Horseback Riding Safety Experts Evaluate Brain Injury in New Rider


Equestrian Expert WitnessThis case involves a teenage boy who suffered a brain injury after falling off of a horse. The child’s family went on a horse riding trip, which was guided by an employee of the horse farm. At the time of the accident, the teenager’s horse was right behind the guide’s horse as they went further down the trail. Shortly afterwards, the horses had to navigate around a large trench in the path of the trail. The lead guide horse went off to the left of a small pole and the teenager’s horse went to the right of the pole. The guide tried to coax the boy’s horse to go to the other side of the pole when something caused the guide to fall off his horse. When the guide fell off of his horse, he dropped the lead line and the teenager’s horse started running wildly down the trail. The teen fell off the saddle and his foot was caught in the stirrup, dragging his head across the ground while the horse ran. As a result of these injuries he was diagnosed with a severe brain injury and continues to receive ongoing rehabilitation for his brain injury.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Do you extensive experience managing a horse farm?
  • 2. Are you familiar with the proper instruction that should be given to any new riders?
  • 3. What kind of complications can arise if feet are not properly secured in stirrups?
  • 4. Should young and inexperienced riders be instructing in a leading position?

Expert Witness Response E-018767

I have served as a consultant and expert witness in two previous cases involving equestrian accidents and instruction. 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 accident sounds as if normal safety precautions for a guided trail ride with young riders may not have been followed. I am particularly concerned that the plaintiffs 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 rider. 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. The leader on a trail ride, especially a ride with younger riders, should be a competent, experienced and well qualified instructor/trail guide, definitely not an inexperienced rider or trail guide.

Expert Witness Response E-018752

I have extensive experience working at top-level horse farms in NY, NJ and CT, with some management duties included. I’m very familiar and experienced with proper horsemanship and instruction. If an individual’s stirrupts are properly fitted, or secured, they 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. Firstly, 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 she was wearing the proper foot attire (riding boots). Lastly, I’m wondering if the riding instructor/guide showed her 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. I’m wondering if basic safety protocols were reviewed such as “hold your reins like this..” and “this is how you make a horse stop” and “you should be X amount of distance between your horse and another horse” and “Do X if your horse does Y.”

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