Sitting on a horse is a risky activity. You are part of a team, one of whom is not human; if you are playing polo then there are even more team components. A horse has its own temperament, moves at speeds of up to 65 kph and elevates the rider up to three metres above the ground. The horse can change direction and speed in less than a second, when both occur at the same time, the force is significant and can lead to very serious injury for an unseated rider.
Every year hundreds of injuries are caused by people falling from, being knocked down by, thrown from or trampled by a horse. Thankfully, many riders wear helmets and other protective gear to reduce the risk of serious injuries.
If you fall from a horse, you are most likely to injure your head. About a fifth of injuries are to the arm or shoulder, slightly less than that to legs, knees and ankles. Injuries to the spine and spinal cord contribute to approximately 7% of the total of horse related accidents.
The most common type of injury, to any body part, is a fracture, which with proper medical care is fully recoverable. However, when serious injuries do occur, either by accident or through fault of a third party, giving thought to the right care, both medically and legally, is paramount.
Any injury leads to inevitable financial cost, even if it is as simple as having to take a short period of time of work. At worst, where there is a severe injury, the rider’s whole world changes. Close family and friends will be impacted and equipment needs and employment of carers will need to be considered.
If someone has had an accident it is important that building a life post-accident is front of mind. If a third party is responsible for causing the accident, then a claim for compensation can be made through the courts. Compensation has been successfully claimed where, for example, a spectator at a poorly planned event was injured by a horse and when an inexperienced rider was rendered paraplegic having been taken out on a hack by a riding school on an unsuitable horse. Horse related traffic accidents are, accordingly to the British Horse Society, significantly underreported and often have serious consequences. In all these circumstances, where fault can be proved, the third party’s insurers will pay compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity as well as financial expenses, including loss of earnings.
If you find yourself in these circumstances, the four most important things to remember are:
1. Get insurance: If, as is more usual, nobody is to blame for the accident, there will be no ‘payout’ unless the rider has taken out his or her own insurance before taking part in the event. Anybody regularly taking part in equestrian sport should seriously consider taking out such insurance.
2. Check the riding school’s/ polo clubs medical credentials: Whether or not there are private funds available, the importance of the correct treatment from the outset cannot be underestimated. Exemplary care at the scene of the accident can make the difference between somebody being able to walk again in the future or not. Underestimating this can be devastating, so take the time to check first aid credentials at riding schools or stables.
3. Think about your health after care: The holistic treatment, often a specialist centres, can be a lengthy process if not one that an individual will have to maintain throughout their life. This will continue through until after discharge from the acute hospital environment, when rehabilitation and specialist therapy will ensure the best possible route to full recovery. Depending on the type of injury incurred, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation may be available. This is where physiotherapists, occupational therapists, hydrotherapy, and advisors on the best of wheelchair technology and prosthetic science can offer can come into their own. The costs involved in this treatment cannot be underestimated. Although we are extremely fortunate to have free health care, high quality insurance can elevate the aftercare and thus recovery.
4. Think about your legal rights: Instructing a solicitor may not, understandably, be the first action that springs to mind after an accident. If the fall was as the result of somebody else’s negligence, however, or subsequent treatment given is substandard, then the very best of legal help will be required. In the same way that equestrian sport is very different to other types of sporting activity, so there are specialist lawyers working in the fields of medical negligence, brain injury and spinal injury.
Helen Goatley is a Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence Partner and Charlotte Rees Knowlden is a Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence Associate at law firm Barlow Robbins