A review of video evidence, research and recent investigations has revealed that training in safe falling techniques has not to date been embraced by the horse riding industries within Australia or internationally.

A significant number of recent deaths in Australia and all of those before them, are tragic to say the least.  We owe it to these courageous athletes and horse riders from all walks of life to protect them in every way possible so that they can pursue their profession, their passion and their hobbies with a higher degree of safety.

A structured and well executed fall safety training program can significantly reduce catastrophic and other injuries to horse riders of all levels. This is the first structured training program in Australia to cater for this specialised area of training, and as such there may be attitudes of uncertainty surrounding the benefits of participation in such a training program. A review of the scientific principles, research, investigations and the discussion that follows, highlights the importance of this safety measure and why it should be undertaken as a matter of urgency by all horse riders.

The prevailing view may be that fall safety training will not make any difference to injury outcomes in high speed fall incidents as the rider has no time to respond. Based upon what we know about human reaction and movement times (see discussion topic below), riders should in most situations have time to respond in a fall incident in order to significantly reduce the risk or severity of injury. As the time available before hitting the ground may often be less than a second, the rider's response needs to be spontaneous. This can be achieved with training.

There are some very talented researchers who have collected and analysed data to report findings that have assisted in the improvement of safety standards for horse riders and research in this area continues today. These research initiatives often involve looking for patterns in data over a period of time that may be related to an increase or decrease in injury rates and types.

If, as some have suggested, training in proper fall safety techniques will not make any difference to horse rider injury outcomes then the training will, at the very least, do no harm and also improve the riders fitness level. If you as a horse rider were asked to be a participant in a study to determine the effectiveness of fall safety training on reducing injuries, which group would you choose to be in - the untrained group or the group that has been trained in fall safety techniques? As of 2015 you have a choice.

Jockeys and riders who participate in this training  . . . have nothing to lose AND much to gain!

Rider Injuries

Most injuries to horse riders result from the horse and / or rider falling or the rider being being thrown from a horse. Improvement in safety standards has resulted in positive outcomes for horse riders. These standards have included things such as proper instruction in safe riding practices, the use of safety equipment, matching rider skill levels to horse behaviour, modification of rules, and the use of plastic railing in thoroughbred races.

Despite the work that has been done to improve rider safety in recent times, due to the nature of the activity,  there will always be situations that will occur where riders and / or horses will fall, or riders are thrown from a horse. Training in proper landing and fall techniques can provide a significant means of reducing both the risk of injury and the severity of injuries that may be sustained when dismounting, falling or being thrown from a horse.

Research conducted at Monash University Accident Research Centre on the prevention of equestrian injuries included, amongst other things, the following conclusion on the use of falling techniques:

Little work seems to have been done on evaluating the effectiveness of teaching and using falling techniques. This countermeasure may offer a cheap and effective avenue of reducing a wide range of injuries, including those to the head, neck and upper extremities.

[Finch C.F. and Watt G.M. Locking the Stable Door: Preventing Equestrian Injuries. Monash University Accident Research Centre, Report # 103. 1996.]

Feet First Landing

If a rider comes down from a stationary horse - for example when dismounting or jumping from a horse that rears - then we are mainly concerned with the downward (vertical) force of hitting the ground. This is a relatively straightforward situation if landing feet first or predominantly in an upright position. 

Training in this scenario needs to focus on the correct feet first landing position to correctly absorb the impact of landing, and minimise the risk of ankle sprain, a common landing injury. Training in feet first landing also includes correct basic falling technique to minimise risk of trauma to other areas (such as wrist, elbow, shoulder, clavicle and head) where the rider may trip or fall after an angled landing.

Research, Studies & Reports:

Topic: Radio Interview with Danny Warrington. Perth Western Australia - 91.3 SportFM - "Talking Horses" (Click on the link below to listen to the audio file)
Topic: Preventing and Investigating Horse-Related Human Injury and Fatality in Work and Non-Work Equestrian Environments: A consideration of the Workplace Health and Safety Framework.
Year: 2016
Source: MDPI
Topic: Radio Interview with Lindsay Nylund. Perth Western Australia - 91.3 SportFM - "Talking Horses" (Click on the link below to listen to the audio file)
Topic: Guide to Managing Risks when New and Inexperienced Persons Interact with Horses
Year: 2014
Topic:  Evaluation of safety vests - Health and safety in Australian racing
Topic:  Jockey Falls, Injuries, and Fatalities Associated With Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Racing in California, 2007-2011
Topic:  Are physiological attributes of jockeys predictors of falls? A pilot study
Topic:  Health and Safety in Australian Horse Racing
Topic:  Predictors of jockey race-day falls in flat racing in Australia
Topic: The incidence of race-day jockey falls in Australia, 2002-2006
Year: 2009

Topic:  Horse-related injury in Australia
Topic: Locking the Stable Door: Preventing      Equestrian Injuries.

Newtons First Law of Motion

A body at rest will remain at rest or a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

This law of Physics has important implications for the rider when coming down from a horse that is moving.

It is important to understand that the downward (vertical) component of force when impacting the ground is the same whether a rider is coming down from a stationary horse or whether the rider is impacting the ground at 60 km per hour. The techniques that are used to break the vertical force of impact with the ground are essentially the same whether coming down from a stationary horse or coming down from a horse that is moving.

The additional issue when landing from a moving horse is that the rider will generally be flipped or forced to roll (rotational motion) as a result of their horizontal velocity at the time of impact with the ground. As a result, the rider must also negotiate forces of rotation (centrifugal / centripetal forces) when falling from a moving horse . . . the faster the horse is moving the greater these forces will be. 

Review of video footage indicates that most riders have not been trained in brace position to protect the head and spine including tuck and roll techniques, often coming off the horse with arms and legs flailing and / or head and body in an open position resulting in a significant increase in the risk of serious injury. An instinctive reaction for many riders who are untrained in falling techniques may be to try and break their fall or stop rotating by putting their arms out in a "spread eagle" position. In other cases riders simply do not actively respond when they fall and are sometimes "dumped" onto the ground in very unfavourable positions. These untrained responses or a lack of any response action will result in a significant increase in risk of critical or serious injury during a fall incident.

The other main cause of serious injury is trample or crush injury and this can be mitigated by a quick response in releasing the reins and moving into a brace position for impact with the ground. This will improve the chances of falling clear of the horse and also enable the rider to tuck and roll at the time of impact with the ground, thereby minimising the risk and severity of trauma in the event that their horse or another horse is travelling or falling towards them.

Response Time

Human Reaction Times in response to an event vary based upon individual and environmental variables. It is useful, however, to look at typical reaction times in response to a stimulus. In the following discussion we will refer to time as milliseconds (ms), where 100 ms = 1/10 of a second.

RESPONSE TIME = Reaction Time + Movement Time

Reaction Time - The time taken to recognise a stimulus to the time of onset of movement (being the commencement of muscle contraction).

Typical Reaction Times to a visual stimulus when an individual is alert to the fact that they need to respond (simple reaction time), are in the range of 150 ms to 250 ms. An example of this would be where individuals are asked to react when they see a light.

Horse riders are likely to experience a visual and / or kinaesthetic stimulus (such the horse falling, being thrown into the air or a foot coming out of the stirrup) during a fall incident.

Movement Time - The time taken from the onset of muscle contraction to complete a movement sequence.

In the case of a horse rider who detects that they are falling, we are primarily interested in the time taken to move the arms and head into a brace position to minimise risk of serious head, neck or spinal injury, and continuing into a tuck position following impact with the ground.
The time to move arms and head into brace position (from onset of muscle contraction), with training is likely to be in the range of 200 to 300 ms.

Total Response Time (Reaction Time + Movement Time)

Based upon the above times the estimated time from recognition of a fall incident to moving into the brace position, with training,  is likely to be in the range of 400 to 600 ms (about 0.5 of a second).

As the fall time to the ground from a height of 2.5 metres is 710 ms, in most fall incidents a trained rider has time to take action in order to protect their head and neck in a fall incident. In some cases a rider may have more than 710 ms to respond, such as when they are thrown or butted into the air.

Where the rider is alerted by a horse or rider falling in front of or beside them, their Response Time is likely to be quick as a result of being able to anticipate the possibility of also being involved in a fall incident.

There are some cases where there will be a delay in the ability to detect a fall incident, in particular where a horse trips or falls unexpectedly. In this case the rider's kinaesthetic or visual recognition of the fall is likely to be at a height of less that 2.5 metres and they will already be travelling downward at the time they become aware that the horse is falling. In this scenario the fall time to the ground will be considerably reduced and the rider may not have time to take action before impacting the ground. However, if the rider is trained to spontaneously move into the brace position upon detection of a fall incident, even a partial response (releasing of the reins and commencement of movement to brace position) may result in a better outcome than no response, and provide some protection from a serious injury.

The brace position followed by tuck and roll is not only important for breaking the fall if coming down head first, but also when falling from a moving horse where the rider lands in an upright or partially upright position and is subsequently flipped or forced to rotate after impacting the ground. This will reduce the risk of trample or crush injury.

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