University of Vermont AAHS

April 1995, Vol. V, Number 2

Table of Contents

Sensation Seeking and Participation in Equestrian Sports
The Joanna Harris Study of Thrill Seeking Among Equestrians
Courageous or Thrill Seekers: Which Are We?
Safety Dilemmas
The Day the Peacock Stirrup Saved My Life

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Sensation Seeking and Participation in Equestrian Sports

This study was designed to examine the relationship between the scores achieved in Zuckerman's (1979) Sensation Seeking Scale, Form V (SSS-V) and the involvement of equestrians in those particular events which are perceived to he inherently dangerous. Zuckerman's contention was that high sensation seekers would involve themselves in a greater number of activities, as well as those activities which are considered to he more risky in nature.

Zuckerman gave the definition of the sensation seeking trait as "the need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience." The following four subscales were created: 1. The thrill and adventure seeking (TAS) items create a subscale that is representative of the respondents' desires to engage in risky- and adventurous sports or activities, often seeking unusual sensations. 2. The experience seeking (ES) subscale is representative of the search for stimulation through the mind, senses, art travel and even mind altering drugs. It is often chacterized by the desire to associate with the "hippy" or unconventional person. 3. The subscale that reflects feelings of disinhibition (DIS) represents attitudes of impulsion and extroversion. Frequently it is marked by the seeking of sensations through drinking alcohol, gambling, sexual variety, etc. 4. The boredom susceptibility (BS) items best represent the subjects' aversion to repetitive experiences or work, whereby an extreme restlessness with consistency is characteristic.

Rowland and Franken (1996) found a positive correlation for females regarding the number of present sporting activities in which the woman participated and the SSS-V scores achieved (r age =.37, P = 01). However, the opposite was true for males. In general, over time, there was a tendency for those high in sensation seeking needs to became involved with a greater variety of sports, than those who are low. These findings suggest that low sensation seekers, particularly females, essentially lack the desire to try new activities.

The classification of equestrians according to the level of risk taking within their sport was based upon statistics provided by Bulus (1992) published by the American Medical Equestrian Association (AMEA). Members of the United States Dressage Federation were polled regarding safety issues and the incidence of injuries. 'The results provided a basis for the selection of equestrian events according to their degree of perceived and actual risk. Bulus' research revealed that:

(a) 96.4% of the respondents recommended the use of protective headgear for jumping, racing, and polo events;

(b) 92% suggested the same for foxhunting; and

(c) only 61% recommended helmets for trail riding, dressage, or Western event participation.

The AMEA's published survey also reported that 80.6% of all respondents indicated that they had in fact received injuries while riding, of which 23.5% of the injuries were received specifically while jumping. Although these figures appear to provide only weak support for the classification of all jumping events as high risk the nature of the population sampled was of dressage origin, which is considered to be relatively safe.

Subjects in this study were required to provide a listing of all equestrian events in which they were engaged and to report all serious injuries sustained, in an effort to further support the classification of risk versus non-risk equestrian events. Support for the use of an all female sample of intermediate ability was provided by Bulus, whereby 92,9% of the survey respondents were female (reflective of the female domination of the sport) and 86.3% of these respondents were either intermediate or experienced amateurs.

The study consisted of 21 female equestrian participants who were identified as belonging to an age group between 21 and 50 years of age; 13 riding instructors who were participating in a riding instructors workshop, and 8 volunteers involved with a therapeutic riding program. The equestrian involvement questionnaire required the subjects to report (a) the number and type of equestrian events in which they had participated in the past, (b) the degree of their involvement in those events, and (c) their self-reported ability level. They were asked the number and type of injuries they had sustained while riding and their perception of inherent danger within equestrian sports.

The subjects were categorized according to their participation in either risk or non-risk events. The risk group was further subdivided into subgroups: foxhunting, hunter/jumper, or cross county events.

The total scores on the SSS-V produced a mean of 22.69 far the risk group (n = 13) and a SD 4.61. However, the non-risk group (n = 8) had a mean of 19.88 (SD = 5.51), giving positive yet not significant findings between the non-risk and risk group. There were no significant differences between the non-risk group and any of the three risk subgroups, although these findings were also positive in nature. Within the risk group, the subgroup of cross-country equestrians produced the highest mean score on the SSS-V, followed by the hunter/jumper, and then the fox hunters. The non-risk equestrians produced the lowest mean score.

There were significant differences in the TAS subscale scores produced by the non-risk group, as opposed to those of both the risk group and the hunter/jumper subgroup. The non-risk group produced a mean of 5.75 (SD = 1.989 as opposed to a mean of 7.69 (SD = 1.86) produced by the risk group which statistically created significant results. The hunter/jumper subgroup (n = 8) had a mean = 8.38 and SD) = 1.0 producing a significant difference.

The total SSS-V scores from the youngest age group (21-30 years) compared with the total scores generated by the oldest age group (41-50 years) revealed there were no significant findings

A significant correlation existed between the number of equestrian events and the membership in either the risk or non-risk group. The risk group participated in a mean of 4.46 events (SD = 1.74), whereas the non-risk group participated in a mean of 2.13 events (SD = 1.17). The risk group produced a mean of 2.17 serious injuries (SD 1.86) whereas the non-risk group reported fewer injuries with a mean of 0.5 (SD 0.87). The perception of danger of equestrian events, according to the subjects membership in either the risk or non-risk group was of importance. Within the risk group 75% reported that they perceived equestrian sports to be dangerous, with only 50% of the non-risk group reported their perception as such.

The results of this study indicate that there appears to be only a weak relationship between risky equestrian sport involvement and the need to seek new and stimulating sensations, as predicted by the SSS-V. However, the riders categorized as risk-takers were found to have participated in a greater number of equestrian events, reported more injuries, and regarded equestrian sports as more dangerous than did the non-risk participants.

The hypothesis from research done by Rowland that risk groups participants would engage themselves in a greater number of equestrian events was fully supported by the current study. The results of this study indicate that perhaps the non-risk equestrians perceive the sport to be less dangerous as a direct result of the low incidence of injuries within their sports. These findings regarding perceived danger are evidence of the fact that the risk group was accurately categorized as such, where the groups' participants felt that their well-being was threatened as a result of their event participation. It is of interest to note that all subjects were either instructors themselves os were involved with therapeutic riding, and are perceived to be the more safety conscious groups within the equestrian population. It is speculated that perhaps a non-instructor affiliated group would report an even lower perception of inherent danger, thus creating an even greater separation between the perception of the two groups.

Although this is quite possibly the first attempt ever made to study equestrians in light of their sensation seeking needs, several factors must be addressed regarding future research in this area. There are numerous high risk equestrian events within the sport; perhaps those individuals involved with polo, steeplechasing, flat racing rodeo, etc, may represent a more truly high level of risk-taking participation. Although the present study found no significant correlation between the risk group and the higher SSS-V scores, the findings were very positive in nature, providing an indication that perhaps given a larger sample size and the inclusion of participants involved with more risky events, greater support for the SSS-V and its four subscales could very well be provided.

Non-Risk Equestrian Group


FX Feet, Ankles no 2 None yes 2 Laceration yes 9 None no 4 None yes 1 None yes 1 Bruises no 2 None no 1

Risk Equestrian Group


Concussion, FX wrist no 2 Fx pelvis, Disloc Clavicle yes 6 Fx Coccyx yes 3 Concussion, FX leg, Disloc hip yes 5 Disloc Patella yes 5 Concussion,FX 2 vertebrae,Tooth loss yes 3 None no 4 FX, Concussions yes 4 None yes 3 Fx ankles,foot,toes,finger,ribs,conc yes 8 Bruises yes 4 FX nose, Bruised back, Whip Lash yes 3

Johanna Harris
Hickory Hill Farm
4721 Alson Chapel Road
Pittsboro, NC 27312

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The Joanna Harris Study of Thrill Seeking Among Equestrians

Do some horse people seek thrills more than others? The Journal Harris student study gives some evidence that they do. It is a small retrospective study which tries to correlate a scale of adventure and thrill seeking among equestrians with their past involvement in either risk or non-risk equestrian activities. The risk group is defined as those with past participation in jumping or racing events, and non-risk group is defined as the absence of involvement in these activities. The sample consisted of 2 groups: 13 riding instructors participating in a workshop, and 8 volunteer instructors in a therapeutic riding program.

The Sensation Seeking Scale-V used in the study is a composite of 4 subscales measuring various kinds of thrill seeking and was developed by Zuckerman, Kolin, Price and Zoob and published in the Journal of Consulting psychology in 1964. The subscales in brief were: 1. Thrill and adventure seeking. 2. Experience seeking (through mind, art. travel, drugs). 3, Disinhibition (seeking sensations through alcohol, gambling, sex, etc. 4. Boredom susceptibility.

There were some interesting findings (see Figure 1). The results for the overall Sensation Seeking Scale-V were small but positive, as were the results for the Thrill and Adventure subscale. My copy of her report is missing the numerical results for the other 3 subscales that she measured. I presume: The results for the other 3 scales were negative. I find it quite a pleasant notion that apparently equestrians were motivated just by the simple desire for thrill and adventure, and not by the other subscale factors such as boredom.

Another interesting result was that the risk group was the far more energetic group with participation in equestrian events at twice the level of the non-risk group. This double exposure was doubled again when it came to the number of injuries which were four times the level for the risk group as the non-risk group. However this result could he due to the fact that the author did not measure how many in the risk group were professional instructors as opposed to volunteer instructors. It is possible that the increased exposure is a simple result of professional requirements and qualifications.

A Note on Statistics

The biggest problem with the Joanna Harris aristotle is that the author clearly states that she used a non-random sample of convenience. But she then goes ahead and calculates many many t-tests and probabilities. The problem is that she did not meet the conditions needed for performing such tests: The underlying assumption of all probabilities is the existence of a random sample. It's like setting 5 coins on the table heads up and then saying, "Look I've got 5 heads," and the probability of that happening by chance is p<.000001. The point is, it didn't happen by chance. The coins were placed head up.

Probabilities do not apply.

There is also the problem of possibly confounded data. Joanna mixes the results for the instructors and volunteers without demonstrating whether this is reasonable to do. These groups should have been analyzed separately. It is suspicious to me that the number in the risk group, 13, is identical to the number of instructors. So it seems to me quite possible that the results for the risk group are confounded with the greater experience and exposure of true professional horse people.

Even if she had had a random sample, she did far too many t-tests on far too little data. The problem is that a significant probability p<.05 will occur by chance alone one in twenty times.

One last detail: she reports (r age =.37 p<.01) for the correlation of present activities and SSS-V scores-(Rowland et al). The (r age = .37) does not make sense because age is not a statistic and it is not one of the 2 variables correlated. My guess is that someone pulled the wrong figure off a paper or computer printout.

My advice in the future is to report means, sample sizes, and perhaps the range of the data but avoid probabilities and the use of the word significance unless there is a true random sample. Simple ratios (relative risk) and percentages are acceptable as well. To this end I redid her results and presented them as simple ratios in the table below.

Random samples are extremely hard to get, and good studies are extremely hard to do.

Risk group Non-risk group Relative risk:

the ratio of

risk group

result to non-

risk group result*

Mean of Sensation Seeking Scale- V 22.69 19.88 1.14

Mean of Thrill and Adventure Subscale 7.69 5.75 1.33

Number of Equestrian Events by subject 4.46 2.13 2.09

Number of Injuries 2.17 0.50 4.34

* This is a simple ratio. The higher the number, the greater the difference between the two groups.

Mary Cowmeadow

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Courageous or Thrill Seekers: Which Are We?

Are horse people thrill-seekers? The Joanna Harris study, reported in this issue, gives evidence that some of us may be higher risk takers. But what is a risk taker or a thrill seeker? What is courageous? It deserves a bit of thought.

Courage is a human virtue-a trait that has been admired since mankind began. There is a wonderful old horseman's saying about courage which goes,"if you throw your heart over the fence, the horse will follow." And, surely the finest compliment a human or horse can receive are the simple words: she has heart.

To demonstrate courage, there has to be real risk involved: playing a video game will not do. Winning at ping pong will not do. There has to he a real risk. Courage also has to involve real fear, for fearlessness is not the same as courage.

There is but a fine line between courage, thrill-seeking, and fool heartiness, a line which is difficult to draw. The line has something to do with common sense and logic, but it is not terribly clear. So let us think about clear examples of each type: Spock, in the original Star Trek series, is in some ways the ultimate example of courage: he took high risks, but he took them only when it was the logical thing to do. Next, thrill seekers: the roller coaster riders are surely pure shrill-seekers. You get high adrenaline levels at a very low risk. And foolheartiness: a novice rider on an unbroken horse is an easy example.

But horse people are often driven by simple love of the beauty and smell of the horse, not by logic, so we need to extend our definition of courage to include love. Does love drive riders to jump fences? Let's think about that:

Here I admit to a strong bias: I used to jump fences and thought it great fun, but not just cheap thrill seeking. Yet when I trot my logic out, at first it seems like a most unnecessary risk . But on second thought I remember the number of times the horse I've ridden jumped unexpectedly. Only last week I asked for a canter in the snow and got airs-above-the- ground instead, a sort of leaping rear. If I didn't know how to jump, I might be sitting in the hospital now rather than at this desk. I remember -when a cat I didn't see leapt from behind and landed an the rear of the horse I was sitting on, all 20 claws outstretched. Another unexpected jump. And, thanks to good instruction, I have never fallen from a horse jumping a fence. In other words, jumping is a part and parcel of horseman-ship, not simply a risk we can avoid if we choose.

But certainly the adrenaline rush is part of the sport as well, If you have ever watched riders coming off a cross country course, you know they are truly experiencing an adrenaline high: they are terrifically excited, happy, and very proud to have made it, even if they fell or the horse refused 5 fences! Even the shyest will suddenly talk to strangers. It is marvelous to watch because it is a feeling that cannot be reproduced by even the best mass market entertainers. It is a feeling of true accomplishment- It is part of being human,

So horse back riding is not a namby pamby sport. There is a real risk involved, but the risk is not huge. Perhaps we could say that riding a horse takes a measure of courage, a touch of foolhardiness, and a pinch of thrill seeking. And, above all, it takes a love of horses.

Mary Cowmeadow

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Safety Dilemmas

In the equestrian safety community we face a dilemma: we need good scientific studies to guide our recommendations, and they are very hard to find. But that is not our only problem: there is a new theory we need to consider called risk homeostasis. This controversial theory states that safety measures are actually counter productive: if people feel safer they will respond by taking more risks.

An Englishman named John Addams is a particularly strong proponent of this theory. He claims that safety benefits are consumed as performance benefits-for example if improved brakes reduce stopping distances, drivers will respond by driving faster or braking later.+

+Addams, John G. U., Risk and Freedom, 1985, The Bottesford Press, Bottesford, Nottingham, p. 13.

The parachute is another good example of this theory. Obviously no one would voluntarily jump out of an airplane without one! It is clearly a safety device which really does encourage risk taking: people now jump out of airplanes for fun.

The value of a scientific study

Risk homeostasis is not an easy theory to dismiss with scientific evidence. Good scientific studies really are exceedingly rare and, usually, very expensive. Too often a study can be interpreted in more than one way. Data can be used to prove more than one point of view.

Risk homeostasis is such a case: proponents of risk homeostasis analyze and interpret highway fatality data to prove that motor cycle helmets are NOT effective and that studies showing otherwise are seriously flawed. Opponents of risk homeostasis prove the opposite! It makes for very discouraging reading. My point is that neither case is proven despite many attempts to do so: All the studies are indeed flawed, they are retrospective studies without good controls. The results depend on the bias of the author.

As scientists we would all love to see prospective studies with proper randomization, good controls, double blind treatments, and lots and lots of data: the clinical trial in all its glory The pharmaceutical industry really does do this type of trial, but the cost is tremendous: $70 to $120 million dollars per drug. It is most unlikely that we will ever see that kind of money used to evaluate equestrian safety because there is very little profit in it.

Note: in some fields good small studies are quite possible: for instance, biologists studying fruit flies or minnows. But when humans are the subject, good small studies are exceedingly difficult to design and run.

Is Safety Counter-Productive? Living with Risk Homeostasis:

Since we cannot readily dismiss the theory of risk homeostasis, let us consider it more thoroughly

One way to live with the theory is the idea that hidden, passive safety measures will not encourage people to take greater risks, whereas more obvious ones will. An example of a hidden safety device might be the impact resistant windshield or the energy absorbing steering wheel. Few drivers even know they exist, so they probably do not encourage people to take more risks. In contrast better brakes and better handling are quite obvious to drivers and may well encourage greater risk taking:

So how would this theory apply to equestrian safety? Let us look at 3 types of safety devices a rider might use. the safety helmet, the safety vest and the peacock stirrup. The peacock stirrup would be the most effective safety measure according to the theory because it is something you can put on your saddle and forget about. In that sense it is hidden.

In contrast, the safety vest would be the worst type of safety measure, according to the theory because the marginal improvement in safety it provides could so easily be overwhelmed by a false sense of security on the part of the rider. It is not at all hidden: the rider has to put it on each time.

The safety helmet is in-between: it is not hidden, but it does provide a real and significant improvement in safety.

Good Horse Sense

One criticism of the peacock stirrup is that it hasn't been the subject of a scientific study. I would like to propose that the safety community support use of the stirrup despite this: my reasoning is that a really good study will probably never be done. The type of fall the peacock stirrup is designed for is too rare; the sample size needed for a good study too huge. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good idea.

The second part of my reasoning is that the peacock stirrup is very unlikely to do any harm to the rider. It is little more than a regular stirrup with one side missing. From an engineering point of view it is a reasonably good design, although improvements may be possible. The cost is low and it is a one rime only cost. And it may save the riders life.

So I am not discouraged from advocating the use of the peacock, even if I offer in evidence only my own anecdotal story of an unusual accident (see "The Day the Peacock Stirrup Saved My Life,"). Sometimes good horse sense is the best advice we can give.

Mary Cowmeadow

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The Day the Peacock Stirrup Saved My Life

Years ago I bought a pair of peacock stirrups, the kind with a thick round rubber band on one side. I put them on my saddle and forgot about them. Then one day they saved my life.

I had been to an equestrian clinic the night before that emphasized that it is the rider that causes horses to spook. If the rider would not tense up and give the horse other cues, the horse would be fine. So when a mourning dove crashed into the window of the arena, I said to myself I will not tense and grab on tight with my lower legs as I would usually do. I would just sit perfectly calmly on the horse. Unfortunately my big 7 year old mare, Ashley, did not go to the clinic. After a fraction of a second's pause, she decided to spook anyway, without any regard to the theories espoused at the clinic. She wheeled 180 degrees on her hind legs and then took off in the most enormous canter. It felt like she bounded 7 feet upwards and 30 feet forward with each stride. Maybe she did!

After the 180 degree spin, I found myself catapulted forward with my face next to her ears and my torso along side her neck. I had a precarious hold on her mane. I tried to do an emergency dismount off the left side, but discovered, to my horror, that my foot was caught in the right stirrup which was now on top of the saddle!! I couldn't get it free.

One stride later I lost hold of the mane. We were going so fast that I spun 180 degrees in the air, with my foot still on top of the saddle. At that point the peacock stirrup did its job and my foot came free. I landed backwards, rolling flat, like a rod. I lay there a minute or so, spitting sand out of my mouth, thinking about what had just happened until Ashley came over and gave me a sniff: I got up, dusted myself off, and caught her. I was fine. Nothing hurt, nothing was broken. The stirrup was still on top of the saddle with the rubber band unhooked and loose. It worked!

The very same day my daughter broke her ankle while running down the stairs in our house. I told her we should have swapped falls, because my fall was very dramatic and worth telling while hers was so ordinary.

Three other factors contributed to my lack of injury that day: I was wearing a helmet. I landed in sand. And I landed flat, as I had been trained to do in martial arts (Aikido). But I am convinced that, despite all those things, the peacock stirrup was absolutely critical. Without it, my head and upper body would have been dragging on the ground right by her galloping hind legs.

My riding instructor, Sue Hughes, used to tell me that the peacock stirrup might well meet more resistance among riders than the helmet ever did--because it is used primarily by children and the handicapped. When I spoke to her recently about it, however, she said she actually had seen some adults buying peacock stirrups at a cross country event. "You say adults buying them?," I queried, surprised. She said yes. But of course, she added, it was because of the Michelle Chappalear accident in Ohio. She was killed when her foot was caught in a stirrup when she was schooling her horse. The people buying the stirrups were the people from her barn. It was an accident that might have been avoided. It convinced me that the peacock stirrup really does need some good publicity so that other needless tragedies do not happen.

The peacock stirrup is such a simple thing. It- doesn't interfere with riding in any way, and it is cheap to maintain. Once in 10 years you may need to buy a new rubber band. You put it on your saddle and forget about it..Until it saves your life.

Mary Cowmeadow

Editor's Note:
Mary Cowmeadow currently works at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research, a division of Warner Larnbert, Inc. She formerly worked in auto safety at Ford Motor Company. She has a Masters of Public Health from Yale Medical School.

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