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  • Chrissie nicholson-Wild

Equestrians, Head injury and mental health

Horse riding, despite being considered a medium impact sport activity, has a higher risk of hospitalization after an injury than those sustained from football, motor racing or skiing. Chest injuries are the most common, but head and neck injuries can result in severe long term damage physically and mentally.

man on horseback jumping over fences at a competition
Elliot Rowe, International Show Jumper

Why safety matters to Ride_2Win

Riders safety and it's relationship to a rider's mental health is deeply personal issue to founder Lorraine Denman. Her daughter Ellie Soutter was a talented snowboarder on her way to competing at the Beijing Olympics in 2022, when she took her own life on her 18th birthday.

Her suicide has been attributed to many things going on in her life such as the pressure of competing at a high level, on going mental health issues and lack of support for elite athletes. It is believed that in part her decline in mental health can be attributed to possible brain injury and repeated concussions. According to her father Tony Soutter she "suffered seven major concussions in five years, between 2013 and 2018" (CNN 2/6/2023). It is widely researched that repeated head impact can lead to neurological disease and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and a study by Michael Fralick et al concluded that his data suggested that those who suffered concussion were at a higher risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts than those who had not suffered concussion. (Association of Concussion With the Risk of Suicide: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Traumatic Brain Injury | JAMA Neurology | JAMA Network)

Rekindling her passion for horse riding after her daughters death, Lorraine recognises that the pressures in horse riding really aren't that different from those that Ellie herself faced as an elite sportswoman, and wants to highlight the importance of research and discussion concerning mental health among Equestrians.

Equestrian Mental Health Research - Riders Minds/ Charles Owen

Head First Research conducted by Riders Minds and Charles Owen demonstrates the correlation between mental health struggles and head injury after a horse related accident and stresses the importance of continued research and essential product development to minimise brain injury.

Their study, conducted in 2021, reported that 58% of their survey participants reported increased anxiety and depression after a period of concussion following a horse riding accident.

30% of riders who suffered from depression had prolonged mental health problems, some up to one year after their accident.

(Head First research Head First Research – Riders Minds)

This video demonstrates some of their findings. Please give it a watch.

This research highlights the importance of head protection during riding to minimise injury. If you have sustained an injury, and are not sure if you have suffered a lasting injury you can us the Riders Minds Head First Checker.

Click here to check the Head First Checker

Head Protection

Wearing the right hat, correctly fitted is paramount to a riders safety.

The riding hat is a hard shell to protect your brain from trauma, injury and concussion which in turn can lead to further conditions if the brain is injured. Studies suggest a high correlation between cumulative brain injury leading to anxiety and depression.

Recently Ride _2Win visited industry leader Charles Owen to have a look at replacing our own riding hats, and found them an invaluable source of information and advice.

Charles Owen recommend that your riding hat is replaced every 3-5 years and especially after an accident, as the helmet could have suffered internal damage to it's structure that is not visible.

Charles Owen Research study: if you have had a horse related accident (and wearing a Charles Owen product) you can report your incident and contribute to research into improving the safety of riders:

Final Thoughts

It is clear from the limited research that there is a link between continued head trauma, the pressures of Equestrian life and mental health and wellbeing that needs to be explored and discussed within the community.

Ride_2Win are clearly focused on bringing mental health awareness to the Equestrian community and to begin removing the stigma of openly discussing common troubles and how to seek support.


Useful Links and Resources used to write this article:

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