There is something promising about the new year. It’s an opportunity to start afresh, set your sights on new things and new journeys. I love pouring over the competition calendar at the start of each year and planning for the coming year. A really important […]
I met Mathilde via the Equestrian Bloggers networking group on Facebook and was instantly captivated by her striking Icelandic paint gelding, Baldur with his blue eyes. My fascination only grew when I learned that in addition to competing in show jumping they also attend gaited […]
I am a huge believer in wearing a helmet each and every time I get in the saddle. I believe that this is due in part to sustaining two serious concussion during my days of show jumping, and a less serious one whilst out trail riding. Helmets are designed to decrease “the acceleration of the head upon impact, thereby decreasing both the brain-skull collision” (1). While helmets do not prevent concussion, they can help to prevent more serious injuries.
What is concussion?
Concussion is essentially a temporary form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) where there is a temporary change in neurological function. The risk of severe TBI is decreased by a whopping 50% with the use of an equestrian helmet. Alarmingly though only 25% of equestrians regularly wear a helmet. With the wide variety of comfortable, breathable and stylish helmets now on the market, there is really no excuse for not strapping on a helmet. Read about my favourite helmet here.
Helmets are built specifically for different sports based upon the injury patterns which are prevalent in that sport. This is why it is particularly important that you wear a helmet which meets the recognised standards for your sport.
Concussions can occur any time there is a rapid change in direction or acceleration. This means that your head does not actually need to sustain an impact in order for concussion to occur.
To understand the mechanics of concussion it is important to have a basic appreciation of anatomy. The brain is essentially floating in the skull cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid. During a collision (ie a fall) the brain “moves at a different rate than the skull… this discrepancy can result in a collision between the brain and skull” (1).
What are the symptoms of concussion?
- blurred vision
- loss of consciousness
I clearly (pardon the pun) remember my first concussion. We’d been at jumping training session at the pony club on a my new horse Gilbert. I wasn’t quite used to his tendency to swerve away from the jump in the last few strides. Apparently I forced myself to get back on and be lead to the float. Like a CD stuck on repeat, I would ask my mum ‘What happened’, she would explain that I’d had a fall, I’d then become teary and ask if Gilbert was ok. Shortly after she had reassured me that he was fine, I’d once again ask what happened. I also can recall the difficulty I had staying awake during my classes.
How often are horse riders experiencing concussions?
There does not appear to be a consensus about the rate of concussions in equestrian sport. But one thing is clear, the frequency is likely to be under reported. A study conducted in 2014 found that almost half of the riders surveyed at an event had experience a concussion during their time riding. Of these riders almost 75% did not seek medical clearance to determine readiness to return to riding (2). Similarly a 2016 surveyed 1833 riders and found that 71% had symptoms of concussion following a fall and that of these 44% were then diagnosed with concussion (3).
An examination of Emergency Department presentations in America found that between 1987 and 1988 a total of 92763 ED presentations were related to horse riding injuries. Of these 18.5% were related to concussions (4).
Interestingly once an athlete has experienced a concussion, they are 4-6 times more likely to experience a second one at some point in the future. This is significant as the effects of concussion can be cumulative. This was well publicised in the 2015 Will Smith movie Concussion which followed the story of neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who first discovered the damaging effects of the repeated head trauma and associated concussions experienced by American Football players.
Returning to Riding:
In America, any competitor who sustains a concussion or looses consciousness at a USEF event, cannot return to competition until cleared to do so by a medical professional. Equestrian Australia has recently brought in similar rules for eventing. Unfortunately the decision to adopt rules is voluntary in other disciplines.
Dr Reena Ellis (from https://journeyofanamateureventer.wordpress.com/) is an Anasthetics Trainee who in addition to being a competitive event rider also works at equestrian events a large part of which involves assessing people is diagnosing concussion and determining whether competitors are able to continuing riding at that event.
“Concussion is a serious business and one which has previously often been disregarded in horse riding. Awareness within event organisers and medical staff is now on the up, and if you are riding at an affiliated event there are now normally clear rules about when you can ride again after a concussion. You might think you’ve just bumped your head and but don’t dismiss even a mild concussion, if not treated properly if can have long term effects on your cognitive functioning. Take the advice of medical staff in any situation where you think a concussion might be a possibility, and reduce your risk as much as possible by never getting on a horse without a helmet. Your brain is fragile, protect it and protect yourself.” Dr Reena Ellis.
Be sure to check out this great video produced by the USEF with Neurosurgeon and equestrian Dr Lola Chambless https://www.usef.org/learning-center/videos/concussions-signs-symptoms-helmet-safety
Two weekends ago Nonie and I danced down the centreline of our first ever medium dressage tests. In the week leading up to this competition my body was filled with a maelstrom of emotions. Excitement, nerves and pride. While we didn’t make take the dressage […]
I recently wrote about the connections I have made with riders from across the world via Instagram, one such rider is Emily Grimstead. The first thing you will undoubtedly notice when you scroll through Emily’s feed is her spunky, spotty pony – Goosebumps or Goose for short. Emily and Goose recently returned from a very successful trip to the National Dressage Pony Cup. They competed in the USDF Training Level and musical freestyle classes.
How did Emily Find her way into the world of horses?
Despite growing up with a horsey mother, it took Emily a few years to overcome her fear of horses. She start riding at the age of 10, “I think I was just nervous about riding something so high off the ground. I was a timid rider for a long time. I’ve always been more comfortable on smaller horses and ponies”.
During her years as a rider Emily has tried her hand at most equestrian sports from showing her first horse, Cory a purebred Arabian (who is now 30!) to Western pleasure to hunter/jumpers and found dressage accidentally. “There was a dressage clinic at the camp on Valentine’s Day in 2015 and I just fell in love with the sport! Now, I could never go back to a different discipline. Dressage is just so fun and challenging; there is just so much to learn!”
Although Goose, now 17, keeps Emily on her toes as he continues to come up with new ‘tricks’, he has come a long way from the dangerous pony that Cindy Bellis-Jones rescued from slaughter. Cindy said, “There are just ponies that through no fault of their own have travelled down the wrong path and find themselves in a bad situation. They come in all colors, but share a common denominator of needing a helping hand to get back to a better place. Goose was one of those ponies. I tried to look past the surface and instead see what the pony really was. Goose needed a purpose. That is what I saw. His color, although quite neat, really didn’t influence my decision [to save him]. He would have travelled back to my farm in any color.”
How did Emily and Goose meet?
The first meeting between Emily and Goose happened by chance, as he was agisted at Emily’s barn. Although she didn’t ride him at the time, it was love at first sight. “He just had the sweetest personality!”. When the owners put the barn and horses up for sale some years later, Emily’s mother, who teaches beginner riding lessons at a Girl Scout camp, purchased him with the intention of using him in the program. However, this wasn’t quite the right job for Goose. True to his pony nature, Goose would be naughty and quite difficult for the young riders to manage. So Emily took him on as her own project, and he flourished with the consistency of one rider.
The journey from rescue pony to Breed Champion at Pony Cup was not without some bumps in the road. At their first competition together, Emily recalls, “Goose was so naughty that he had to be led into the arena by my husband! We also had some serious trailering issues that we had to work through to get him there.”
Emily discovered the National Dressage Pony Cup when investigating what opportunities existed for adults who ride dressage ponies. With this goal in mind Emily went from being a weekend rider to working hard and riding about five days per week. She says that “The prospect of going [to the National Pony Cup] really motivated me to push harder as an equestrian and to try to be a better rider”.
For Emily the highlight of her time at the Pony Cup was receiving the high point Appaloosa pony breed award. “It was a complete surprise and I am so thankful. Having Goosebumps win a beautiful champion neck sash was just a dream come true!”
Emily’s advise to other riders?
I asked Emily what she has learned during her journey and her response could not have been more perfect. “Have patience. Correct training takes a lot of time and it is just as strange and difficult for our horses to learn new things as it is for us as riders. I feel like it has taken over two years just to get to a place where a lot of other riders start out. But accomplishing a goal on a pony that you trained yourself? There is no better feeling!”