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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.