Rider Safety Apparel from Head to Toe

By Sarah Evers Conrad

There is no doubt that equestrians are a stylish group. Regardless of whether a person is a Western rider or English, a vaulter or a combined driver, a recreational rider or an active competitor, the apparel for the rider has been designed to be fashionable and suited to the type of riding. However, looking stylish isn’t the only reason for the attire chosen by riders. Equestrian apparel should always be designed with safety in mind. It is important to know what apparel is worn for safety and why and how to choose the appropriate attire.

Many established riders know what they want and need to wear and may choose to order online at various retailers. However, new riders should visit a local tack shop to get the proper attire so that professionals in the tack shop can assist with selection and teach about proper fit.

Let’s discuss the rider’s apparel from head to toe. However, it is important to keep in mind that riders entered into a competition will need to check with that show’s organizing association to determine what clothing is required in the classes they enter.

Helmets: Obviously the helmet is the most important thing a rider needs. It is a fact that saves lives. The Riders4Helmets campaign was designed to educate riders about helmet safety. In 2012, Riders4Helmets won the Certified Horsemanship Association’s Partner in Safety Award. Their website, Riders4Helmets.com, states that there are approximately 100 deaths per year related with equestrian activities with 10-20 times the number of head injuries for every fatality.

To find the safest type of helmet, look for helmets with an ASTM certification in the United States. If a rider is shopping, he or she will know which helmets have an ASTM certification by looking for a tag inside the helmet. Riders in other countries should check to make sure their helmet is certified by the national safety standards in their country.

In addition to looking for a certified helmet, riders should only purchase a new helmet and never borrow or buy a used helmet, since it could have unseen damage. And helmets designed for bike riding or other sports will definitely not provide enough protection for horseback riding.

Proper helmet fit is of utmost importance. To learn more about how to fit a helmet, check out CHA’s video on YouTube.

And for those that need a new helmet, every year on International Helmet Awareness Day, helmet manufacturers offer unique discounts on helmets. This year’s International Helmet Awareness Day is on July 12. Check Riders4Helmets.com for more information on helmets.

One thing to keep in mind is that other head gear while riding or competing, such as a cowboy hat or derby, these types of hats do not offer enough protection in case of a fall. The Certified Horsemanship Association recommends that all riders where helmet while mounted.

Body Protectors: Riders can now protect their torso during a fall with a safety vest or body protector. These lightweight vests can prevent damage to the back and spine, ribs, and internal organs due to the heavy padding. Some vests designed for eventers have a compressed air system that triggers upon impact from a fall. These types of body protectors offer extra protection due to this revolutionary technology. However, eventers aren’t the only type of rider that can wear them. Safety vests are definitely a good idea for jockeys, exercise riders, rodeo riders, jumpers, hunters, polo riders, distance riders, and anyone traveling at high speed. However, pleasure and trail riders may wish for the extra protection as well. There are sizes for children and adults. The vest should be designed for horseback riding, instead of other activities, such as ATV riding. Extra safety certifications are a plus, as well.

Shirts: Riders wear various types of shirts from t-shirts to long-sleeve buttoned shirts. Regardless of the type of shirt, it should fit well and should not be able to catch on the saddle at any time while mounting or dismounting. Long sleeves is a great idea for extra protection from the sun and from brush while trail riding. Make sure to tuck in your shirt and do not wear tank tops.

Jackets: Rain gear may be needed in wet weather. Rain coats should be well-fitted and should not flap in the wind as this may scare a horse. If a slicker is needed, it is always good to prepare the horse to the site of a slicker or other such “scary” clothing. In addition, a jacket may be needed during colder weather.

Jodhpurs, Breeches, and Jeans: Properly fitting pants, whether they are pants designed for riding like jodhpurs and breeches, or whether it is a pair of jeans, can prevent chafing, friction burns, and pinching by the saddle. Jeans can be looser-fitting than breeches and jodhpurs for extra movement. They also should be relatively simple without a lot of extra decoration or zippers that could scratch the saddle, and preferable without an inseam for the most comfort. If a rider wants extra protection for their legs or their lower leg from saddle pinching or from brush on the trail, chaps that fit down the entire leg, and half chaps, which fit on the lower half of the leg, exist. This apparel is usually made out of tough, thick leather or suede, and it acts as a great barrier between the leg and the saddle.

Belts can be worn, however nothing should be attached to them as this could cause the rider to get hung up if something caught on the saddle. Care should be taken when dismounting to prevent a belt from catching on the saddle and causing an accident.

Cell Phones: It is always a good idea to bring a cell phone, which can also be secured in a vest pocket or by an arm band on the left arm if the rider mounts from the horse’s left side. In addition, smartphones with the app named Ride Alert can help those that end up in trouble on a ride. There is a panic button that will cause the phone to send an alert message to a designated friend or family member with the rider’s exact worldwide map location, their phone number and a message that the rider is in trouble. In addition, the app can be set on a different mode that tracks movement, and if movement ceases due to an accident, the information above will be sent to a designated contact unless the rider is okay and can cancel the alert.

Gloves: Gloves can be used for protecting hands from leather or rope burns and blisters and can also improve grip. Plus, gloves are a necessity in cold weather when frostbite might be a concern and in wet weather when a rider has slippery reins and tack. Gloves are also helpful if a horse is a strong puller or has a nasty habit of jerking his head and jerking the reins out of the rider’s hands. When trail riding, gloves can also protect hands from branches and debris if a log or other obstruction must be removed from across a trail or when opening gates.

Boots: And finally we come down to feet. Boots are also essential for riding, and they should be sturdy enough to support the ankle and to protect the toes and top of the foot in case a horse accidentally steps on your foot. Trust me…I have had this happen when I had less sturdy footwear on, and it really hurts and is totally avoidable. Boots should have a flat heel of at least one inch. Obviously high heels don’t apply. Boots protect riders from mud, water, rocks, and course brush while being on the trail or around the farm. So no tennis shoes, hiking boots, snow boots, sandals or flip flops around horses please.

With the right apparel, riders should be safer from the effects of a fall or accident. While no type of apparel is fool-proof from keeping a rider from total injury, opting for safer attire can certainly decrease the risk of something going wrong on a ride.

Extra Helmet Information

Obviously the helmet is the most important thing a rider needs. It is a fact that saves lives. The Riders4Helmets campaign was designed to educate riders about helmet safety. In 2012, Riders4Helmets won the Certified Horsemanship Association’s Partner in Safety Award. Their website, Riders4Helmets.com, states that there are approximately 100 deaths per year related with equestrian activities with 10-20 times the number of head injuries for every fatality.

To find the safest type of helmet, look for helmets with an ASTM certification in the United States. If a rider is shopping, he or she will know which helmets have an ASTM certification by looking for a tag inside the helmet. Riders in other countries should check to make sure their helmet is certified by the national safety standards in their country.

In the United States, helmets with an ASTM certification have been designed and tested for the utmost safety. Riders4Helmets.com helps riders find ASTM certified helmets: “If you reside in the USA and would like to see a current list of helmets certified by the Safety Equipment Institute to ASTM standard F1163, please go to www.seinet.org and click on ‘Certified Products,’ then click on ‘Equestrian Helmets.'” In addition, helmets with an approved certification by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) for international competition should be a safe helmet.

If a rider is shopping, he or she will know which helmets have an ASTM certification by looking for a tag inside the helmet. Riders in other countries should check to make sure their helmet is certified by the national safety standards in their country.

In addition to looking for a certified helmet, riders should only purchase a new helmet. Used helmets for sale should be avoided since they could have damage inside that is not detectable by the purchaser. In addition, borrowing a helmet is discouraged since a borrowed helmet hasn’t been fitted to that rider. And helmets designed for bike riding or other sports will definitely not provide enough protection for horseback riding.

Proper helmet fit is of utmost importance. Riders can get professional helmet fitting at a tack shop or helmet distributor. The helmet’s visor should be about 1-1 1/2 inches from the rider’s eyebrows and should be parallel with the ground. It should be snug on the head without being too tight and not move when a rider shakes their head side to side or up and down or if the rider can shift the helmet with their hands. Riders should be able to breathe easily and straps should not add to much pressure on the head. All straps must be fastened securely so that a helmet does not come off during a fall. If the helmet comes off before the head hits the ground, then a concussion can result.

Proper care is important for helmets. See the manufacturer’s instructions for that helmet model. Any helmet that has been in an accident or fallen or been dropped should be replaced since it could be compromised. In addition, the material inside the helmet can break down with time, so it should be replaced every five years. Every year on International Helmet Awareness Day, helmet manufacturers work with Riders4Helmets to offer unique discounts on helmets only seen on that day. This year’s International Helmet Awareness Day is on July 12. Check Riders4Helmets.com/ihad for more information.

Sarah Evers Conrad is currently the Digital Content Editor at Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines. She also owns All In Stride Marketing. She is an award-winning equestrian journalist with a background in magazine publishing, feature writing, news and event coverage, editing, digital marketing, social media, and website management. Conrad has been published in equine publications such as The Horse, Blood-Horse, Equestrian, Arabian Horse Life, USDF Connection, the American Quarter Horse Journal, Paint Horse Journal, Off-Track Thoroughbred, Stable Management, Camp Business magazine, Lexington Family magazine, and HorsesDaily.com and DressageDaily.com. She is also the current editor for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s official publication, The Instructor magazine. Conrad has also edited several books, including CHA’s “The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding.” Learn more at  HYPERLINK “http://www.equestrianjournalist.com” www.equestrianjournalist.com.

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