Purpose: The aim of this study was to highlight the neuro-ophthalmological dangers associated with horse riding, and working around horses, and the importance of wearing adequate headgear to protect the rider from neuro-ophthalmic injuries. It raises the questions of whether the current laws regarding helmet use are satisfactory, and whether helmets currently used are of an adequate standard.
Methods: The records over a 20-year period of one neuro-ophthalmologist in Adelaide were reviewed producing 22 patients with neuro-ophthalmological sequelae of head injuries as a result of horse-related accidents.
Results: There were 22 patients (16 female, six male), one of whom was involved in three separate accidents, Of these, seven were professional riders and 15 amateur. In 20 of the 24 accidents, patients were either thrown or fell from the horse. Helmets were worn in 15 of the accidents. All the patients had closed head injuries of varying severity. The most common neuro-ophthalmological complication found was a fourth-nerve palsy in 11 patients. Five patients had a significant loss of vision and two of these were severe enough to warrant a blind pension.
Conclusions: Horse riding and working around horses constitute an occupation or recreation with inherent dangers. Previous studies have shown that wearing of protective headgear reduces the risk and severity of head injuries, and helmet use should be vigorously promoted. The current laws and practices regarding helmet use are not uniform and seem to be inadequate. The current standard for equestrian safety helmets (AS/NZS 3838:1998) embodies improvements on earlier helmet standards and certainly increases the rider's chances of surviving a severe impact. Nevertheless, serious brain injuries have occurred in wearers of approved helmets, and further research is desirable to ensure the optimum degree of protection compatible with rider acceptance.