Equestrian Expert Evaluates Horse Riding Injury at Summer Camp

Equestrian Expert WitnessThis case involves a child in Tennessee who suffered a brain injury after falling off of a horse while attending summer camp. The child was attending summer camp when he was taken  on a horseback riding activity with a number of other campers. At some point, the child’s horse became startled, and the counselor who was controlling the horse let go of the lead line. The child fell off of the side of the horse, however his foot became caught in the stirrup, dragging his head along the ground for several hundred feet. The boy suffered a permanent brain injury in the accident and will require a lifetime of ongoing care.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Are you familiar with the proper instruction that should be given to any new riders?
  • 2. What kind of complications can arise if feet are not properly secured in stirrups?

Expert Witness Response E-018752

I’m very familiar and experienced with proper horsemanship and instruction. If your stirrupts are properly fitted, or secured, you have the potential to be “dragged” – which is what sounds like might have happened in this case – or fall off leading to injury. It is common for a “leader” to lead a younger client on a horse via a “lead line.” However, it is common practice to put a younger child on a very calm, older horse. I’m wondering if the stables provided and insisted that he wear a properly fitted, certified helmet. Secondly, I’m wondering if the stirrup was too small (or tight) and if he was wearing the proper foot attire (riding boots). Lastly, I’m wondering if the riding instructor/guide showed him how to properly place his foot in the stirrup. Only the ball of your foot should be in the stirrup (close to the toe), not the arch of your foot for safety reasons.

Expert Witness Response E-018767

I have taught riding for 50 years from beginners to advanced level, have given riding instructor certification and safety clinics and seminars, have been a speaker for many equestrian symposiums on safety and horsemanship, and have written and consulted extensively on teaching riding, equestrian safety and horsemanship. I have also taught and directed a nationally accredited school for riding instructors, and I have been instrumental in developing standards for equestrian safety and instruction for three national equestrian organizations. This unfortunate accident sounds as if normal safety precautions for a guided trail ride with young children may not have been followed. I am particularly concerned that the child’s foot became caught in the stirrup, causing him to be dragged by the horse. This points to unsafe footwear and/or inappropriate stirrups for a young child. In regard to the leading problem and the fall of the instructor/trail guide: generally speaking, riders must wear proper footwear for riding and use safe and appropriately sized stirrups for the activity, or falls and serious injuries, including fatal dragging accidents, may result.


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