Whoa Nellie

Matthew Broderick just broke his collarbone while riding a horse. This makes Broderick the fourth or fifth person I have heard of in recent months who was injured while riding a horse. This got me to thinking: how dangerous is horseback riding, especially as compared to, say, riding a motorcycle?

A quick Google search turns up this 1990 CDC report, which makes it pretty clear: “Each year in the United States, an estimated 30 million persons ride horses. The rate of serious injury per number of riding hours is estimated to be higher for horseback riders than for motorcyclists and automobile racers.” (Here’s the citation for the injury rates: Firth JL. Equestrian injuries. In: Schneider RC, Kennedy JC, Plant ML, eds. Sports injuries: mechanism, prevention, and treatment. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1985:431-9.)

Interestingly, the people who get hurt riding horses are often under the influence of alcohol, just like the people who get hurt driving motor vehicles.

So why don’t we hear about all these horseback-riding injuries and fatalities? I have a few guesses:

1. A lot of horse accidents occur on private property, and involve just one person.

2. Such accidents probably tend to not generate police reports, as a motorcycle or drag-racing accident inevitably would.

3. The kind of people who might typically call attention to unsafe activities like horses more than they like motorcycles.

4. A big motorcycle accident is more likely to make the evening news than a horse-riding accident — unless, or course, the victim of the horse-riding accident is a Matthew Broderick or a Christopher Reeve.

I may be wrong on this, but I don’t recall that Reeve’s tragic accident was taken as a call to ban or regulate horseback riding — whereas when Ben Roethlisberger, e.g., was recently injured while riding his motorcycle without a helmet, all the discussion was about the foolishness of his act.

Even more surprising than the news that Broderick broke his collarbone is the fact that he broke it in Ireland — where, according to the U.P.I. article linked above, he owns a vacation home. I would have thought after the terrible accident Broderick had many years ago, in which he killed a mother and daughter in a car crash, Ireland is the last place where he’d own a vacation home.


Regarding your interesting question of why he continues to go back to the country where he had the tragic accident, me suspects his wife picked out the vacation spot. "Oh honey, I love Ireland so much...it won't bother you, will it?"


I would be interested in knowing how "serious injury" is being defined since about 10% of horseback riding related injuries require hospitalization while about 17% of motorcycle injuries require hospitalization (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031470.htm). It's difficult to compare the studies because there is no side by side analysis of the horse and motorcycle data.


Broderick's car crash was in Northern Ireland while his vacation house is in the Republic of Ireland. Different countries.

Gary Turnbull

Exactly what I was going to point out. Sloppy, ethnocentric journalism.


> I may be wrong on this, but I don't recall
> that Reeve's tragic accident was taken as a
> call to ban or regulate horseback
> riding-whereas when Ben Roethlisberger,
> e.g., was recently injured while riding
> his motorcycle without a helmet, all
> the discussion was about the foolishness
> of his act.

1) Had Reeve cracked his head open rather than his neck, and had he not been wearing "proper attire" then it no doubt would have been a case of "What kind of example are you setting?"

2) Most (using a very inexact measurement, admittedly) people ride horses on grass/dirt at speeds of, what, 2 mph? Most people ride motorcycles on something like concrete at 50-70mph surrounded by other people in other vehicles in close proximity at high speed. Comparing the danger would involve not just the injury but the risk of death.

3) A helmet is such a basic piece of equipment, and not wearing it was such an obvious act of "I won't act responsibly and you can't make me!" after he was told repeatedly by many who care for him that he was being stupidly reckless... to then go and have a wreck... well, hell, the NYTimes should have offered a free full page ad saying "I TOLD YOU SO" with the list of names underneath

4) If Reeve had a history of "recklessness" on a horse and then had an accident, sentiment might be greatly swayed.

5) Someone I know who knows a lot about horses blames whoever put Reeve on what she considered a "very undersized horse" for someone of his size. It's not clear why he was on such a horse, whether it was his choice or not.

So you're really comparing a "freak accident" with a "Well Duh" eventuality that everyone saw coming.



I read some time back that the sport that generated the highest number of fatal accidents (at least in Canada) was - fishing.

This seemingly absurd situation becomes crystal clear when you factor in alcohol.

Guy goes fishing with a case of beer, neglects his life jacket, falls in the water...


Horses are large, strong animals, and a fall from a horse is a fall from a great hight, and possibly a great speed. All of the above makes them inherently dangerous. Many people have a strong love for them, and I have seen trajedy come from this love in the case of extremely gifted riders.

eileen pyles

Broderick has a vacation home in an area where he was taken on vacations as a child. SJP is from Ohio, and I doubt her family ever visited there.


-Equestrians when galloping and jumping travel at speeds of up to 35-40mph when racing. Eventers and other jumpers probably go at around 20-25 on course sometimes cruising up to 30mph on the big event courses between fences when time is running short.
Not 2 mph.!?

Bottom line is both sports are very dangerous and to neglect wearing a helmet reflects not only foolishness and stupidity but inexperience as well. There's nothing cool about the wind blowing through your brains. My skull was saved in a high speed horse fall by a good jockey helmet. I suffered only a minor concussion in what the paramedics (who witnessed the crash at a show )claimed could have been fatal based on speed and height.


WAY after the fact but -- I've ridden for about 5 years - always w/helmet - since the chances of of dying from head injury w/ o a helmet are astronomical -- and nobody seems to want to keep other stats. With a helmet you stay alive - perhaps with broken limbs, torn ligaments, bruised ribs, smashed knees or just squashed-flat feet.

Riders (or at least stable owners and trainers)are well aware that if too much attention was paid - and if there were lawsuits etc - the sport would be dead - or limited to the likes of Broderick and Madonna. Health Insurers would love to exclude coverage for riding - as they do for certain extreme sports - but many states mandate coverage to protect the sport.

There is also - among women too - a bit of a macho attitude - oh, sure I broke 2 ribs and toe my ACL, but it was nothing... And, if you do fall, the first expressions of concern are usually about your horse -- coupled with a tendency to find fault with the rider ..

There are some opinions that the hunt seat or 2 point style of riding in vogue in this country creates a less stable seat, higher center of gravity and a higher likelihood of falls. Don't know that anyone has kept the numbers to assess this. Everything is mythology!

Comparisons with riding a motorcycle or race car- well, the motorcycle tends to a certain consistency which is not true of a live animal. If the rate of serious injury on a bike were this bad, hospitals and nursing homes couldn't provide enough beds!

It is not a rational thing to do, it is dangerous, and we ignore all that because ---- the moments when everything is right between horse and rider are sublime.



As a person who rides horses and motorcycles....horses are far more dangerous. They have minds of their own, and more than occasionally, their own agenda. They are far more athletic than a motorcycle (I've never known a motorcycle to move on it's own, let alone, swim, jump, bite kick or spook all by itself.) Horses weigh considerably more than motorcycles and usually throw you off intentionally - therefore adding extra torque into the spill.
I personally have burned a calf and slipped on oil and wrenched my back riding motorcycles.
While horseback riding, I have broken my neck twice, torn the acl in both knees on separate spills, broken 9 of my toes, my right elbow, a finger, my jaw, had five concussions and was hit in the face during a rear and bit my bottom lip off.
I love horses and riding, and don't plan to stop. I wear protective gear and don't set myself up for mis-adventures. However, horses are unpredictable and dangerous and I am willing to take the risks associated with my chosen sport.



Horseback riding is dangerous - period. That is why all but four states have Equine Activity Liability Statutes and there is a national rule regarding approved helmets at all competitions. There are rules out there and often it is those who do not follow them that get injured.

farm accidents

Its not that it is not dangerous ... one of the reasons why it is still not covered as much is ... there is not as much destruction to life and property when a horse "crashes" when compared to a car / bike accident. We handle farm accidents very frequently ( http://www.farmaccidentsie.com/ ) and horseback accidents are quire common actually.

Tara Davis

I believe that something has been overlooked in your statement that "the people who get hurt riding horses are under the influence of alcohol." I have looked at the link from which the information was received and would like to inform you that the large group to which the accident occurred was most likely a fox hunting group (fox hunting being a very popular type of horseback riding here in the South), a group that had most likely been drinking socially before embarking into the woods (also common among fox hunters).
I know this article was posted in 2006, but even so, using information gathered from a 79', 89' or even 92' article is hardly proper evidence to support this claim.
In reality, most horseback riding injuries occur during English riding (smaller saddles also used for fox hunting purposes) and commonly happen to young adults, mainly girls. As a horseback rider myself, I know the dangers of horseback riding, and the dangers are high enough without the assistance of alcohol.