Horse Care Riding Tips

Smart Safety Equipment for Equestrians

woman wearing helmet riding horse
mm
Written by Susanna Wright

Top Safety Gear for Horses & Their Riders

If you’ve spent time around horses, you’re probably aware of all the various equipment and gadgets designed to help keep both you and your horse safe in and around the barn. But what is a “nice to have” versus a “need to have?” And what equipment can be considered “safety equipment?”

We’ll review a complete list for both horse and rider, highlighting some of our favorite products from years of experience with equines.

horse wearing halter

Source: Canva

“Need to Have” Safety Equipment for Horses

Tons of gear has been designed to help keep our equines safe. From breakaway halters to quick release snaps and first aid kits, we’ll break down this “need to have” equipment. 

Leather or Breakaway Halters

Horses are prey animals and will default to the “flight” part of “fight or flight.” If a horse gets surprised, caught on an object, or feels trapped, their natural instinct is to pull back and escape.

This is one reason why people choose to turn horses out without wearing halters—it is one less thing for the horse to get caught on and potentially injured by.

Leather halters, or halters with a leather breakaway strap, are a safer choice for your horse than a nylon or rope halter. If your horse does get into trouble, the leather will break and release the horse.

Nylon halters are much more difficult to break and can cause additional injury to your horse.

Rope vs. Leather halter on two different horses

Rope halter (left) and leather halter (right). Source: Canva

Where to get a safety halter:

Leather Halter
Breakaway Halter

Lead Ropes

Lead ropes are made from various materials, most commonly cotton, nylon, and leather. They are used for just that–leading and tying. Lead ropes are usually 6’ – 15’ long.

The attachment point, usually a metal snap, can also vary. There are different styles of snaps – your regular snap, traditional bull snap, trigger bull snap, and panic snap (to name a few of the most common choices!)

The decision on the type of snap is typically personal preference.

Beware of very cheap lead ropes, though! The metal snap can break, which could cause injury to you or your horse.

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Some snaps are designed to release under a certain amount of pressure. This can be a safety feature, or a safety flaw, depending on the design and circumstances.

various colors of lead ropes

Source: Canva

Whatever type of lead you use, NEVER wrap it or loop it around your hand. If the horse spooks, the rope can trap your hand, potentially dragging you.

It can be helpful to wear gloves when leading a horse, especially with a nylon lead line. Rope burns are no fun!

Personally, I prefer leather work gloves. They are great to have around for a variety of tasks!

Leather Work Gloves - Small
$9.99 ($9.99 / Count)
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Quick Release Ties (knots, trailer ties, or cross ties)

If a horse is tied and pulls back, feeling the restraint may cause them to spook even more. This is where ties with a quick-release function can come in handy.

horse standing in cross ties

Source: Canva

If you tie your horse using a lead rope, you should learn how to tie a quick-release knot, which will release with one pull under pressure.

How to Tie a Quick Release Knot 

When tying a horse in a trailer, or using a trailer tie, you should make sure one side is equipped with a quick-release snap. Pulling down on the metal slider will release the snap under pressure.

If you’re using cross-ties, such as in a barn aisle, ensure one end of the cross-tie has a quick release snap.

The snap should be on the side that attaches to the wall—if a horse is spooking, you don’t want to have to reach their face to release the halter-side. Additionally, if the horse gets loose, having a length of cross-tie available to grab can help catch them later.

Here is an excellent video about horse safety related to buckles and snaps:

First Aid Kit

An equine first aid kit, and the knowledge of how to use it, is essential. If you’re at a boarding facility, ask the staff where they keep first aid supplies—if available for everyone. But, you may wish to purchase or assemble your own first aid kit so you have easy access to it at any time.

Here are a few things you should have in your horse first aid kit:

● An equine first aid booklet
Vet wrap
● Antiseptic ointment
● Bandages, scissors, gauze, and wraps
● A thermometer
● Saline wash
● Gloves
● Hydrogen Peroxide
● Syringe
● Iodine and/or alcohol prep pads
● Banamine
● Bute

Pro Tip: If you haul your horse, keep a first aid kit in the trailer too!

Here’s our article about what you should have in your horse first aid kit.

“Nice to Have” Equipment for Horses

The following equipment falls under the “nice to have” category, as it’s fairly horse and discipline specific. For example, some boots are specific to jumping or reining, while other boots are helpful for horses that overreach. 

Leg Wraps and Boots

There are many different types of boots and leg wraps for various purposes. The most important thing is to learn how to apply them properly. Incorrect wrapping or boot position can cause serious injuries and accidents.

A few examples include:

Shipping boot: designed to protect legs during trailering
Polo wraps: designed to protect legs during work, lunging, or turnout
Standing wraps: designed to cover the horse’s leg when treating an injury
Fly wraps: designed to protect the legs from biting insects

four types of horse leg protection infographic by horse rookie

Infographic by HorseRookie; photos by Canva

Skid boots: designed to protect the hind legs during sliding stops
Brushing boots: designed to provide everyday protection from legs hitting each other
Open front boots: designed to provide support and protection during routine jumping
Overreach boots: designed to protect the front feet from being hit by the hind feet (also called bell boots!)

infographic on common types of horse boots by HorseRookie

Infographic by HorseRookie; photos by Canva

You can even buy a helmet for your horse. Also called a horse head bumper, this cushioned material attaches to your halter and protects your horse’s poll when hauling in the trailer.

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Safety Equipment for the Rider

Spending time with horses comes with risk–fortunately, there are some great products out there to help keep you protected!

group of trail riders wearing helmets

Source: Canva

“Need to Have” Equipment for Riders

The most important safety gear for equestrians is an ASTM/SEI approved helmet and boots with a heel. Depending on your discipline, you may opt to add some gloves to the mix, or wear a protective vest or mouth guard. Safety stirrups are another excellent investment!

ASTM/SEI Approved Helmet

The single most important piece of safety equipment you can buy is a helmet.

And not just any helmet—a helmet specifically designed for horseback riding.

Equestrian helmets have a foam interior which cushions against specific forces your head may be subject to while riding a horse. The helmet’s hard exterior is designed to skid across the impact surface, minimizing jerking motions to the neck.

helmets sitting on a shelf

Source: Canva

When purchasing a helmet, you need to be sure the helmet is manufactured to ASTM/SEI standards. What does this mean?

ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. This organization is involved with many different types of safety equipment, helmets included. ASTM sets the standards that horseback riding helmets must adhere to, summarized in ASTM F 1163. These standards are reviewed every five years.

SEI stands for Safety Equipment Institute and is an independent lab that tests helmets to be sure they meet ASTM standards. Only shop for helmets with an ASTM/SEI seal. Approved helmets must have a harness.

Companies that manufacture approved helmets include:

● Troxel
● Tipperary
● Charles Owens
● International Helmets
● Lexington Safety Products
● Equine Science Marketing, Ltd
● Del Mar Helmet Co

helmet with gloves inside it

Source: Canva

ASTM/SEI is not unique to just horseback riding helmets; they regulate and test all helmets.

It’s important to note that helmets are designed to be sport-specific.

For example, a bike helmet is not sufficient for riding a horse because of several factors. First, think about how far your head is off the ground when riding a bike vs. a horse: Bike helmets are not designed for falls from the height associated with being astride a horse.

Additionally, most bike accidents involve the rider being thrown forward, so the helmet provides more protection on the top than the sides. Falls from a horse can result in impact from any angle, so the helmet must have adequate protection all the way around, not just on the top.

Buying a Helmet
  1. Ensure you are buying an ASTM/SEI certified horseback riding helmet
  2. Check for fit:
    a. Helmet should sit level across your head
    b. Helmet should sit about 1” above your eyebrows
    c. Helmet should be snug enough so that when you move it, it moves your eyebrows
    i. If the helmet is too small, it will be uncomfortable. It may cause a headache or leave indentations in the skin on your forehead.
    ii. If the helmet is too big, it will be ineffective
  3. Helmets should be replaced every 5 years or after a fall

Only an ASTM/SEI certified helmet offers protection in case of a fall. Western hats and hunt caps offer zero protection.

Every Ride, Every Time

You should wear your helmet every time, every ride. No one plans to fall off their horse—horses spook, even the most well-broke/bomb-proof horse can simply trip with serious consequences.

Have you heard of Silva Martin?

She is an Olympic-level dressage rider, married to Boyd Martin. While riding at home, her horse tripped, and she bumped her head on the horse’s neck, knocking her unconscious. Even with a helmet, this resulted in a serious head injury resulting in hospitalization; fortunately, she made a full recovery.

Without a helmet? This accident could have been fatal.

As her husband Boyd Martin said, “Boyd stressed to Eventing Nation that her helmet very obviously prevented this from being a much more serious injury.

In an interview with The Chronicle he said, “I was very thankful she was wearing [her helmet]. She comes from a culture in Germany where you don’t wear a helmet every day, but for the last couple of years she’s been very diligent about it.”

Safe Boots

The second most important piece of gear you can invest in as a rider is a good pair of boots!

Boots help protect your feet from a variety of potential injuries. The hard sole shields your foot from sharp objects you may step on. Sturdy leather can help protect your foot in the event you are stepped on by a horse.

western boot in stirrup with spur

Source: Canva

To be clear—getting stepped on is still going to hurt wearing a boot. But, injuries will be less severe than if you were wearing a tennis shoe or flip-flops.

As a side note-flip flops should NEVER be worn at the barn or around horses!

Rookie Real Life: I have a friend who wore flip-flops to the barn to feed. She was only planning to be out there for a minute–long enough to throw hay, and it didn’t require handling horses. However, one of the horses spooked and stepped on her foot. She broke two toes and couldn’t wear a shoe for a week while the swelling went down. She couldn’t ride for six weeks.

Boots need to have a distinct heel. The heel helps keep your foot from sliding through the stirrup and getting stuck.

If you were to fall off your horse, footwear like a tennis shoe is more likely to get stuck in the stirrup. Being dragged by a horse is much more dangerous than a fall alone.

“Nice to Have” Equipment for Riders*

*Depends on your discipline, among other factors!

Body Protectors and Air Vests

Another piece of safety equipment to consider is a protective vest.

Body protectors cushion the torso and are designed to shield your heart, lungs, and other vital organs and dispel force/impact during a fall. They are required in certain events, such as United States Eventing Association and United States Pony Club competitions, and are not uncommon to see in other activities, such as racing or rodeo events.

Protective vests, similar to helmets, must be certified to ASTM F1937-04 standards and tested by SEI.

woman wearing safety vest and helmet with horse

Source: Canva

There are two types of protective vest:

Body Protector: The most popular type is the traditional, also called a passive eventing vest. These vests are made from gel or dense foam. They are ASTM, SEI, and BETA certified.

Air Vest: Air vests are a newer technology and have one standard so far: the SATRA M38. Think of these almost like an airbag in your car. They utilize a strap that attaches to the saddle. If/when the rider becomes detached from the saddle, the vest inflates.

Air vests help protect against rotational falls, and have the added benefit of protecting the head, neck, and spine as well as internal organs. If you deploy an air vest, you will have to replace the air vest cartridge

Similar to helmets, vests must fit properly for safety and comfort. Accurate measurements are needed to evaluate size charts and select a vest that will fit. Vests should fit snugly but not impair your range of motion.

Some additional pieces of gear that may be worth considering:

Gloves. Gloves can protect your hands when riding and working horses on the ground. For example, if a horse bolts while you are leading or longing them, gloves will help prevent rope burn.
Safety Stirrups. The risk of falling, getting a foot caught in the stirrup, and being dragged is real. There are several ways to help mitigate this risk.

First, if riding English, check the stirrup bar—this is where the stirrup leather attaches to the saddle. The stirrup bar should be left straight, not bent upwards at a 90 degree angle. This will allow the stirrup leather and stirrup to come free from the saddle under enough of the right force.

Another safety feature for English riders is a safety stirrup. These feature a thick rubber band in place of traditional metal on the outside of the stirrup. In the event of a fall, the rubber band will easily snap, eliminating the risk of a foot being caught in the stirrup.

A mouth guard. These are not as common, but are used in events like rodeo or jumping.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What PPE is needed for riding horses?

At a minimum, you’ll need a riding helmet and boots with a heel. Long pants are highly encouraged to protect your legs from pinching in the saddle. Gloves are also a great idea for your hands.

Also FYI–PPE can stand for two different things! In this context, it means Personal Protective Equipment. We also do PPE’s before buying horses–in that context, a PPE refers to a Pre Purchase Exam.

Q: How much does a helmet cost?

An ASTM/SEI approved helmet can cost anywhere from $60-$600 (or more!). If you’re just getting started, Troxel makes great entry-level helmets. They are usually comfortable, with good ventilation, at a friendlier price tag.

Depending on your head shape and discipline, there are a lot of options out there for a helmet! This article discusses some of our favorite brands known for their great equestrian helmets.

Q: What are the best horse riding boots for beginners?

The best boots will be comfortable, have a hard sole, at least a ½” heel, and protect your foot from being stepped on. This article features 11 different boots that are perfect for the beginner, whether you’re riding English or Western.

Q: What is a safety tool used while horse riding?

A common piece of safety equipment used for horseback riding are safety stirrups. There are a variety of designs, both English and Western, that will help release your foot in the event of a fall. Falling off a horse is bad enough–getting dragged is a whole different story.

Here’s a great article on how safety stirrups work.

Q: What equipment is used to control a horse?

On the ground, a halter and lead rope are generally used to control a horse. If you’re grooming a horse in an aisle way or stall, cross-ties are a common method to keep the horse from moving around too much.

Under saddle, reins are the equipment used to physically communicate from the rider to the horse.

Q: What are horse handlers called?

A horse trainer is someone who trains horses (and sometimes their riders, too!)

A riding instructor specifically focuses on training the rider.

A horse groom is someone that helps care for horses, specifically focusing on the horse’s appearance. Grooms are responsible for bathing, brushing, clipping, braiding, banding, and a whole lot more.

Parting Thoughts

This list barely scratches the surface when it comes to equipment designed to keep your horse safer. However, it makes for a great starting point! And the best news? You can invest in safety without spending a small fortune.

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to: 

Sources:

Equestrian Safety

Safe in the Saddle: A Look at Protective Vests

Mind Your Melon: Why Equestrians Should Always Wear a Helmet

Equine Helmet Safety

Keeping Kids Safe around Horses

8 Rules to Keep Your Child Safe Around Horses

Helmet Safety

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About the author

mm

I started riding horses in elementary school and never stopped. From my early days in 4-H to the college equestrian team, I've tried a little bit of everything. Riding Quarter Horses has been my sport of choice for the last two decades, including finishing in the Top Five at the Quarter Horse Congress along the way.