A PROFESSIONAL horsewoman from Orleton has urged riders to be cautious about returning to the saddle after a fall.

Alison Moore is affected by balance problems, walks with a stick and has been unable to ride for a couple of years - problems following the last of a series of head and neck injuries, after each of which she believes she returned to riding too quickly.

Her experience has led her to research the subject intensively and left her to conclude that there is little information available to minor head injury patients, and few follow-up procedures for head injuries which don't involve brain damage - care, treatment and rehabilitation for which she points out, is well catered for.

She also says that while most people are aware of and alerted to the potential for an increase in symptoms in the first 24 hours after a head injury, few realise that after effects can occur up several days later - as in her own case.

She initially had a serious fall but returned to the saddle within two weeks.

A while later she suffered severe whiplash and some time after that, another fall. "Ten days later I started feeling generally not quite right but I was riding and competing - when I think back, I was basically not with it and should not have been doing it," she says now.

She started having severe balance problems and neck pains and, three months later was admitted to hospital where she was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome.

"I was told my symptoms would gradually disappear but, three years down the line, I still have them," adds Alison who is now seeing a neuro-surgeon, and doing everything she can to get her health back.

She realises that the series of concussion related injuries that she has had to her neck and head, has made her current situation worse than average, but it has also left her keen to make even the most amateur rider aware of the potential seriousness of having even the tiniest knock.

"As far as I am concerned, it is no different to any nasty fall - if you go back too soon you are putting yourself at risk," she warned.

"After an injury sportspeople generally try to get back to it much more quickly than the average person and you are taught that if you have a fall you get straight back on. Everyday leisure riders really shouldn't get on a horse for about two weeks."

Alison, now in her 40s, had ridden since an early age and competed in eventing and dressage all her life.

"I had my own yard and competition horses, was riding other people's horses and teaching.

"At the moment I am trying to enjoy myself being a couch potato - I'm basically pretty disabled," she says.

"I would just urge riders to be a bit cautious in what they are doing.

"A few weeks out of the saddle is not going to do you any harm."

Jane Davies of the Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund, a national charity which supports those injured in equestrian-related accidents and campaigns on riders' welfare and safety issues, however, felt that two weeks was too long to stay out of the saddle.

"As long as you follow medical advice, the sooner you can get back on the horse the better for your nerve," she said.

Sheila Hardy, senior executive in the British Horse Society's safety department advised that immediate consultation should follow any injury suffered in a fall, particularly a head injury. "Take your doctor's advice and follow it," she added.

Dr Joanna Trelawny, the secretary of the Medical Equestrian Association, whose members represent virtually every equestrian and medical discipline, said that it advised its members to follow the British Eventing guidelines listed below.

"Further injury to a recovering brain after a fall could result in disability out of proportion to the severity of the second injury," she added.

l Guidelines: After a fall on the head, witnessed knock out - 21 day suspension.

If there are still symptoms after 15 minutes - 21 days suspension.

Anyone taken to hospital - minimum seven days suspension and must be symptom-free before riding again.