As the summer months find many of us spending more time in the saddle, our thoughts turn to safety in our sport. With 3.8 million sports-related concussions reported each year in the United States alone, increased riding activities also mean we increase our chances for a fall off our horse or another related injury.
Fortunately, there are several new safety equipment advances geared to equestrians. We’ve done a round-up of the latest, and most innovative, safety equipment on the market, as well as some interesting research into how technology can make our sport safer.
Magnetic Safety Stirrup
We’ve all seen it in movies: someone falls off a horse and is dragged along the ground by the galloping mount. Or perhaps you’ve had your foot caught in the stirrup or know someone who was dragged along the ground. This is a frightening ordeal and can cause catastrophic, life-altering injuries, even death.
Safety stirrups are designed to prevent a rider’s foot from becoming snared by an outside “bar” made of rubber or other material for a quick release.
The equestrian brand Ophena has released a new open concept stirrup – the “S” – that does away entirely with the outside bar so getting caught never has to be a concern. What makes the Ophena S even more technically advanced is the built-in magnets on the footrest, and the magnetic insoles for your boots. The brand has called this technology Smart Attach™ and it works to keep your foot position secure. Added benefits include better foot and leg position, preventing stirrup loss during your ride, and increased confidence because you will feel more secure in the saddle. ($560 CAD)
Developed by UK rider and mother Laurie Williams, the Free Reins concept was inspired when she witnessed a young rider fall and get caught in the reins. The idea is simple: a quick-release rein that breaks free if a rider falls off; also handy if one’s horse becomes entangled in the reins after a fall and is running loose.
A ball and socket replaces the standard buckle and when a certain amount of force is exerted the reins break apart. They can be easily reattached for your next ride. (£159.99 – £179.99)
Check out how they work here:
These safety products are vests that when worn during a fall can protect a rider’s upper body from injury to ribs, spine, soft tissue and organs.
Air vests work by the use of a lanyard that is attached to the saddle. When the rider falls off, the lanyard activates a device that punctures an air canister, filling the vest with compressed CO2 before the rider hits the dirt. Air vests protect well when you land on the ground in a clean fall, or even if the horse rolls onto you, and are therefore very popular with eventers. There are several manufacturers on the market and varying price points. Hit Air‘s latest vest, for example, has attachable chest padding. This brand offers sport- and discipline-specific vests for all sizes including children. The use of air vests is recommended by the FEI for eventing cross-country.
Body protectors, which do not fill with air but instead rely on strategically-placed padding throughout the vest, must be worn during the cross-country phase and warmup at an FEI eventing competition. There’s the Tipperary Eventer Pro Vest which conforms to each rider’s body shape and allows for optimum air circulation to keep the body cool while antibacterial agents prevent odour build-up. The Tectonic Foam Plating™ moves and flexes with the rider and the Live Spine™ provides increased impact protection. ($480 CAD)
Some body protectors are discipline-specific, such as the new Charles Owen The Shadow, a light-wear vest for hunter/jumper or dressage that can we worn under a show jacket (not intended for cross-country jumping). ($211 – $239 CAD)
There’s An App For That
When it comes to riding the trails safely, one of the best tips is to never go alone. But sometimes that’s not possible and even if you do have a trail buddy, disaster can still strike. A rider can fall and be injured; a horse could become hurt or lame. Riders can even become lost in the countryside.
The Equilab: Horse and Riding App was developed for equestrians of all levels and disciplines, and one of its best features is the ability for users to share their location live with whomever they choose. This allows others to know when you reach the barn safely, and especially if you don’t.
Equilab also tracks your training progress and allows you to share your riding journey with friends, coaches, and whoever you wish. The app is one of the largest global social networks for riders.
The Future of Rider Safety
Hint, it’s all about sensors!
We wrote about the smart saddle research earlier this year. The saddle uses sensors called TENGs (triboelectric nanogenerators) that covert mechanical energy into electricity and transmit pressure, touch, and motion into signals. While the main goal is to improve rider biomechanics, making them better balanced in the saddle, the safety bonus in that the saddle’s built-in sensors can alert trainers and stable managers when a rider has fallen off.
Researchers have developed a skull cap that when worn under a helmet can determine if the helmet is fitting properly or a new size and/or shape is needed to optimize safety. According to the article published in ACS Sensors, a fabric-based fit cap with 16 pressure sensors was created to measure and map the applied pressures on an athlete’s head while wearing a helmet. The study used a non-equestrian athlete for the research. This person wore the “fit cap with real-time pressure mapping capability” while practicing and playing their sport on the field. These sensors gave real-time information on the proper fit of the helmet during wear.
The goal of this research is to eventually allow helmet manufacturers to use the sensor fit cap to custom-fit their helmets to the athlete’s head to decrease head injuries due to improperly fitted helmets.