If you’ve been riding for as long as I have (about half a century if you count my up/down lessons as a kid), the chances that you’ve had a concussion along the way is pretty high. According to a report issued by Ohio State University in 2020, approximately 10%-30% of horse-related injuries are head injuries. In fact, of all sports in the U.S., equestrian sports are the most common cause of sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults.
Wearing a helmet every time you ride is smart. Helmets can help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury by as much as 50 percent, but it’s not going to protect your head every time. When you’re riding, your head is more than eight feet off the ground; falling from just two feet can cause permanent brain damage. Add movement to the equation, and it gets even riskier.
One of the most unpredictable aspects of a concussion or TBI is the delay in the symptoms. I once had a fall out hunting. I got back on my horse, finished the hunt and drove my trailer back to the barn. Only when I had put my tack away did I start to see pinpricks of light in my peripheral vision. I was shocked — I didn’t think I’d hit my head when I’d fallen and I certainly did not think I’d been concussed.
I was lucky. I suffered no long term ill effects from the fall. I checked in with my doctor and she told me to come in if the symptoms persisted. My friend and neighbor, Alyson Muzila, was not so lucky. The horse she was riding tripped over a low jump. She landed on the front of her head, then flipped over. She had almost no immediate symptoms. She did not black out. She did not have a headache. It took five days for her symptoms to appear and two years for her to recover. Please listen to her story. I learned a lot from her experience and I think she brings a very important message to the equestrian community.
This excerpt is from an article in the Horse that further explains how post-concussive disorder can take time to resolve, but that improvements can manifest over years rather than weeks or months.
“Most concussions resolve in 24 or 48 hours, although they can last for two weeks for kids,” he said. “Post-concussive disorder can last weeks, months, even years. TBI can affect memory and attention deficits. It can affect day-to-day function. Headaches are common; smell and taste loss can occur. The neurologic gauge in the brain for mood and emotional state can get out of whack after the trauma of concussion. TBI is related to quality of life and depression rates, because it interferes with enjoying experiences in life. There is a cumulative psychological toll associated with TBI.
“The good news,” Han continued, “is that recovery can still happen over three years post-injury. There is a ‘Goldilocks’ zone between rest and keeping brain from atrophying. Not doing anything is detrimental to recovery. Using physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can help with functional recovery. “Dan Han, PsyD, chief of the University of Kentucky (UK) Neuropsychology Service’s Clinical Section and associate professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and physical medicine and rehabilitation at the UK College of Medicine as reported in the Horse.
Have you suffered long term effects from a concussion? What helped you with your recovery?