Staying safe in the saddle

December 18, 2017
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Horses are famously known for being unpredictable, so reducing risk and staying safe is paramount!

Horse riding is a dangerous sport; for many this is why riding can give such an adrenalin rush and makes the sport so thrilling to take part in. While we might like the excitement of taking risks, we get the real kick from an adrenalin sport when it takes part in a controlled and safe environment, where all the riskiest variables have been accounted for. Equestrianism has transformed in the last 50 years, with the help of developing technologies and a better understanding of horses and riders, equipment has developed rapidly to meet the demands of making our sport safer.

With the rise in demand to keep riders safer, charities have jumped on the idea to offer advice on the subject. The Mark Davies Injured Rider Fund, a charity set up to raise awareness of safety in the saddle, gives its guidelines yearly to communicate the importance of the subject.

As part of its “Staying Safe in the Saddle” campaign, they offer the following:

– Check your tack regularly for wear and tear & replace, don’t risk it.

– Have regular lessons to help improve your riding and confidence.

– Don’t push yourself or your horse beyond your capabilities –seek a professional trainer’s advice.

– Replace your hat if you have a fall or drop it. Damage internally isn’t visible.

– Have your helmet fitted by a qualified hat fitter and it is up to the correct standard for event or discipline.

High visability clothing will help keep you safe while hacking

– Always wear a hat whenever you are around a horse, be that in the stable, leading or turning out.

– Body protectors need to fit correctly to work effectively, so get expert advice.

– Keep up your own personal fitness. Pilates and core strengthening can help stability in saddle.

– If you and your horse feel tired, call it a day, don’t risk injury. There is always another competition.

– Don’t try out new equipment at a show. Ride at home to ensure you are both happy.

While this is a good starting point, it is not exhaustive so being proactive about safety is a must.

Raising Awareness

Unfortunately, the majority of newsworthy headlines that involve equestrianism, highlights another horse and rider risk – riding on the road. With more cars and horses on the road, the risk of accident increases and following several high profile cases of fatal injuries on the road, BHS has taken action to help raise awareness of horse and rider safety.

Statistics from The British Horse Society (BHS) reveal over 60% of incidents involving horses on the roads happen between 10am and 3pm, with accidents most commonly occurring in June. These statistics were disclosed as the charity launched its campaign urging drivers to slow down to 15mph when they meet a horse and rider on the road.

In the five years since the launch of its horse accidents website, over 2,000 reports of road incidents involving horses have been reported to the charity. Of these, 36 caused rider deaths, and 181 resulted in a horse dying from their injuries or being put to sleep. 75% of accidents happened because the vehicle passed the horse without allowing enough space, while over a quarter of respondents said that they also had to deal with driver road rage during the incident.

Disastrous Drones

If there wasn’t enough risk already on the ground, the recent craze for electronic drones have added another hazard for riders from up above. As flight animals, horses are easily startled by unusual noises and movements. Since the launch of its horse accidents website in November 2010, the Society has received more than 400 reports of horse accidents involving loud or moving objects such as Chinese lanterns and fireworks. Of these, 11 horses died as a result of the scare, and one horse rider was killed in an incident involving a low flying aircraft. One high profile case took part In October 2015, when West Yorkshire Police horse Fimber was spooked by a drone whilst in his paddock, causing him to vault a fence and collide with a wooden post, with fatal consequences.

The British Horse Society (BHS) is calling on the public to exercise caution when flying drones around horses. The bid comes as the charity has received a rise in calls as more horse owners and riders become concerned about drones. The BHS is asking the public not to fly drones in areas where they know horses may be – for instance near riding centres or bridleways.

Riding along roads is dangerous but necessary to reach some bridlepaths

Equipment

Having the correct equipment, which is up to the most recent safety standards and fits correctly, should be your first initial step in ensuring a safe ride out with your horse. Having a riding hat, body protector and strong riding boots are your essential kit list and one should never ride out without a riding hat which meets the most recent safety standards.

However, equipment standards can change radically as new materials and better ways of testing them are introduced. To make sure your riding out in the safest way possible, check your equipment meets the following standards.

Hats

The most important part of any riding kit is your riding hat. At this year’s Ascot the BHS launched their #hairdontcare campaign to raise awareness of the importance of wearing a riding hat in all equestrian activities. Riding hats are designed to be as effective as possible at minimising any potential head injury, but cannot guarantee 100% safety.

The BHS say, “It is essential that a hat properly fits the person who will be wearing it, and as every head is a different shape, you may need to try a few to find the perfect one for you. The BHS always recommends you go to a reputable tack shop and have a new hat fitted by somebody who has had appropriate BETA training. It is also important to remember to keep your hat fastened at all times when you are mounted.”

Hats should always be replaced after a fall

There are a huge range of hat designs and companies to choose from, from high end expensive to the more budget range. What’s important to remember is that they must meet safety standards so always check the hat before purchasing.

Once purchased, it’s essential that you take care of your hat and regularly check it for any irregularities. This might include undone stitching or the helmet plates moving under pressure. If you spot any of these signs take it to your hat fitter to be checked out. To reduce the chance of a hat being replaced don’t leave it in direct sunlight, let it dry naturally if it gets wet (don’t put it on the radiator) and don’t drop it or let it get knocked around on the floor. Each time it receives any impact, some of the protective properties will be used up which would be better used keeping your head safe.

Body Protectors

Not as essential as your hat for daily activities on your horse, but a must have if you compete across country or train young or naughty horses. Like hats, body protectors now come in an array of different varieties that fit a range of body types, so shopping for one that fits you well shouldn’t be difficult. It’s also recommended that you find someone who is BETA qualified to fit your body protector.

The BHS guidelines of body protectors are, “Most body protectors are designed to comply with EN13158 and a recognised BETA level standard. You will find them in stores at level one, two or three. Level one has limited availability but level two and three protectors are currently more widely available. Riders looking for the best protection should choose level three, which will meet the requirements for any equestrian discipline.”

Safety stirrups can stop your foot becoming stuck if you fall

Footwear

Riding boots aren’t the most stylish piece of equipment but offer an invaluable function that should not be overlooked. Correct riding boots should have a smooth, through sole and a small heel. While it might be tempting to wear your trainers for a hack for convenience or style, doing so could be a very dangerous move that could lead to fatal consequences.

Boots designed for horse riding have been done so because it fits the style of the riding position in the stirrup. Shoes with heavy tread limit the amount of movement allowed in the stirrup, which could lead to the foot becoming trapped in a fall. Trainers, or shoes without a heel, are also not suitable because without a heel the foot could slip forward and become jammed in the stirrup. Always check the stitching on your boots, lose threads could result in a weaker shoe which could be potentially dangerous.