Safety First - How the Right Equipment Makes Riding Safer
As Shira Nafshi, owner of The Trainer’s Loft, is well aware, virtually every horse owner has been in the wrong place at the wrong time. “We’re all aware of the possibility of danger, but there are things you can do to lessen the likelihood and severity of injury,” she says. Choosing the right helmet and stirrups will help you minimize the risk of serious injury.
Choosing the Right Helmet
As Shira explains, the first and most important piece of safety equipment is your helmet. “A helmet is an investment designed to prevent bad things from happening,” she says. “You only get one head.” To make sure your head stays safe, you need a well-fitting riding helmet.
According to manufacturer Troxel Helmets, riding helmets should be replaced after five years of use, or immediately after any impact. When you fall, your helmet absorbs energy that would otherwise impact your brain. This energy dissipation causes the helmet to compress and crack. Even if the damage is not visible, helmets are designed to absorb one impact only - using a helmet that has been dropped or involved in a fall is dangerous and could lead to serious injury.
When selecting a new riding helmet, make sure that it is ASTM and SEI approved. These safety regulators use rigorous tests to ensure that equipment meets internationally accepted quality standards. Cheaper certified helmets meet these requirements, while more expensive versions far exceed them.
Troxel states that bike helmets are not an acceptable alternative to proper riding helmets, either. They are not certified to withstand the same force as riding helmets. The far greater speeds and height you will achieve riding a horse result in a much greater impact if you fall.
The fit of your helmet is also crucial. “When new customers come in, I fit them for their helmets personally,” Shira explains. “You should get fitted by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.” Your helmet should be comfortable, apply a firm pressure all around your head, and not move when you shake your head. Many helmets come with adjustable padding to achieve this balance.
Stirrups are another essential piece of safety equipment. They enable you to mount your horse and provide support while you’re riding. However, when your horse is spooked and starts to run, your foot can get caught up - sometimes with deadly consequences. Tim Harvey, inventor of the Free Ride Western Safety Stirrup, knows how dangerous dragging can be.
While trail riding in the mountains of New Hampshire, Tim’s horse spooked and threw him before tearing downhill. Unfortunately, his boot caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged several hundred feet.
“Horses are flight animals, and they have a flight line of about 1200 feet,” Tim explains. “When they are spooked, they’ll run around 1200 feet or more until they’re exhausted or acclimatized.”
Understandably shaken from his near-death experience, Tim searched for a safer alternative to his stirrups while recovering. Unable to find an affordable, well-designed Western safety stirrup, he created his own.
Tim’s stirrups, made entirely in the US, are based off of the ‘peacock design’ popular with English riders. His design features a rubber peacock attached to the side of a stirrup. In a fall, that rubber piece will detach from either the top or bottom of the stirrup, letting you fall freely without dragging.
His safety stirrups are cast at the family-owned and operated Hebert Foundry in Laconia, NH. After the components are machined, Tim assembles the stirrup and finishes it with monogrammable leather to fit with the Western style. “There’s no reason for people not to be safe while they’re riding,” he says.
Caring for and riding horses is a labor of love, and one that is not entirely risk-free. Selecting appropriate equipment will help you minimize the risk and severity of injury to you and your horse, giving you the peace of mind to truly enjoy your ride each and every time.
The Trainer's Loft is a consignment tack and holistic horse supply shop located at 307 Main Street in Titlon, NH. Visit their website at thetrainersloft.com.