many injuries around horses can be prevented. Although horses are unpredictable, certain routine practices can be followed which easily eliminate some potential injuries.

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