Psychological responses of elite young riders to the injury of their horses

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Sport is considered a high-risk environment for athletes sustaining injury. Athletes are known to experience negative psychological responses to injury, which can destabilise identity. For athletes, identity is typically constructed around participation in sport, and after injury this identity can be threatened. Within equestrian sport, the addition of a partner athlete also at risk of injury presented a unique circumstance for investigation. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the psychological responses of elite young riders (YR) to the injury of their horses. Five riders competing internationally at YR level for dressage, show jumping and eventing were interviewed about their experiences when their horse suffered serious or career-ending injuries. Interview questions explored athletes' careers, initial reactions to injury, coping mechanisms and return to elite competition. Thematic analysis revealed that riders re-evaluated their identity as elite athletes and experienced a significant sense of loss when their horses became injured. This appraisal of loss led to YR's experiencing denial and guilt at the onset of injury akin to personal injury in athletes. As riders perceive the horse as part of the 'athlete' package, they are at heightened risk of injuryrelated psychological stress when compared to other individual athletes. Riders reported mixed views on common sources of social support, suggesting a need for pre-emptive coping education in addition to intervention resources within equestrian sport to minimise the psychological impact of injury, particularly at YR level.




Davies, E., Ennis, J., & Collins, R. (2018). Psychological responses of elite young riders to the injury of their horses. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 14(3), 189–198.

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