Enjoy Maine trails on horseback this summer

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According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, an estimated 78,499 horseback riding injuries occurred in 2009. While more than half of those injuries happened to men and women between the ages of 25 to 64, all age groups are potentially susceptible to injury when horseback riding.

While there are no guarantees when getting on a horse, there are steps riders can take to reduce their risk of injury when horseback riding.

* Sign up for lessons. Riders with minimal or no riding experience should get lessons from a professional. Lessons are expensive, but often worth the additional cost. When looking for lessons, consider bringing a friend of similar skill level along, as many instructors offer discounted rates for couples or larger groups.

* Wear a helmet. Riders should always wear a properly fitted equestrian helmet. Make sure the helmet is certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials and the Safety Equipment Institute. Don’t mistakenly assume a bicycle helmet will do the trick. Bicycle helmets are designed to bear impact on the front or side of the head, while equestrian helmets are designed to bear impact on the back of the head. This is an important distinction, as the head injuries from horse riding often are to the back of the head.

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* Be safe with stirrups. Beginners should inquire about safety stirrups, which can greatly reduce the risk of being dragged by the horse. But even more experienced riders should wear a boot with a good heal when riding. This keeps the foot from slipping through the stirrups.

* Don’t become a backseat rider. Horseback riding can be a relaxing hobby, but riders should never get too relaxed. When riding, keep in mind you are on an animal. Stay alert when riding. Avoiding injury while horseback riding often comes down to a few precious seconds. In the blink of an eye a person can either avert an injury or succumb to an accident. Though horseback riding is a leisurely and relaxing hobby, riders should always stay alert.

* Never ride alone. Inexperienced and even veteran riders should always ride with an experienced partner. Should an accident occur, a partner can administer CPR if necessary and call for help. When going out for a ride, make sure at least one rider has brought along his or her cell phone.

* Never ride under the influence of alcohol or medication. Riders should always be coherent and sober when riding. Alcohol and recreational or prescription drugs greatly reduce a person’s reaction time, which can put them in significant danger when horseback riding.

Horseback riding can be a rewarding and relaxing hobby. But riders should always exercise caution and follow principles of riding etiquette to reduce the risk of injury to themselves and fellow riders.

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