Horseback riding may evoke images of a kinder, gentler era, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, equestrian sports today account for a higher rate of serious injury than motorcycling.

According to CDC epidemiologist David E. Nelson, horseback riders, including jockeys, suffer one injury every 350 hours. Motorcyclists are injured once every 7,000 hours.

In an article in the CDC's weekly Morbidity and Mortality report for May 25, Nelson found that falls accounted for most horseback injuries; about 45 percent of the injured suffered cuts, puncture wounds and scrapes. A related study found that fewer than 20 percent of riders were wearing helmets at the time of their accidents.

The report is based on data compiled in 1987 and 1988 by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors injuries reported in hospital emergency rooms in the United States.

During those years, 92,763 visits were made to emergency rooms for riding-related injuries, according to the system, and most accidents occurred around homes or on farms.

To avoid injury, Nelson said, riders should wear proper headgear and be instructed in riding techniques and proper behavior around horses.

Even that, he said, is not a perfect solution. He noted that the American Medical Association roster of sports injuries ranked jockeys at the highest risk for injury, even ahead of boxers and football players.