It does not matter how experienced or inexperienced you are, anyone can have an accident, even the most well-schooled horse can have an off day or be startled through no fault of his own. A whole season’s competing, or even your life, can be put in jeopardy when all you needed to do was put on a riding hat, a body protector, a pair of gloves or a more sensible pair of boots!
You can have an accident at any time anywhere around your horse. It would be unreasonable to expect you to wear a hat whenever you go near your horse but you have to be sensible and it is only good horsemanship to wear your hat when riding, lungeing and long reining your horse. It would also be sensible to wear a hat when leading a horse known to be difficult to the field or when leading and handling young horses. Make sure that the hat you own is the correct British Safety Standard, that you have it correctly fitted and if you have had an accident involving a blow to your hat, get a new one. Modern hats are more bulky and no longer look as neat and dashing as they used to but they are far safer than the old standards. The reason for the bulk is the depth of padding required to make the hat safe.
How to fit a riding hat
The idea is for the hat to fit the whole surface area of the skull as well as possible. The modern hat is bulky and very solid and needs to be fitted by someone trained to fit them. As the hat is placed on the head it should go on with just a little resistance but not so that it pushes in on the brow or the back of the head. It must be deep enough to come to rest just above the ears and approximately 12in above the eyebrows. Among the makes of hats the depths vary so it may be necessary to try one or two different types to establish if your head is shallow or deep from the top of the ear to the crown of the head.
Children’s heads can be the most difficult to fit as children often have a domed forehead and the back of the head slopes dramatically into the neck. In this case you can often get your fingers up into the inside of the hat at the back. It is easier if the hat is always placed on the head from front to back and a little hat packing is placed at the back of the helmet to take up some of the space. The hat is not safe and is not designed to be worn on the back of the head or without the strapping, or harness, done up. It should be worn squarely on the brow with the strapping firmly in place.
There are several body protectors on the market now which are very well designed and have a high degree of comfort and safety. It is vitally important that you go to a good saddlery shop and get informed advice and, more importantly, the correct fitting for your size and shape. What you have to remember is that it is actually body armour and must give a good degree of protection, so it is going to feel a little restrictive until you are accustomed to wearing it.
How to fit a body protector
Again, you are looking for a protector that fits your body shape as well as possible without restricting movement or the ability to take up the jumping position or to simply get on your horse! It is very important that the body protector is the correct length. How many times do you see children with the top of the armour inches above their shoulders and the head peeping out from the neck? This is due to very poor fitting and advice at point of sale.
The front of the armour must lie approximately 1in above the protruding hip bones, so that the rider can comfortably assume the jumping position any amount of times and come upright again without the armour rising up. If the armour is too long, each time the rider flexes at the waist the armour gets pushed up and, as it is fitted tightly to the torso, it cannot then settle back down into place. The back of the armour should cover as much of the spine as possible without hitting the cantle of the saddle. The armholes should be cut away at the front to allow freedom while still protecting the collarbone.
Using gloves when riding, driving, lungeing or long reining your horse should be an essential part of a rider’s or whip’s (carriage driver’s) equipment. They not only protect hands from accidents they acrually maintain a far better contact on the rein and afford real protection when leading horses with a rope. As with all clothing you do tend to get what you pay for and a good quality pair of leather gloves not only looks smart but also lasts longer. It is always a good idea to keep expensive gloves for working your horse or competing and a series of less expensive pairs for stable work.
Buying fitted riding gloves
The fit of a pair of gloves is very much a personal matter but it is important that you do not restrict the circulation of the fingers, especially in winter, nothing is worse than fingers you cannot feel. Do make sure you know the rules of correct attire for your chosen discipline so that you wear the correct colour and type.
I had to have my foot stitched in the early hours of the morning some years ago and the nurse asked if I always brought horses in from the field in gold strapped sandals and an evening gown! The answer should have been that I knew the dangers and was too experienced to do such a thing!
Correct footwear with the right degree of protection is always easier to wear in the winter but, even though it gets hot in the summer, you should always wear footwear designed for the activity: protection from being trodden on, support should you need to run, a decent heel for riding and a safe fastening that will not catch on anything.
Riding boots fitting
Children’s feet in particular need careful consideration. Very small slim children are much safer in jodhpur boots than in rubber boots. The jodhpur boot fits the foot well and is firmly held in place by strong elastic at the ankle. The long rubber boot is often too long for the small child, gaps at the top mean the boots can catch on parts of the saddle as exercises are done and the boots are likely to fall off when riding without stirrups is practised.