Safety Stirrups

I’ve come to realise that I have a couple of hang ups when teaching. One is chin straps being tight enough to stop the children talking. I joke. But they mustn’t be able to get the strap in front of their chin as their hat becomes loose. Or spend their time chewing the end of the strap.

My other hang up is stirrups. I hate seeing kids riding in non safety stirrups. I prefer to see adults using them too, particularly when jumping, but I understand that they can make their own informed decision. Kids though, have far less control at keeping their stirrup iron on the ball of their foot, with the iron often getting close to the ankle. So I’d much rather have the option of the foot coming out sideways in an emergency, particularly when jumping.

The traditional peacock stirrups are my usual go to for kids as they are affordable and as soon as pressure is applied to the outside of the stirrup iron the rubber pops off, freeing the foot. Of course there’s always the odd band with a life of it’s own which is forever springing off.

For adults, there’s the bent leg stirrup irons, which I have on my jump saddle. Stronger because they’ve iron on both sides of the foot, the shape means the foot is able to come out easily. I bent a pair once, whilst hacking Matt out. He spooked, slipped on some mud at the side of the lane and fell onto his side. My leg was between him and the tarmac. I survived with just a bruised foot, but the stirrup iron was bent. When a similar incident happened a month later when I was schooling without stirrups my foot had much more of a squash injury.

Anyway, I digress. Bent leg irons are still popular, and I definitely prefer to see my riders in them as opposed to fillis irons.

You may remember a month or so ago Harry Meade had a fall cross country, which resulted in his foot getting caught and he was dragged along. Regardless of his stirrup irons (I have no idea what stirrups he uses so not passing any judgment) if a rider as good as Harry can get their foot stuck in a stirrup it should serve as a warning to all of us. Use safety stirrups!

The two safety stirrups I’m familiar with have been around for donkeys years. Incidentally, did you know that donkey originally rhymed with monkey when it first came into general usage in the 18th century because it derived from the word dun, describing the colour? I.e. It was dunkey, not donkey.

More digression, apologies. Since hearing about Harry Meade’s accident I’ve done some research into safety stirrups on the market now because technology has moved on in recent years and there’s bound to be more modern alternatives which I’d like to be more informed about.

Modern safety stirrups, such as the Acavello or Equipe, have a release mechanism on the outer strut. When pressure is applied to the outside the strut pops out and the foot is released. The strut can then be clicked back into place. Some makes have magnetic clips, others have springs, others have a silicon outer strut. From what I can tell, it’s important to keep the stirrup irons clean and free of grit as this might cause the mechanism to become stuck. And to monitor the condition of any springs or magnets so they don’t weaken and damage the integrity of the product.

I’ve a couple of clients starting to use Acavello safety stirrups, attracted also by their grippy tread, and they certainly seem to have been extensively tested for safety. Definitely some for me to consider when I need new jump stirrups, or am asked for my opinion.

I think in light of Harry Meade’s accident, it’s worth checking our own stirrups. Do they need new treads, peacock rubbers etc? Are they the best design for our foot? Are they the right size for us? Are they safety stirrups?


We can’t all be perfect, so I wasn’t surprised when I found Phoenix’s flaw the other week. I mean, she’s so good, and tries her heart out at everything I ask of her.

She’s getting a very hairy coat so I set a date in my diary to clip her.

I decided to check how Phoenix behaved with the clippers so I’d know how much help or time I’d need to put aside to clipping her. So I took my battery powered trimmers up to gauge her response.

As I introduced her to the silent trimmers she snorted suspiciously, but with some bribery she let me place them on both shoulders and move them over her neck and shoulders whilst still turned off.

I stood back, and turned them on. Then waited while she danced around nervously. I talked to her, and just waited for her to get used to the sound.

She didn’t, and was so suspicious of me while they were running that she wouldn’t even let me touch her with an outstretched left hand while the trimmers were in my outstretched right hand. So I turned them off, reassured her and then showed her them again whilst they were turned off.

I had some work to do!

In the grand scheme of things, having to sedate once or twice a year is no big deal. A slight inconvenience in the sense I have to plan a clip. There are worse traits. Like not loading in the torrential rain at a competition – I felt very smug when Phoenix walked straight on last weekend whilst our neighbours tried all sorts of tactics while it was stair-rodding. However, I want to try to desensitise Phoenix to them a little bit so we don’t require major sedation, just Sedalin or Domosedan, and so that she isn’t troubled when horses nearby are being clipped.

I’ve given her a month. At the beginning of November she needs to be clipped, whether that’s a sedation job and it all comes off, or she lets me do a chaser with no medication.

Every couple of days we’ve been having “trimmer time”, when I run the trimmers around her. Over the last fortnight we’ve progressed to not leaping out of our skin when the trimmers are turned on, and standing still while I run the running trimmers all over her neck, chest, shoulders, barrel, belly and stifle. She still doesn’t like them running to the top of her neck. Trimmer time is then followed by lots of praise, pats and a couple of treats before having her dinner.

Although Phoenix is more accepting of the trimmers, she still finds the procedure stressful. You can see her short, shallow breaths and by her body language. I’m hoping that as we do it more frequently she will find it less stressful. I also want to have her standing near a quiet horse when they are being clipped so she can hopefully learn by observation as well as just getting used to the noise. Her stress levels are also why I don’t do trimmer time daily, and why I do it when she’s had a groom, is relaxed and calm, and will have something nice afterwards – such as dinner or being hand grazed.

The one day I did trimmer time with a couple of other horses near her on the yard, who didn’t bat an eye, Phoenix did seem less stressed so I will bear that in mind when it comes to clipping her. Perhaps have her best friend (who likes clippers!) tied near her.

The biggest factor in deciding on whether I’ll sedate her to clip is safety. Do I think she’s accepted the clippers enough to remain level headed, or is the adrenaline going to be pumping and her be in flight mode, which risks me being kicked or hurt. I don’t want her to learn a bad habit or bad associations with clipping, so I’d much rather she is put to sleep, has a positive experience, and then we continue with desensitisation over the winter and through the summer.

We shall see how the next couple of weeks goes. I think given time she’ll learn to accept clipping because it’s her nature to try to please, and so I’ll give her all the time she needs.

Body Protectors

This subject came up at the Pony Club CPD evening last week, and I thought it was definitely worth a bit of time spent thinking about it.

Body protectors are an integral part of riding today, and many people put them on like they put on a hat. But is it beneficial to do flatwork in them?

They obviously have the benefits of protecting the upper body and vital organs, and I think many parents want what’s best for their child and will purchase all the safety gear they can get their hands on. There are numerous studies that show the benefits of body protectors in falls at speed or from height. Bouncing off in trot onto the soft surface of the school doesn’t have quite the same level of danger though.

I think there is also the psychological benefit of feeling protected, which gives you more confidence in your riding. 

Which could cause you to take unnecessary risks, or ride outside your comfort zone, but that’s another topic …

Let’s look at body protectors and how they fit. They’ve changed in my lifetime, so I’m sure we’ll see more change in the future. The first ones I remember were made of little bits of foam, and very bendy. They looked a bit like the life jackets from the Titanic! Then they evolved to be two large pieces of foam that wrapped around front and back, attached with Velcro. Now the large pieces have been anatomically divided to increase movement and the protectors fit like a jacket. Racesafe have also developed ones with much smaller bits of foam, going back to the original life jacket style, albeit with less floppiness.

The more recent ones are definitely an improvement in that rider’s can move more and they contour to the body. But wearing a piece of foam around you does restrict your movement slightly and upset your balance.

I’m sure there’s an element of getting used to riding with one and learning to adapt to it’s feel. Possibly something I find difficult because I only ever use mine for cross country, so am not used to it daily.

Let’s go back to learning to ride, and wearing a body protector on the flat. Does it help? Well like I said earlier if it gives you a confidence boost a clever instructor can use this to their advantage. A not so clever instructor can push too far. The body protector can help those with a sloppy posture, encouraging them to sit up more. But have you ever seen kids riding with a body protector and their elbows sticking out? Of course they can’t put their elbows by their side because the body protector is under their armpits. (I think this applies more to the Velcro, large foam piece styles) This will affect their balance, arm position, and contact on the reins. Which jeopardises their learning and can give them bad habits for life.

When learning sitting trot the body bounces around as the correct muscles develop. A body protector can inhibit this and make the body rigid, thus being harder to sit and absorb the horse’s movement. Even with more competent riders and jumping, a body protector can make it harder to absorb a sudden movement or to keep the balance through a spook. 

A couple of weeks ago one of the horses I was riding did a very impressive spin. Towards the spooky sheep. Which I obviously wasn’t expecting; my body was poised for a spin the opposite way. I stayed on, albeit with my arms wrapped around his neck and one foot precariously over the cantle. I’m pretty sure that having a body protector on would have made it harder for me to sit that spin.

I’m not advocating the abandonment of body protectors, I’m just saying that a bulky, or badly fitting one, can make riding harder. Riders may find they develop better sitting trot, or can develop better feel for a horse’s way of going on the flat without the restrictions of the body protector. Perhaps more competent riders when jumping small fences will also find it easier to develop their balance without the rigidity of one. An instructor, especially in our society of blame and health and safety, can’t tell a client to remove their body protector, but perhaps giving clients the opportunity to put on their body protector before the jumping part of their lesson would help riders’ flatwork? And instilling in clients that it really is worth getting the protector fitted by a professional and buying the best.

I think it’s important to go for the best fitting body protector, and to avoid the larger panels if possible so it will contour to your body. Body protectors are not an area to skrimp and save on. I hate seeing children in badly fitting protectors; I remember one girl who wore her elder sister’s body protector. She looked like a turtle, the shoulders came up to her ears! And I’m sure it didn’t do her coccyx or position any good having the base of the back so low.

It will be interesting to see how body protectors develop as technology improves; perhaps they will become even lighter and thinner so are more suited to flatwork and less inhibiting.

A New Riding Hat

After procrastinating for most of the summer I went today to buy a new riding helmet.

My current hat, whilst it hadn`t been damaged to my knowledge is coming up to four years old. It`s a pretty basic skull cap as I have an odd shaped head and I`ve always found it very comfortable.

At the yard this morning I made a mental note of the make and size (3, yes I also have a big head) before heading off to the tack shop.

At the tack shop I was surrounded by numerous styles and makes of hats. Thankfully I know a little bit about them, God knows how unhorsey parents and child feel when going to buy their first hat. This helmet will be the one I use everyday so needs to be comfortable, with no peak for jumping, cross country and hacking. Past experience tells me that skull hats fit my weird head better anyway.

I found my current hat amongst the display and saw that it is kitemarked and up to BSEN:1384 1997 standard. Now this standard is the minimum standard to be used at the riding school I work at, so I looked at the more modern and expensive helmets. They were of BSEN:1384 2012 standard.

Doing what I do, I thought I would ask the assistant for help in finding a 2012 standard helmet which fits me. So she brought out all the size 3 hats and I tried them on. They tell you to go to a hat fitting with your hair in a similar style as when you ride. So it`s a good job I went straight from the yard! The first hat perched on my head, and the second pinched my temples. We continued through the rest of the pile. With one style the size 3 was far too tight whilst the 3.5 was slightly loose. If only they made a size 3.25! The assistant was starting to lose the will to live when she asked what hat I`d previously had (I think she was doubting I`d ever bought one!) I told her it was the Champion Pro-Plus and she dug out the size 3. I put it on, and it fitted like a glove.

Strange isn`t it, that the more basic skull cap fitted the shape of my head better than the more modern variations. I felt like Harry Potter picking up his phoenix feather wand in Ollivanders.

The only positive thing about buying this helmet was that it was half the price of the 2012 counterparts!

So I went home to read up on the standards of riding helmets, to make sure I was still fully protected.

The BSEN:1384 1997 standards was a big step up from the previous standards for riding hats, and is now the minimum standard for all hats.

EN1384 1996 / BSEN 1384 1997

This standard may be found prefixed by other initials belonging to the country testing the helmet, e.g. DIN EN1384 indicating testing in Germany. The BS prefix symbolizes that the hat has been tested in Britain and though in theory

there should be no difference, some European countries have approved helmets that may have failed if tested in Britain.

The two standards are identical in content and were a major leap forward over the previous British standards, offering bottom edge protection for the first time. The helmet is impact tested almost right on the bottom edge (as opposed to 75mm up from the bottom edge on BS4472 hats) so the protective liner has to extend all the way down to the rim. This change came about because it was found that in 25% of falls the rider did not land on the top of their heads, but on the sides, front or back. It does include a penetration test.

This is the basic minimum standard for almost all forms of riding.


Hats can also be marked with the KiteMark, which tends to praise the company, more than the helmet.

The Kitemark

The Kitemark is the registered trademark of the British Standards Institute and

can only be affixed to products certified by them. As well as complying with

the requirements of the relevant standard, e.g EN1384 or PAS 015, the mark

indicates that the company complies with a rigourous system of regulation

and testing. Companies are required to provide the BSI with unrestricted

access to their offices and factories and allow regular testing of randomly

chosen samples through batch and audit testing. Hats are only released for

sale once batch testing is completed, thus avoiding product recall.

Kitemark certification is voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time.


A higher standard than the BSEN is the PAS 015 standards, which are suggested for those who do more cross country riding. I`ve checked my new hat, and it is also meets the PAS015 1998 standard – phew!


PAS015: 1998/ PAS015: 2011 with Kitemark mark


This stands for Product Approval Specification and was developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) in response to concerns about the time it was taking to develop what would become the EN1384. The first version was formulated by looking at drafts for the European standard and taking the highest option in each case. After the official publication of the EN1384 in 1997 certain differences occurred between it and PAS015, leading to the 1998 revision of the PAS015 to remove those differences and address new areas of protection such as crush resistance and protection against injury when landing on an edged surface. As the test line is lower at the front it tends to lead to slightly bulkier helmets. A stability test is also included to limit excessive

movement during wearing or a fall. This has been revised in 2011 with an increased drop height and several other amendments affecting the performance of hats. It is expected that the 1998 version will run parallel with the 2011 for 18 months.


It took a lot of searching, but I`ve only found a little bit on the BSEN:1384 2012 standards. I was asked if I wanted to download a full copy of the BSEN 1384 standards document for £145 but I declined…

EN 1384: 2012

This European standard has been adopted for all riding helmets and helmet from Jockey British standards (British Standards). This legislation represents a step forward compared to previous regulations issued by British Authorities. It is recognised at European level and by many international countries with the exception of some countries who wanted to adopt Regulations stricter parameters. A novelty in particular: the use of the chin guard is no longer allowed because in case of a fall would result in mandibular fractures.


From what I can gather my new riding hat is sufficient for my daily activities and most riding, but it may be that when I investigate air jackets I need to look at getting a helmet which meets the 2012, or even the prestigious SNELL standards. After today I would never order a helmet online though, you can never guarantee the fit and a bad fitting helmet can have such detrimental consequences.

What a Predicament

Over the weekend we had an interesting dilemma at work.

A family came for a riding day. This usually involves a couple of hours riding in the morning followed by lunch and then a ride in the afternoon. I wasn’t involved with the meeting and greeting as I was teaching in the arena, but as I returned to the yard I passed the school in which they were having their lead rein lesson. They weren’t wearing hats.

I was surprised that our old-school instructor had let this pass as she’s a stickler for health and safety, but I could see they were wearing turbans.

Over lunch I was talking to the instructor about the turban and riding. This family were Sikh and never put anything on their head, except obviously the turban. I can vaguely remember learning this at school, but I started to wonder where the insurance stood in all this.

Yes, you have to accept everyone’s beliefs and religions, but does letting someone ride without a helmet due to religious beliefs cause your insurance to be invalid? And what sort of example does this set to children? Should you get the client to sign a disclaimer, relieving you of all responsibility for their head? And does it change how you as an instructor teach and treat them? For example, if you are teaching a beginner would you be more inclined to leave them on the lead rein for longer than necessary rather than allow them onto try walking around the arena on their own at the end of the lesson? Are you more reluctant to take them in the woods on hacks, for fear of them knocking their head on a low branch?

I’ve done my research and the law accepts that the turban provides head protection, and the employment law exempts Sikhs from wearing safety hats on construction sites, and motorcycle helmets. From this, I can only deduce that by not allowing such clients to ride would be breaking the law, it would be discrimination but also in breach of the law that exempts Sikhs from wearing safety hats. I’m not sure I would find it easy trying to teach when there is that constant nag in the back of my head.

My colleague did the right thing, I think, by keeping her clients on the lead rein with senior members of staff, and informing the Big Boss of the situation beforehand so that she was not responsible for the decision about riding to go ahead. I guess the Big Boss has read the insurance policy closely and that there is a note in there about similar situations, and is happy that the insurance is still valid and that the client is participating at their own risk.

I’d never thought about this before, but it is an important aspect to remember so that I don’t offend anyone or cause myself professional injury.

Helmet Awareness Day

I’ve been reliably informed that today is Helmet Awareness Day, so I thought it was time to jump on the bandwagon and discuss helmets.

To me, it’s always been a cardinal sin to ride without a riding hat, and even when I rode bareback around one of the hacks to catch up with an adult when there was a sick horse I stopped at the tack room to pick up my hat. We wore our hats up the field if we wanted to ride back down.

I’ll admit, I have mounted and gone “oh my hat!” But we’ve never got further than the end of the drive. It’s always a risk in winter or the rain that you leave your woolly hat or cowboy hat on by mistake.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to rant about how you should wear a helmet when you ride, but rather look at the safety aspect of borrowing one. Most riding schools have a cupboard where new clients can borrow a hat. Firstly, there’s the danger of contracting nits, but secondly how many tines has that hat been dropped? Or even, how old is the hat? Manufacturers say we should replace hats every three years as they degrade, but most riding schools have cast off helmets which are older than me! How much protection do they actually provide?

Furthermore, why do some helmets pass the safety inspection and some don’t? Why are there several kite marks or BSEN numbers around? Shouldn’t helmets meet one set of criteria which comes under one title? And why are manufacturers (because there are some) allowed to still make hats that meet the 1996 regulations, when they have clearly been superceded by 1997 and 1998 as well as the others years since?

From a parents point of view, it drives me mad when they scrimp on headwear. Why go to the cheap shop and get the helmet that won’t protect your child’s head? And why if they have been riding weekly for several months don’t you buy them their own instead of exposing them to an elderly helmet with a couple of invisible cracks in which means when the child falls off whilst cantering their head is broken?

It’s all beyond me. I’m not saying money buys everything, but when kitting yourself out to ride, a hat fitted by a qualified fitter, which meets the most recent set of safety standards, is surely the way forward? In terms of borrowing hats from riding schools I would only do it for the first few lessons. It’s not worth the risk.

But the UK is pretty strict about wearing helmets on or around horses. Many clients tell me about their trip to the a Grand Canyon or Mongolia, where they were thrown onto a horse without any form of assessment, and sent off on a days ride with no helmet! I think I’d be sick walking along the narrow path of the Grand Canyon, regardless of if I had a hat on. But still, there are branches and rocks from above, even if falling off meant certain death.

Not wanting to put a downer on horse holidays, I do wonder when the world of Health and Safety will catch up with them.