Horse Riding and Spinal Injuries

22 March 2017

Last week, horse racing enthusiasts were treated to another display of epic horsemanship and sporting battles between some of the giants of the equine world, during the Cheltenham Festival. Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the jump season and epitomises everything that is great about horse racing over hurdles and fences.

Horse racing and particularly jump racing, is a dangerous sport. Even non racing aficionados will have heard about AP McCoy’s prowess as one of the most injured jockeys in the world, having sustained multiple head injuries, broken bones and spinal injuries throughout his lengthy and dominant racing career.

Following the close of Cheltenham Festival, which saw many a spectacular fall from both horse and rider, questions of safety and risk in a sport plagued by bad press are once again raised.

It is not just horse racing in the equine community that earns a place amongst the most dangerous sports that can be played. An individual well known to the hunting and showing world, Rob Walker, was recently spinally injured following a rotational fall whilst out hunting (where the horse hits a fence with its front legs or chest, causing the body to somersault over the fence).

This story comes in the wake of jockey Freddy Tylicki’s much publicised riding accident at Kempton Park in October 2016, that tragically resulted in a catastrophic spinal injury.

There can be no doubt that horse riding, in all its forms, has the potential to be dangerous. The real question is whether the terrible accident and injury stories that make the papers, are really reflective of the sport as a whole. Millions of people ride horses every day and falls can happen at any time. Catastrophic injury is still rare in the sport and a survey undertaken by UK healthcare provider Beneden, made a useful comparison between what people think are dangerous sports and whether that is actually true in reality. Horse riding came third in the survey, of what people thought the most dangerous sports were, behind rugby and boxing. In reality, just 2.5% of those asked, reported sustaining an injury. As a result, according to the survey, cycling and football are much more likely to cause harm.

That aside, catastrophic injuries do occur. There are fantastic charities, such as the Injured Jockeys Fund and Spinal Injuries Association, who provide incredible support to those facing the worst news. They offer practical help and guidance but also emotional support and often funding for treatment, when things are at their bleakest.

Having acted for clients with spinal and head injuries in personal injury claims, I am always quick to mention the hard work charities such as SIA do and the fantastic support network they provide. I am also a keen advocate of the Riding for the Disabled (“RDA”) charity, having been a riding instructor in a previous life, where I was involved with teaching children with disabilities.

Ultimately, horse riding is a dangerous sport in some circumstances, but like many things in life, the risk is small and there are strong arguments that the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

I wish Rob and Freddy all the very best in their respective recoveries and will certainly be keeping an eye out for updates on their progress.

Laura Sylvester is a Senior Associate in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Department at Kingsley Napley.  If you have any comments about this blog, or would like to speak to her concerning a legal matter please contact her or a member of our Clinical Negligence team.   

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