Is health and safety making us poorer riders?

Is health and safety making us poorer riders?

By Lesley Polson

I recently found myself chatting to a Master of Hounds. After first establishing a joint interest in horses, we quickly moved onto how we’d learnt to ride, and how absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, everything was 100 per cent different today.

We had both been riding from a very early age, and had taken just enough lessons to stay on before going out on hacks, which mostly involved going as fast as possible.

Health and safetyThe lessons themselves had involved various ways designed to establish balance and flexibility, and were a great deal of fun.

It meant going without stirrups, with extra-short jockey stirrups, or extra-long stirrups. We’d ride along with our arms outstretched, kneeling on the saddle, and we’d do ’round the worlds’, touch our toes, and the horse’s ears and tail.

We’d both worked our weekends and holidays at our local riding school, which would be packed with girls just like us, all prepared to work all day for the opportunity of riding the horses and ponies out into the fields at the end of the day – at a mad gallop, without a saddle and only a head collar and lead rein as means of control.

We had both fallen off endlessly, but seen it as a badge of honour – after all, there was that saying – ‘you’re not a rider until you’ve fallen off at least six times’.

It was of course, in sharp contrast to today. When my young niece first started learning to ride, she had to be fully kitted out with hat, back protector and boots before she was even allowed on a pony.

Her mother would watch nervously from the side-lines and twitch every time the pony went into a trot. Another mother was outraged when her child had been bitten by a pony, and even more so when told ‘that was what ponies did’. She took her child away and very likely enrolled her in a less risky sport, while the owners of the stables no doubt considered putting up signs warning of the ‘possible risk’ of being near a horse’s teeth.

Now, I’ve never worn a back protector, and I am one of the few who still venture out onto roads without some sort of high-visibility clothing of some sort.

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That, I realise is pretty daft, given the increasing speed of drivers on the roads.

If I was to take up eventing, I would wear a back protector, but I don’t go eventing. I know another Master of Hounds in his 80s, who has only recently started wearing one – and that’s because his insurance company demanded it to protect his very expensive titanium shoulder.

Eventing is a very dangerous sport, and it would be very foolish indeed to attempt it without safety gear – who could forget the sight of riders at last year’s old style Badminton Horse Trials struggling to get up after their air bag jackets had inflated on hitting the ground.


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