Safety in the Saddle
There’s no such thing as travel insurance for trail riders, but today’s equipment can make a huge difference to your safety and visibility on the trail. • Cellphone. If you carry your cellphone on your rides, keep it on you (such as in a waist or ankle pack) rather than in a saddlebag. Then your phone will stay with you if you and your horse become separated. Add a whistle in case you need to call for help out of signal reach. • Helmets/helmet accessories. Today’s riding helmets are lightweight, ventilated, comfortable, and highly protective. Look for ASTM-approved, SEI-certified headgear. The American Society for Testing and Materials (www. astm.org) tests and sets the standards for (www.seinet.org) certifies helmets that meet the current safety standards. Helmet covers include waterproof, netting, and fleece models. You can also add a visor for eyeshade. • Riding gloves. Gloves are essential for trail safety, as you’ll likely handle branches, wire, and rocks. Well-made riding gloves also allow you to keep a good, safe, grip on the reins. In hot, sunny weather, gloves protect your hands from burning and blistering. In cold weather, gloves help keep your hands warm and your fingers flexible. Polarfleece gloves will keep your hands warm even if they’re wet. • Stirrups/stirrup accessories. Wide, padded stirrups provide comfort and safety on the trail. Increase both factors by adding a pair of tapaderos or hoods (to Western stirrups) or toe cages (to English and endurance-style stirrups). Tapaderos will help keep your toes warm in winter, will protect your stirrups as well as your boots, and are the better choice if you’ll be riding through tall grass and brush. Hooded stirrups and toe cages are designed to prevent your foot from going all the way through the stirrup to de- crease the risk of being dragged, should you fall. Breakaway stirrups can also help prevent a dragging. • Visibility-enhancing gear. Reflective gear enhances your visibility to your riding companions, other trail users, and anyone who might come looking for you if you become lost or injured. Visibility is also helpful when you have to cross or ride on roads. You can increase your visibility by wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing. You can also hang reflective devices off your breastcollar, bridle, stirrups, and even your horse’s tail. Glow sticks provide gentle light to help illuminate a dark trail. Attach glow sticks to your horse’s breastcollar and other tack. • Safety vest. If you’d like additional body protection on the trail, consider an equestrian safety vest. For comfort, look for a model that’s flexible and adjustable, with minimal side padding. Before you go on a long trail ride, make sure your vest and saddle are compatible. A short vest offers less protection than a longer one, but be sure that the bottom back edge of your vest doesn’t bump annoyingly against your saddle’s cantle.
Today’s riding helmets are lightweight, ventilated, comfortable, and highly protective. Shown is the Equi-Lite Helmet by International Helmets, available from Toklat Originals.