Klara Boije af Gennäs
Department of Sport Science, Malmö University
The time is 2pm and I am on a train somewhere in Sweden. I open the Swedish public radio application and the news about Peder Fredricsson’s injury hits me. He has fallen off his horse during the warm-up of Global Champions League at the Stadium Arena in Stockholm. With neck pain, Peder lay still until the ambulance came, 15 minutes later, to take him to the hospital. In an interview Peder expressed how quickly he came to realize the seriousness of his injury, nevertheless he never feared his career to be over. A trauma to the head or neck is unfortunately not uncommon. Falling of the horse causing head and/or neck injuries is the most common riding-related injury for both novice and advanced riders, and seemingly not a reason to quit.
It is evident that horse-related sports pose safety hazards with high risk for accidents, injuries, and death (Buckley et al., 1993), being more dangerous than motorcycling, skiing, football, and rugby (Ball et al., 2007; Paix, 1999). Yet current research on horse-related sports confirms that there is scope for improvement (Thompson et al., 2015). The existing research on acute injuries in equestrian sport is clear – head and neck injuries caused by falling off the horse are the most common types of injuries (Ball et al., 2007; Kiss et al., 2008; Wolframm, 2013). Consequently, the evidence for wearing a helmet to prevent trauma to head and neck is well established (Bier et al., 2018; Christey et al., 1994). Research on overuse injuries; however, is still sparse and restricted to adult elite riders (Lang et al., 2021). Several studies use retrospective data from hospital records, which could be a reason why acute injuries are more evident than overuse injuries. Another consideration is the often mandatory hours required of the rider to work in the stable taking care of the horse and everything around it. These hours often exceed the time spent in the saddle and is often hard labor, carrying equipment, water buckets and animal feed, and pushing fully loaded wheelbarrows etc. On top of that, managing a large pack animal weighing up to a ton, reaching a top speed at 60 km/h, and being a flight animal, makes the equestrian sport unique and increases the complexity of identifying and mitigating risk for injuries amongst riders (Thompson et al., 2015). Thus further studies are needed concerning risk of injuries amongst the riders working with horses in the stable (Thompson et al., 2015; Wolframm, 2013). In conclusion, both riding and stable activities need to be considered for a deeper understanding of injuries amongst riders practicing equestrian sport.
Thompson et al., (2015) identified four common strategies to manage risk in horse-related sports: avoidance, transference, mitigation, and acceptance, highlighting that further research on mitigation strategies is needed. Novice riders are at higher risk than advanced riders, even though the latter take on more difficult horses (Mayberry et al., 2007). The risk for injuries among youth riders aged 10–19 is especially high (Loder, 2008). The number of injuries among female riders is higher than among males; however, horse related injuries among male riders are more severe (Wolframm, 2013). This may suggest that there is a gender difference in risk-taking behaviors. Riders being in a competitive setting can also encourage risk-taking behaviors (Thompson & Nesci, 2016). Attitudes towards the use of helmets were related to risk-taking and a feeling of being unable to control the likelihood of accidents (Haigh & Thompson, 2015). A study of adult competitive riders found that attitude to risk taking was the only predicting factor for injuries (Ekberg et al., 2011). Nevertheless, there is limited research on how the cultural predispositions and attitudes towards risk-taking (Thompson et al., 2015) influence the onset of injuries amongst youth riders.
The study of cultural predispositions and attitudes towards injuries will be dependent on what type of sport is studied (Arvinen-Barrow, et al., 2016). Additionally, incidence and severity of equestrian sport injuries shift between countries, making it difficult to identify one key risk factor for injuries. Therefore, researching country specific contexts becomes a necessity (Havlik, 2010). Researching Sweden, with an established equestrian sport culture thus seems natural (Thorell et al., 2018). Equestrian sport is very popular with around 500,000 active riders of which 93% are female (Svenska Ridsportförbundet [Swedish Equestrian Federation], 2022). Throughout Sweden, 841 organizations are connected to the National Federation and 450 of them are active riding schools. Before 1957, riding schools catered mainly for adults taking an interest in horses, while maintaining the military horses and keeping them in shape for potential war (Hedenborg et al., 2021; Thorell et al., 2018). Whereas now children begin taking riding lessons before the age of three at the initiative of their parents (Rosén & Hedenborg 2020). Riding is also the second most popular sport among adolescents in Sweden, with only football more popular. In recent years the interest among adolescents to study at high schools offering riding orientation has increased, leading to a quantity of 33 horse-oriented high schools across Sweden. Recent studies on equestrian sports show that social networking sites (SNS) is an intermediary of culture among youth riders (Nowé Hedvall et al., 2017; Broms et al., 2022). Youth riders in Sweden and Norway aged 15–19 are actively producing and consuming SNS about horses (Broms et al., 2021). So, exploring predispositions and values of the equestrian community on SNS is important to understand injuries among youth riders.
The overall aim is to extend and strengthen the understanding of stable- and riding injuries among youth equestrian riders in Sweden by using an multi- and interdisciplinary research approach.
In any sport, and especially in high-risk sports such as equestrian sports, it is impossible to eliminate the occurrence of injuries completely. Nevertheless, with the implementation of prevention strategies it is possible to reduce both frequency and severity (Bergeron et al., 2015). To develop prevention strategies requires specificity in age, level, and sport (Arvinen-Barrow et al., 2016; Finch & Donaldson, 2010; Verhagen et al., 2010). In line with current research, I am limiting my own study to youth riders, both boys and girls, between 12 and 19 years of age, riding at least once a week on a regular basis and practice equestrian sports in Sweden. The overall aim is to extend and strengthen the understanding of stable- and riding injuries among youth equestrian riders in Sweden by using an multi- and interdisciplinary research approach. The disciplines identified to inform the choice of research question and study design are (1) sport medicine, (2) sport sociology, and (3) sport communication and media.
In terms of research approach and methods, numerous scholars advocate for a multi- and interdisciplinary research approach (IDR) when investigating sport injuries. Burwitz et al. (1994) made a call for further studies using IDR regarding talent identification, adherence, peaking and injuries. While many studies have been conducted using multi- and interdisicplinarity approaches, many of them have been located within the same paradigm – using either qualitative or quantitative methods (Hausken-Sutter et al., 2021). However, Hausken-Sutter et al. (2023) claim that sport scholars need to pay attention to the integration of several paradigmatic views and methods from multiple disciplines researching the complex nature of youth sport injuries.
The integrated potential is particularly promising for research aiming to examine the interactions of components proposed vital to understand the complexity of injury aetiology (Hausken-Sutter et al., 2021, p. 7).
Turning to equestrian sports, Thompson et al. (2015) published a critical review signifying the need for the use of multidisicplinary approaches, employing both qualitative and quantitaitve methods, for succesful development of strategies to manage the risk for horse-related injuries. In an attempt to meet these needs, I am using an online questionnaire, online ethnography, and focus group interviews to fullfill the aim of this project.
To this date, I have completed an online survey based on the updated OSTRC-H2 (Clarsen et al., 2020) and collected prospectively every week during February–June 2023. The aim is to map out both prevalence and incidence of acute and overuse injuries related to riding and stable chores among youth riders in Sweden. The language is adapted according to Hausken-Sutter et al. (2021) to be suitable for adolescents. I have also made a few additional adaptations to make the questions relevant for equestrian sport. The results are yet to be published in a scientific journal.
Ongoing is the online ethnography (Berg, 2015; Kozinets, 2015) where I follow the hashtag #ridingfail on the social networking site TikTok. The data collection consists of my observational notes. The aim is to identify how the equestrian community portrays themselves in that context.
Finally, during this autumn, I am interviewing riders in that age group who rides once a week on a regular basis. Each group consist of 3–5 riders. During these semi-structured focus group interviews (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2018) we will discuss equestrian sport injuries related to riding and stable chores. Additionally, I have written vignettes based on the early results from the ethnographic observations using them to discuss how SNS are intertwined with injury etiology. The aim is to explore cultural predispositions, norms, and attitudes regarding horse-related injuries among youth riders in Sweden. If you would like to participate or know someone who would like to take part, please contact me at email@example.com.
In conclusion, I aim to expand the knowledge and increase the understanding of injury etiology specifically among young riders who practice equestrian sport in Sweden. By providing innovative and relevant knowledge, my dissertation offers the possibility to develop new prevention strategies, targeting coaches, the equestrian federation, physiotherapists, riding-schools, instructors, and riders. By contributing to a more complex understanding and highlighting how injury processes take place in equestrian culture, this study can benefit adolescents’ health in a positive way, and through this, prolong participation in sport and long-term physical activity.
The outcome of this project will be published in scientific journals and as a dissertation at Malmö University, Sweden. My supervisors are professor Susanna Hedenborg and Dr. Daniel Svensson, senior lecturer, both at Malmö University.
Copyright © Klara Boije af Gennäs 2023