Safety Equipment for the Rider
Riding is an inherently dangerous sport. Falling off the horse accounts for most injuries, but there is also the potential to get kicked, trampled, or stepped on by a one-ton animal. Nearly all riding equipment or apparel is designed with some measure of protection in mind, from helmets that protect your head to chaps and tall boots that protect your legs.
Your most essential piece of apparel is a safety helmet. Helmets are much more accepted in the English-riding world than the Western one. The deep bucket of a Western hat offers a limited amount of protection — and rarely stays on when you fall off your horse. Attempts to make a protective helmet that looks like a Western hat have not been widely accepted.
Typically, riders in Western gear simply wear the basic helmets when they ride recreationally. However, when they ride in Western show classes, riders wear Western hats, not safety helmets.
Head injuries from kicks and falls account for the largest percentage of all serious injuries resulting from horseback riding accidents. Buy a helmet that fits well and always wear it when you ride, whether you ride English or Western.
The helmet you choose should fit snugly on your head. It should also meet or surpass American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and Safety Equipment Institute standards for equestrian use. While they are better than nothing at all, bicycle helmets are not appropriate for riding because they are not certified to protect your head from a horse's kick.
Helmets come in all sorts of styles and even a few colors these days. There are different designs that are considered more appropriate than others for different types of riding. The velvet kind with the little button on the top is the style you'll see on the fox hunting grounds. Schooling helmets tend to have a lot of open ventilation, and helmets are even used in dressage competitions. You can accessorize your helmet with decorative helmet covers, rain covers, and even a cool pack to keep your helmeted head extra cool in hot temperatures.
Not many recreational riders wear safety vests, but if you plan to do a lot of jumping or start a lot of young horses under saddle, a safety vest is a worthwhile investment. They can help pad your fall and protect your internal organs if you fall. Vests that meet ASTM safety standards are available.