A rider and horse approach a jumping fence illustrating major trauma injuries in horse riding accidents

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Suffering major trauma injuries as the result of an accident involving a horse

Investigating whether there is any possible legal claim when major trauma injuries arise from horse riding accidents

Did you know that horses and ponies can range in weight from 200 kg up to 850 kg?  And when seated on a horse, you will be several metres from the floor?  It is no wonder then that injury from riding or being around horses is common.  It’s widely accepted that horse riding is a high-risk activity, with many injuries being unavoidable but there are occasions where incidents happen as a result of the negligence of another.

What are the common types of horse related incident?

The most common way of sustaining an injury is by a fall from a horse, even the most reliable horse can spook when least expected causing it to bolt or rear up and its rider to become unseated.  However, injury can occur from simply being around horses.

The most common horse-related accidents include:

  • Being bitten or kicked by a horse;
  • Being injured whilst working with horses (eg as an instructor or groom);
  • Injury caused by defective or unsuitable equipment;
  • Road traffic accidents;
  • Injury caused by being provided with an unsuitable or unpredictable horse;
  • Falling from a horse.

In addition, those working around horses and spectating at events can also suffer injury and if there is a road traffic accident involving a horse, other road users such as car drivers and their passengers could also face injury. 

What are the common types of injuries sustained?

Injuries range in severity, many riders will experience stiffness or bruising as the result of falling from a horse or being barged into a fence or gate, but horse-riding accidents can also be fatal.  It is not unusual for a rider involved in a road traffic accident or fall from a horse to suffer major trauma injuries. 

The most common injuries include:

  • Horse bites;
  • Head injuries;
  • Spinal injuries;
  • Broken bones.

When is there negligence?

There are circumstances where injury has occurred, and another persons’ actions or negligence may give rise to the possibility of a claim. These can include:

  • Inadequate supervision or instruction;
  • Faulty or ill-fitting tack or other riding equipment, as well as incorrect fastening of the girth;
  • A riding school failing to provide a horse suitable for a rider’s level of experience or providing a horse who has previously displayed unattractive behaviours or characteristics;
  • A road traffic accident, as the rider, driver or passenger.

Claims involving horses are notoriously difficult and would be brought under either the Animals Act 1971 or the general laws of negligence.

Claims under the Animals Act would commonly involve injury as the result of a horse kicking, biting or bucking.  The rules that apply to horses under this Act mean that the following criteria would need to be met in order to bring a claim:

  • Was the injury one which is likely to be severe?  Horses are large, heavy animals who gallop at an average speed of 30 miles per hour.  It therefore appears reasonable to assume that an injury is likely to be severe;
  • Did the horse display behaviour not normally found in horses, except at particular times or in particular circumstances? Horses generally are docile animals, but there are circumstances, such as when they are given the opportunity to run free as part of a herd, when they can present more aggressive behaviour;
  • Was the keeper of the horse aware of those behaviours or characteristics? Had the horse previously displayed such behaviour and therefore it was reasonably likely that the behaviour would be repeated, and injury may occur.

If these criteria are met, it is not necessary to prove fault or negligence.  However, there are a number of exceptions within the Act which could provide a defence and therefore pursuing a claim under the Animals Act 1971 may not always be an option.

For injuries that occur because of a road traffic accident, defective equipment or as a spectator at an event, then a claim may be possible under the general laws of negligence.  For a claim to succeed, it would be necessary to establish that a third party has been negligent and that the negligence caused the accident which led to the injury.  In some cases, even if the injury could not have been prevented, it may still be possible to bring a claim if you can prove that the injury would have been less severe if reasonable precautions were taken by the person in charge of the horse, motor vehicle or organising an event.

Road traffic accidents involving horses and riders – the statistics

In the year to March 2021, 1,010 incidents involving horses on UK roads were reported to the British Horse Society (‘BHS’).  There is no legal requirement to report road traffic incidents involving horses to the BHS, so the true figure is likely to be higher.  Whilst this was a drop of 3% compared to the previous year, it must be remembered that for much of this period, the country was in lockdown meaning there were not as many riders or cars on the roads.  Of the 1,010 reported incidents, 80% occurred due to vehicles passing too close to the horse.  This can easily unnerve even the most reliable horse, causing it to rear up, bolt or buck which may unseat its rider or cause it to move into the path of moving vehicles.  Advice is that car drivers should slow down to a maximum of 15mph to pass a horse, never beep the horn or rev the engine, pass wide and slow, allowing at least a car’s width between horse and car where possible, and drive away slowly. 

How can Major Trauma Group help?

Major Trauma Group is a network of specialist serious injury law firms, experienced in dealing with claims following major trauma.  We can provide assistance to clients throughout England and Wales and we are supported by a medical clinician who can advise on rehabilitation, independent financial advisers and case managers who are all highly experienced in this field.

If you would like a free no-obligation chat with one of our members, please email hello@majortraumagroup.co.uk or call us on 0330 311 2578

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