Get Back in the Saddle: Post-injury Self Care Routines

Injury prevention is a top concern for equestrians. Even if one takes the most safety precautions, injuries still happen. For this reason, recovery routines are just as important as prevention.

Causes and Care of Common Injuries

Head Injuries

Concussions and other head injuries are one of the most common reasons for rider hospitalizations. 

The aftermath of a head injury is not always immediately clear. Riders may develop symptoms such as brain fog, headaches, and blurry vision, days or even weeks after the accident.

Riders should take it easy directly following a head injury. Recovery may require taking several days from school or work. After a period of bed rest, the rider can perform less strenuous activities, such as short walks or light lifting. Riders should halt any activity that exacerbates concussion symptoms.

Concussions greatly increase the risk of experiencing a severe brain injury. After recovering from a concussion, riders should gradually re-engage in equestrian activities. Riders can start to go on short rides after they are cleared by their physician. 

Broken bones

Falls or collisions with the horse can result in fractures. Bone fractures most commonly occur in the clavicle and feet. 

Collarbone injuries happen so frequently amongst equestrians that it is often referred to as a jockey’s fracture. The clavicle connects the shoulder bone to breastbone and is often injured when the rider is thrown from the horse. The resulting fracture is painful and can make it difficult for the rider to engage in any equestrian activities.

For most riders, a clavicle fracture will heal without surgical intervention. However, the arm must be placed in a sling during the recovery process.Local ice packs can dull pain or swelling. Most people recover within eight weeks, but in some cases, it can take up to a year until the injured can fully return to riding. 

Feet injuries occur when the horse steps on the rider. The toes contain long bones, known as the metatarsals. It doesn’t take much for a half ton horse to crush these delicate bones. 

Like clavicle injuries, metatarsal fractures can keep the rider off the saddle for some time. Rinse and repeat the reliable R.I.C.E method (raise, ice, compress, elevate) will provide comfort as the injury heals. 

Skin problems

Equestrians are constantly grappling with two forces, gravity and friction. The latter can cause serious sores and other skin problems.

The skin is the body’s largest organ and can be vulnerable to breakage or swelling. Rashes, outbreaks, and other skin conditions can cause complications like a skin picking disorder or infection. When horse riding, the skin on the inner thigh rubs up against the saddle. This constant chafing causes small abrasions in the groin area, which can become inflamed. These saddle sores can also appear on the buttocks and inner legs. While saddle sores in the groin are a common side effect of riding, sores in other locations can indicate poor riding position or saddle fit.

As with the other injuries, riders with saddle sores must take a break from horse riding. This prevents the wound from reopening and irritating the skin. Riders must keep the area clean using mild soap and water. Covering the area with a layer of antibiotic ointment can prevent infection.

Self Care During Recovery 

It can be hard to take time away from a much-loved activity. Many equestrians experience anxiety and frustration when convalescing from their injury. Mental health care is just as relevant to a healthy recovery as medical treatment. 

There are several ways riders can stay optimistic and hopeful as they heal.

Set goals

Goals keep riders future-focused and motivated. To thwart frustration, the goal should be realistic and flexible. For example, a rider with a simple collarbone fracture can create a recovery plan to get back on their horse within three to six months. More complicated injuries may have a longer time horizon. Keeping goals achievable builds confidence and motivation to move towards the next step.

Grieve if needed

Many injured riders experience the same feelings of loss associated with losing a loved one. Honor these feelings and give space for releasing them. Talking to a trusted person or a mental health professional can help riders navigate these difficult emotions.

Celebrate small wins

Healing is an exhaustive process. Reaching any goal, no matter how seemingly small, is a notable achievement. Riders in recovery can track their progress using a journal. Celebrations don’t need to be elaborate. Treating one’s self to a favorite meal or buying a small gift is the perfect way to acknowledge a job well done.

Stay focused on the present and follow the doctor’s advice. A positive mindset will make the road to recovery much more pleasant.