Dr. Dolan and Dr. Kieckbusch standing in front of Justin Sports Medicine Team truck.

How to avoid horse-related injuries

If you’ve spent time in Reno during the summer you know that June is rodeo season. Rodeo and horseback riding are exciting sports with long and proud histories, especially in northern Nevada. Since 1919, the Reno Rodeo—the “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West”—has brought the community together to celebrate the thrilling tradition of rodeo in the Reno-Sparks area.

Many people enjoy the entertainment of the rodeo from the comfortable distance of the stands, but for rodeo athletes, accepting the danger is part of the sport. One study reports that horseback riding is more likely to result in injury than motorcycle riding, skiing, football and rugby. Due to the size of most horses, many horse-related injuries could be fatal or leave a person paralyzed.

In honor of the Reno Rodeo, we’ve collected tips to avoid horse-related injuries for the novice rider to professional cowboy with some help from Dr. Travis Kieckbusch, an orthopaedic surgeon at Great Basin Orthopaedics, Reno native and rodeo enthusiast. Dr. Kieckbusch grew up with rodeo and now shares it with his family.

 In The Stable

Horseback riding can be a dangerous sport, but the potential for danger exists long before your foot ever reaches the stirrup. Horses range from just over 800 pounds to 2,200 pounds—the weight of a small car. They have tremendous power in their legs and can do lethal damage to a person if they are not handled correctly. Here are some tips to avoid injuries in the stable:

●     Never walk behind a horse. Approach the horse at the shoulder. A horse could scare easily by sensing a presence behind them and kick instinctually, which could cause serious injury.

●     Feed a horse with an open hand. Fingers can be mistaken for something edible and get injured in the feeding process.

●     Check a horse’s demeanor before approaching it. A horse’s ears are the best indicator of its mood. Horses will have their ears pointed toward the ground if they are ill or sedated, meaning you should approach with caution. An aggravated horse typically has its ears pinned back.

In The Saddle

Horseback riding is one of the oldest sports known to man. The best defense against injury is to train, and train well. “There’s a lot to know about horseback riding,” said Dr. Kieckbusch. “You’re already at a higher risk for injury because you’re dealing with very large animals. Being in shape, staying flexible and having the right equipment will help riders avoid injuries.” Because horseback riding is a full-body sport, it’s important to take the same steps you would before any workout, including stretching and hydrating.

Riders should also keep these tips in mind.

●     Horses are living animals. They react to their environment like any other creature. It’s important to pay attention to how your horse is reacting and be on the lookout for anything on the trail or in your riding area that could cause the horse to react negatively. Horses are flight creatures and will run at the first sign of trouble, with or without their rider.

●     Check your equipment before riding. Making sure the saddle girth is appropriately tightened before mounting and stirrups are adjusted to the height of the rider is important for avoiding injury.

●     In the event of a fall, try to roll out of the way. Because horses are flight animals, it is important to roll out of the path of a horse in the event of a fall to avoid being trampled.

In The Rodeo

Rodeo is different than your average horseback ride. Rodeo includes bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback riding, and many other high-intensity and potentially dangerous events. Dr. Kieckbusch and his colleague Dr. Christopher Dolan volunteer their time every year at the Reno Rodeo as part of the Justin Sports Medicine Team, monitoring riders and their steady stream of injuries.

In many rodeo events, riders are bound to the animal, increasing the risk for injury. The most important tip provided by Dr. Kieckbusch: Listen to your body. Many athletes in rodeo will ignore pain they feel in the interest of continuing to compete, furthering the severity of their injury. Ignoring pain or pushing through pain could cause serious and permanent damage.

How do you know when bad is bad enough? “Professional rodeo riders probably endure more pain than most people,” said Dr. Kieckbusch. “But if an injury is limiting your ability to perform and lasts for more than a day or so, then it’s probably time to be evaluated by a doctor.”

The rodeo is a Reno tradition and part of the legacy of the Wild West. Whether it’s for casual entertainment or serious competition, horseback riding and rodeo are serious sports. Safety should always be the top priority of any person engaging in horseback or rodeo sports. Many horse-related injuries can be avoided as long as proper precautions are taken. If you have recently experienced a horse related injury, please contact Great Basin Orthopaedics to schedule a consultation.