There is no beating around the bush – horse riding is a risk sport. Apart from the obvious dangers of falling off when mounted, these large animals have always got to be treated with respect when handling them on the ground and in the stable.
Riding need not be any more dangerous than any other risk sport, as long as certain precautions such as those listed on this page are followed. Horse Rider Safety should always be borne in mind when riding or near horses.
Safety for Visitors on the Yard
Horses are large prey animals and have been designed through evolution to protect themselves from things they do not understand! Anyone standing behind them is in danger of being kicked. Horses characters can vary greatly – some can bite (either if they are in a bad mood, or if they genuinely believe the hand reaching out to stroke their nose is actually a carrot!) Visitors to a Riding Stables or Livery Yard, especially with young children, are asked to remember this, and keep their children under control at all times! Riding stables are not playgrounds, and children running round corners unexpectedly can cause a horse to rear.
Riding hats or helmets MUST be worn at all times when riding, and are paramount to horse rider safety. They are also advised to be worn at other times when handling horses. Riding hats come in various designs – some designs suit one shape of head better than another, and of course some designs are more appropriate to your favoured riding discipline.
The most important thing about a riding hat is that it much be fitted correctly ideally by someone who had attending a hat fitting course. It must also conform to standards PAS 015 or EN 1384. Hats cannot prevent serious injury in all circumstances, but help in the majority of cases. Your skull is fragile – it is not worth taking a risk with.
If the hat suffers a severe impact, either as a result of a fall or a drop onto a hard surface it MUST be replaced. Riding hat prices start from around the mid £30s, and you can spend up to over £100.
Hats do not last forever as the protective padding gradually compresses with use, and the hat becomes looser on your head. You should purchase a replacement hat as soon as this happens.
Riding Hats and the Law
It is a legal requirement that children under the age of 14 MUST wear a riding hat which conforms to the appropriate standard when riding a horse on the road.
Horse rider safety can be helped by a body protector which can give protection to the chest and back area if you fall from your horse. These are particularly useful if you fall onto a hard surface (such as a jump), or if your horse stands on you after a fall. Body protectors can help prevent serious injury.
There are three standards of protection, and each has a different coloured label in the shops to identify the level of protection offered.
Level 1 Black label
Protectors providing a lower level of protection that is only considered
appropriate for licences jockeys.
Level 2 Brown label
Protectors providing a lower than normal level of protection that is only
considered appropriate for use in low risk situations. These DO NOT include riding on roads or other hard surfaces, riding over jumps, riding young or excitable horses, or riding while still inexperienced.
Level 3 Purple label
Protectors providing a level of protection that is considered appropriate for normal horse riding, competitions and for working with horses. Protectors to this level should:
Prevent minor bruising that would have produced stiffness and pain.
Reduce significant soft tissue injuries to the level of bruising.
Prevent a limited number of rib fractures.
When first using a body protector it will feel very strange and restrictive. Most protectors mould to your body’s shape, and do so more easily in warm weather than in cold. Although the body protector feels uncomfortable at first you really must persevere with wearing it. After a few times of wearing it when riding you will find you feel naked without it, and it will become second nature to put it on and use it every time you ride.
Body protectors cost from £60 up – a good investment for something that may save your life!
Body Protector Fit
Fitting is of paramount importance and a visit to a properly trained retailer is recommended, for example anyone displaying the BETA Safety course attendance certificate.
Ensure that you are wearing the correct size of body protector and that it is adjusted to give a close fit to the body, and that no RED VELCRO is exposed at the shoulder or waist closures. If RED VELCRO is visible the protector is too small or is incorrectly fastened.
The body protector should be tried on over light clothing. Check that is comfortable to wear in all simulated riding positions. The garment should fit securely and reasonably tightly to avoid movement during activity and to ensure that it is in place in the event of an accident.
It is essential that you ride in appropriate footwear. Serious injuries can be caused if you fall off and your foot gets stuck in the stirrup. Proper riding boots are recommended – these have a heel to stop your feet sliding through the stirrups. Boots can be short (jophur boots) or full length. The most comfortable footwear is often short boots and half chaps – chaps keep the stirrup leathers from chaffing and bruising your legs. However, what you choose to wear is personal choice and how much you can afford (long leather riding boots can set you back around £100 up).
It is not appropriate to ride in trainers as they have no heel and can be dangerous.
You are now equipped with riding hat and body protector, and proper footwear. Now it is time to turn to your horse!
The object of riding and of horse rider safety is to stay on top of your horse – your riding apparel may help protect you if you fall off, but really you want to avoid doing this at all costs! You do not want to part company with your horse due to faulty tack!
Tack needs to be checked regularly so you can spot a problem before it occurs.
Leather tack needs to be kept clean and well conditioned so that it remains supple – stitching needs to be checked to ensure there are no points of weaknesss. Buying quality tack in the first place is essential. You may find bridles costing little more than £20, and wonder why you should pay over £100 for the similar item. However, the more expensive bridle is undoubtably going to be made of better leather, and with good care will last you longer and be more reliable. The last thing you would want is for your reins to break when your horse is in mid gallop!
Tack can be repaired, but don’t skimp here. If it is in bad condition, replace it! If your girth breaks you will fall off your horse and may suffer serious injury – is it really worth risking it?