Canada’s horse world gets serious about concussion and mental health

Alyssa Yallop (GBR) comes off One More Step.
© Mike Bain

A national consortium has been formed in Canada to increase concussion and mental health awareness across the equine industry. 

All Canadian equine organizations will be invited to join the consortium to raise nationwide awareness of the prevention of brain injuries to riders, how to identify related mental health issues, and where to find appropriate resources to deal with them.

“It’s challenging to put a figure on just how many Canadians suffer from brain injuries,” said Dr Louis Hugo Francescutti, one of the country’s leading medical experts and educators on injury prevention.

Dr Louis Hugo Francescutti
Dr Louis Hugo Francescutti

“They don’t all present for care, especially the milder it is. The trouble with a brain injury is that you don’t appear to be injured, (but) it is a leading cause of death.”

Brain injuries affect thousands of Canadians annually — most especially those within the sports community — and potentially carry $10 million per patient in economic impact for the country, said Francescutti, the former President of the Canadian Medical Association and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

“There’s an ambulance, there are doctor visits and follow-ups, the person’s IQ may be impacted to the point where they’re unable to work,” he said. “Certainly, if it’s a youth, their parent will have to take time off from work. It can break up families and cause divorce.

“There’s a lifetime impact to brain injuries that add up.”

Prevention is the safest and most effective way to save lives, he said. “The thing I ask all patients when treating for injury from an accident is, ‘did you think it would happen to you today?’ Accidents and injuries always happen when you least expect it.”

Equestrian leaders from Western and English riding disciplines have initiated the delivery of the country’s first Symposium on Brain Injury and Mental Health in the Canadian Equine Industry, on October 11 at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alberta. Francescutti is the Symposium’s keynote speaker.

Workshop leaders, speakers, and panelists are being drawn from a roster of recognized experts in the equine world. The one-day event is designed to equip participants with resources they can take back to their respective horse-riding communities and put into daily use.

“We want to provide a toolbox of resources to all Canadian equine organizations, so they can better deal with the critical issue of rider health and wellness,” says Dr Blaine Bugg, President of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team.

Jon Garner, Director of Sport with Equestrian Canada, said the organisation was pleased to be part of the continuing conversation surrounding concussion awareness. “Although there have been strides made, there is still a lot of work to be done to help athletes and their support teams, in all sports, be armed with the information they need. EC would like to thank the consortium’s founding members for making this Symposium possible.”

The consortium’s founding members include Equestrian Canada, Spruce Meadows, the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Med Team, the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, Benson Concussion Institute Inc., Ty Pozzobon Foundation, Back on Track Canada and others.



One thought on “Canada’s horse world gets serious about concussion and mental health

  • September 16, 2018 at 1:28 am

    I am so pleased this conversation is happening. I hope that the symposium addresses the impact on novice/recreational riders and not just elite athletes.
    At the end of May I suffered a fall – of course I was wearing a helmet. My safe schooling horse spooked when the weather changed suddenly and I fell at least seven feet and landed horizontally. I had a few broken bones (toe, foot and ankle) which healed in due course. What I didn’t know at the time was I also suffered a concussion and the symptoms presented as mental health issues. I have been off work for three months.
    The concussion diagnosis did not occur until 2 months into my sick leave and it certainly explained all the symptoms and way I was feeling. It took a while to connect the dots between my mental health and impact of fall.
    In any event, awareness is critical! My prognosis and recovery would have been better if the connection had been made sooner. I look forward to hearing more about the results of this initiative.


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