Whether you’re completely new to horse riding or a seasoned expert it’s vital you always have the correct horse riding safety gear to keep you protected both on the ground and in the saddle. It can be hard to know where to start when looking for horse riding safety equipment so we have produced this guide which covers:
Horse riding and working with horses is fundamentally a high-risk activity which is why there is a wide range of equestrian safety equipment on the market to help protect you from injury. It’s important to wear the correct horse riding safety gear both when working with horses on the ground and when in the saddle. Horses are large animals, which can be spooked easily so it is important to be as protected as you can be at all times.
As with all sports, when you first take up horse riding you’re bound to make mistakes. Falling from a horse or pony is inevitable whilst you are developing your skills, and even experienced riders can find themselves departing the saddle from time to time. Some horse riding safety equipment is designed to help reduce the severity of potential injuries that may occur from a fall such as riding hats, body protectors, air jackets, riding boots and safety stirrups. Other safety items are designed to reduce the risks associated with riding on the roads such as high visibility clothing for both you and your horse. Finally, if you’re working on the ground around horses there is safety gear designed specifically for this task, including steel-toe boots to avoid being trodden on.
As with all personal protective equipment, safety wear for riders is heavily regulated, must adhere to set standards and be tested for effectiveness. There are multiple safety standards associated with protective equipment for horse riding. The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) are heavily involved in developing safety standards for critical items such as riding hats and body protectors as well as being able to advise on acceptable standards for individual disciplines such as dressage, show jumping and eventing. If you are competing you should always check the rule book of the governing body of the competition before entering to ensure your equipment is legal.
PAS 015 (1998/2011)
This is the most common riding hat safety standard in the UK and is managed and reviewed regularly by the British Standards Institute (BSI). PAS 015 2011 is the most up to date standard from the BSI and is the highest safety standard for riding hats in terms of shock absorbency, penetration and retention. A hat with this standard will also show a BSI Kitemark which is a quality assurance mark to show that the hats are regularly and independently batch tested by BSI to ensure the safety of that riding hat meets the appropriate specification.
VG1 01.040 (2014-12)
This is an updated version of the European standard and replaces the now obsolete BSEN138 riding hat standard. Hats which comply to VG1 must also be accompanied by a BSI Kitemark when sold in UK to ensure they meet the vigorous British testing standards.
ASTM F1163 2004a
This is an American standard similar to PAS 015 (1998), but the testing doesn’t include as many aspects such as crush impact. Like the BSI for the UK, America has the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) which will test and ensure quality across all hats bearing the SEI kitemark.
This high performance hat standard was first introduced in America and is widely sought after. Snell testing includes all aspects of ASTM and PAS 015 but also tests for higher impacts to replicate a kick from a horse and landing on uneven surfaces. This standard of hat is particularly desirable for activities such as Cross Country and Working Hunter where the likelihood of an impact from a more solid fence or a fall on uneven ground is considerably higher.
All riding hats sold in Europe must have a CE mark. This is not a safety standard but shows the hat complies with the European directive on personal protective equipment. The riding hat must also then have at least one of the above standards displayed alongside the CE mark.
All riding hats and skull caps sold by Houghton Country meet one or more of the above standards, which are widely accepted by riding bodies and endorsed by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA). The following guide from BETA shows the requirements for riding hats across equestrian disciplines in the UK.
The most common standard for body protectors was developed here in the UK by BETA. Body protectors sold in Europe are designed to comply with the European standard EN13158 and also carry a recognised BETA level standard. There are 3 levels of the BETA standard. Levels 1 and 2 are more specific to the racing industry and have been designed for weight restrictions so offer a lower level of protection. Level 3 body protectors offer a level of protection required for all equestrian disciplines and are the most widely available.
There are two Level 3 standards that are accepted currently, BETA Level 3 2009 and 2018. Body protectors which hold the BETA Level 3 2000 are now obsolete. All body protectors sold by Houghton Country meet the most up to date BETA Level 3 2018 safety standard.
All clothing that claims to be high visibility must conform to EU standards legislated in 2009 to ensure you are safe in low light conditions. This legislation ensures correct levels of luminance, sets standards for colours and ensures retro-reflective strips are of an appropriate level. Equestrian hi viz standards also cover acceptable wear and tear levels to ensure durability of your purchases.
All horse riding hi viz sold by Houghton Country conforms as a minimum to EN1150 for leisure riders. If you work with horses your high visibility personal protective equipment must conform to EN ISO 20471 as part of health and safety legislation. Hi viz safety standards only apply to items worn by people, and there is therefore no legislation in place for hi viz worn by horses.
It is important to wear the correct safety equipment at all times around horses, and to ensure your safety gear is fitted correctly. The following section includes the essential items of safety you will need when horse riding or working with horses, including riding hats, body protectors and air vests.
An essential piece of kit whether you are riding or working with horses on the ground is a riding hat, it is designed to protect your head from impact in the event of a fall, kick or knock. A hat is made up of a fiberglass shell lined with expanded polystyrene (EPS), with a padded inner lining. The shell of the hat provides the robust outer to take the initial impact and spread the force, hopefully reducing the risk of a skull fracture. The EPS foam is used to absorb the energy of an impact to help reduce potential damage to the brain while the padded inner lining creates the close fit required for a helmet to work at its best.
The difference between a riding hat and a skull cap is that a riding hat will have a firm visor called a peak which gives an elegant look to the hat and is also useful for keeping the sun out of a rider's eyes. A riding hat is suitable for several disciplines including dressage, show jumping and showing, however, it is not acceptable for cross country. It has been deemed that given the speed and fixed nature of cross country fences a fixed peak could potentially increase the chance of injury if the peak were to dig into the dirt or be the point of impact.
There are multiple designs of a traditionally styled riding hat including the velvet covered traditional style used for decades and popular within showing and hunting, and more recently ventilated riding hats have become more common. While riding, even in cold weather, your head can become hot so lightweight and highly ventilated helmets have become more popular especially for summer hacking, endurance riding and training. Many of these helmets give a very modern look and have features similar to cycling helmets however they offer more coverage and protection designed specifically for horse riding. Here at Houghton Country we stock a wide variety of ventilated riding hats suitable for men, women and kids from brands such as Charles Owen, Gatehouse and Uvex.
Practical and suitable for all types of equestrian activities, skull caps are sometimes known as jockey skulls because they rose to prominence through horse racing and being worn by jockeys on the flat and over jumps. Skull caps have become extremely popular with riders from beginners to top level of eventers. Skull caps are made from the same materials as riding hats and work on the same principle to help protect the brain from the trauma of a fall, knock or kick.
British Eventing along with many other organisations changed their rules to specify that skull caps are now the only suitable headwear for riding cross country.
The description of the required helmet by British Eventing has been given as;
As skull caps are so versatile they make a great choice for beginners as well as riders who enjoy multiple disciplines. With advances in the materials being used to absorb impact there are more Skull caps being designed with ventilation features, however, there are limits to the size and amount of holes which can be used.
A recent development in equestrian headwear technology is the introduction of MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) which has been used previously in motorcycle helmets and cycling helmets. MIPS is a Brain Protection System that is designed to combat rotational motion that can cause brain injuries when falling at speed. The system works by having a separate low friction layer in the lining of the helmet to allow a sliding movement of 10–15mm, in all directions, reducing rotational motion to the brain during impact. We are seeing a number of hat manufacturers now developing hats with MIPS technology.
An added bonus of a skull cap is that it is customisable (unlike a traditional style riding hat) as they hail from racing where a jockey is required to change their silks to represent the colours of the owners on multiple occasions throughout a day. This has also become popular with other equestrian disciplines most notably cross country and endurance riding where riders often have their own “colours” to stand out. There are a wide range of silks available from those made in velvet which can give a traditional look suitable for showing and dressage to popular lycra covers in all colours and designs to match your cross country colours.
It is important to remember that you should always replace your riding hat or skull cap after an impact, whether this is from a fall or simply the hat being dropped on hard ground. The hat may look fine on the outside but inside the protection may have been compromised. There is no way to check if the hat is damaged internally without destroying it in the process so it is always better to err on the side of caution and replace.
It’s not just your head that requires protection in a fall or accident. Equestrian body protectors are designed to help reduce the severity of injuries to the torso and major organs, however they cannot prevent injuries entirely.
A body protector is usually made from covered foam panels that absorb impacts including from a fall or a kick. There are various shapes and sizes of body protector and it is always important to be professionally fitted to ensure that you have the correct size, thereby ensuring maximum protection. Body protectors are compulsory for cross country competition and often for show jumping or schooling where falls or impacts can be at high speed. It is often recommended that body protectors are also worn when dealing with a horse on the ground. BETA Level 3 2009 & 2018 are the current accepted standards for body protectors. At Houghton Country we only stock BETA Level 3 certified body protectors, from leading brands including Airowear and Racesafe.
There are different types of body protector with some highly adjustable and others less so. Zipped fronted body protectors with touch close side fastenings are more popular than the traditional tabard style, however, the best body protector is always the one which fits you best. The majority of riders will fit off the peg from one of the styles on the market however there are bespoke services available from certain manufacturers if you find yourself unable to get a safe and comfortable fit.
A recent innovation in equestrian safety is the development of Air jackets (or air vests) which were originally developed for the motorcycle industry and inspired by air bags in cars. Air Jackets, such as Point Two Air Jackets and Hit Air Jackets are designed to inflate when the rider leaves the saddle, pulling the trigger via a lanyard attached to the saddle. This helps considerably to cushion a fall and many designs also inflate to help stabilise the neck.
As an air vest only offers protection when inflated it must be used on top of a body protector for cross country. It is classed as additional protection as with some falls such as rotational falls, the rider may not leave the saddle and therefore the air jacket may not inflate.
Being seen by others while riding especially when out and about is very important, especially while riding on the roads or in the countryside. We recommend always using hi viz when riding out, even on bright, sunny days as shadows can impair visibility for drivers. Reflective clothing for horse riding ranges from coats and tabards to hat bands. There is also a massive range of high visibility wear for horses and ponies from tail bands to boots to exercise sheets, ensuring both you and your horse can be seen my motorists as well as other members of the public.
A very common piece of safety equipment, safety stirrups have developed and been innovated many times since their original conception. The basic idea of safety stirrups is to prevent a rider having their foot trapped in the stirrup and dragged by the horse. Unlike traditional solid steel stirrups, safety stirrups have a removable or breakable outer branch.
There are several designs of safety stirrups available from basic models with a rubber ring making up the outer branch, to more advanced technology such as the articulated branches seen in FreeJump stirrups. Available in a large range of sizes including safety stirrups for adults as well the more traditional children’s safety stirrups. Houghton Country’s range of safety stirrups forms part of our wider, expansive saddlery collection.
Horse riding boots are not usually perceived as an item of horse riding safety gear, but having the correct footwear is incredibly important. Riding boots are designed with a small heel to prevent the foot from slipping forward and getting stuck in the stirrups. They also feature a relatively flat grip to keep the foot as low as possible in the stirrup and allow the rider freedom to adjust their foot position with ease.
At Houghton Country we stock a huge range of riding boots from leading brands including Ariat, Mark Todd, Shires and Mountain Horse. Both long riding boots and jodhpur boots are perfect for horse riding and our extensive range includes kid’s, women’s and men’s long riding boots. If you prefer the look or feel of short riding boots we also offer women’s and men’s jodhpur boots.
If you opt for jodhpur boots instead of long riding boots we recommend a pair of half chaps or leather gaiters. Not only do these give you the look of long boots but they’ll also protect your legs from nips by the stirrup leathers whilst riding. There are lots of options available, half chaps tend to be made from suede with the zip at the side, whilst leather half chaps or gaiters are usually firmer leather with a rear zip, making them also acceptable for competition use. Our range of kids half chaps are incredibly popular as they don’t grow out of them as quickly as long boots, and we also have a good selection of men’s half chaps and those for women as well.
Riding gloves are an essential piece of horse riding safety equipment, regardless of the weather! Riders wear gloves to protect their hands as well as increase grip upon the rein. Gloves will ensure if a horse pulls you don’t get blisters and the reins won’t slip between your fingers causing a loss of control. Horse riding gloves also have grip focused specifically in the areas required for horse riding, including between the third finger and little finger, across the palm and over the thumb. Riding gloves are designed to offer grip in both wet and dry conditions and winter riding gloves offer additional warmth for cooler weather.
We hope you’ve found this beginner’s guide to horse riding safety equipment helpful. If you’re just starting out on your horse riding journey make sure you also check out our what to wear for horse riding guide. It can feel like there’s a lot of safety gear needed for horse riding but investing in the right items that fit you correctly will ensure your safety and enjoyment of horse riding is never compromised.
If you’d like to discuss anything you’ve read or have a question about the fitting or purchasing of any of the items detailed above please don’t hesitate to contact our knowledgeable team either by email or by calling 01661 853110. You can also browse our extensive range of horse riding safety gear for women, men and kids to see everything we have on offer.