Horseback riding is a delight to behold and equestrians spend years mastering how to successfully encourage a horse to perform stunts like jumping over obstacles or racing to the finish line. It's not a sport for amateurs and some studies have shown that it carries a higher accident risk than riding a motorcycle.
Most injuries are sustained by the rider with a majority of them occurring in the upper extremities like the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Severe injuries can have debilitating and life-changing consequences. A hit to the spine, for example, can leave a rider paralyzed or a bad head injury can lead to seizures. Fatal accidents, though not common, can still occur and usually result from head trauma.
Equestrians are required to wear protective gear at all times whether when practicing or in competitions. Let's look at some of the standard gear used by horseback riders.
Helmets are the most important gear as head trauma can be potentially fatal. Some riders steer clear of helmets during competitions like dressage as judges may deduct points. However, we must ask ourselves if winning a prize is more important than safety.
Safety vests are the second basic gear. Where helmets protect the head from injury, vests do the same for the spine, internal organs and ribs.
Mouth guards go without saying since a hit or a fall on the face will result in broken teeth. Getting a custom-made guard is the best way to have it conform to the unique shape of a wearer's mouth although manufactured ones also do the job well.
Stirrups protect against falls by keep a rider's feet steady. Safety stirrups lessen the chance of feet getting jammed. An example is hooded stirrups which have a hood on the outer part of the stirrup.
Gloves don't guard against fractures or sprains but they do prevent cuts and scratches. They also provide better grip especially when performing in an arena or riding on a trail.
Chaps are toughened leg coverings that protect against scrapes caused by horse hair.
Now that we've laid down the basic protective gear every equestrian should use, let's look at what beginner riders should do to further increase safety and facilitate training.
Don't attempt to ride a horse without proper training. Going the self-taught route is dangerous because horses can be temperamental. Getting prior training not only educates riders on what to do but also shows them how to deal with horses and their personalities.
Wear safety gear that fits you and don't attempt to get on a horse unless you're adequately protected.
Ride slow. There's no rush and a horse isn't a machine. Forcing it to do what it doesn't want or feel like doing may anger it and cause it to buck where a rider can be thrown from the saddle and severely injured.
Don't get back on a horse immediately following a fall. If the fall was the fault of the rider then getting back up is fine; however, if it's the horse that caused it, find out what the reason was. Maybe the saddle is uncomfortable or the horse isn't feeling well.
The rider's eyes and head should be kept up. This enables one to plan which route to take and allows for steering a horse in time.
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