What is horse riding?

Horse riding is a leisure or sporting activity where a person sits on the back of a pony or horse – either with a saddle or without (bareback).The rider can learn how to get the horse to move (at various speeds), jump or perform special moves (equestrian).

Horses are large animals; some weigh over450kg and are up to three metres tall. They are also able to move at high speeds.1 A horse’s kick can result in a force that is nearly double its body weight.1

To avoid or reduce the risk of injury, a rider must be aware of a horse’s strength, their nature and behaviour. A rider must also use common sense and caution when around horses.

Although horse riding is an activity enjoyed by all ages, it can cause serious injury to children due to the unpredictable nature of horses.

How may a child be injured?


Children can sustain serious head injuries, concussion, spinal injuries, fractures and chest and abdominal injuries when falling from a horse.

Traction injuries

Children can suffer traction injuries (from being pulled or jerked suddenly, i.e. soft tissue injuries such as dislocated/sprained shoulders/elbows/wrists, etc.) while leading a horse.

Cuts, bruises and crush injuries

Children may sustain cuts, bruises or more serious injuries if bitten, stamped on, kicked or dragged by a horse.

How common are these injuries?

Girls are more likely to be injured than boys as a result of horse riding.  In 2011-12, 601 girls aged 5-17 years were hospitalised in Australia as a result of injuries while riding a horse.2 This included:

  • 107 girls aged 5-9 years,
  • 281 girls aged 10-14 years and
  • 213 girls aged 15-17 years.

Most injuries occur while riding a horse3 but they can also occur during handling, grooming, feeding and unrelated activities such as playing near a horse.

Of the children studied at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead between January 1988 and December 1999, only 38% were recorded as wearing helmets.3 The majority of deaths resulted from severe head injuries.

Is there a Law or Australian Standard for horse riding?

It is recommended that manufacturers of helmets for horse riding and horse-related activities follow the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 3838:2006).  This is a voluntary standard that manufacturers are not required to meet, however it is suggested that you purchase a helmet that meets this standard.

An Australian Standard certified riding helmet – which must be fastened whenever riding – should be replaced after any significant impact.

Equivalent standards that are deemed to be safe according to Horse Safety Australia include the American helmets: ASTM F 1163, or PAS 015 (2011) and those EN 1384 helmets with a Kitemark image (see Kitemark picture below).

Kitemark image for horse riding helmets


  • Be aware of the potential dangers whilst riding, leading or simply being near a horse and ensure a child is aware of these dangers.
  • Ensure children wear appropriate safety gear including a Standards Australia approved riding helmet.
  • Ensure children wear the helmet when they are near a horse as kicks can result in severe and sometimes fatal head injuries.
  • Small children should not be allowed to play around horses.
  • Sturdy boots should always be worn when near horses to prevent feet being crushed if trodden on.
  • Safety stirrups are recommended for children and beginner riders as they break away if a rider falls off the horse.
  • Reins, saddles and other horse equipment should be regularly checked and maintained.
  • Children should be supervised by an adult, at all times, while they are with horses.
  • Never walk behind a horse or make loud noises or sudden movements near them
  • Always choose a suitable horse to match the rider’s age, skill, experience and size as well as a one which is suitable for a specific riding activity.
  • Select older horses for inexperienced riders as they are often quieter and more predictable.
  • Always have experienced instructors check all of the equipment and supervise lessons.


1. K E Thomas, J L Annest, J Gilchrist, D M Bixby‐Hammett (2006) Non‐fatal horse related injuries treated in emergency departments in the United States, 2001–2003. Br J Sports Med. 40(7): 619–626. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2006.025858

2. AIHW: Pointer S (2014). Hospitalised injury in children and young people 2011–12. Injury research and statistics series no. 91. Cat. no. INJCAT 167. Canberra: AIHW.

3. Holland  A., Roy G., Goh V., Ross F., Keneally J., and Cass, D (2001) Horse-related injuries in children. The Medical Journal of Australia. 175:609-612