If you want to take up horse riding there is no need to go out and buy all the “horsey uniform” before giving it a fair try. You may think you will like riding, and you may, but there is also the possibility it is not quite what you thought or you find the horses too frightening. There is, however, one item of clothing you should buy and that is a riding hat. There is no substitute for this special protection and no other type of hat or helmet will work, so if you do not have a riding hat you might as well not wear anything; this may wind up safer than the wrong hat in the long run, but a bare head does leave you exposed to serious head injuries.While it is true you can use other substitutes for equestrian clothing, they will not be as comfortable and useful. This will work for long enough to let you know if you wish to continue or not, but as soon as you are sure you want to continue riding, good boots and breeches will make your life much better and the boots will protect your feet and offer higher levels of safety.Substitute clothing does have a few provisos for safety reasons, so take careful heed of these listed below.
A riding hat affords all sorts of protection; it has a hard outer shell which protects against head injuries should you fall off and also against hard knocks and kicks from horses while you are on the ground. The shell and inner padding is designed to spread impact in the case of severe blows. There is a flexible brim which bends on impact but still offers reasonable protection should a horse accidently turn round and thump you in the face with their head. Hats can save head damage while standing on the ground too – if you are near a wall and a horse pushes you, (and some do tend to do this), you will bang your head on the wall quite hard but wearing a hat will save injury and pain. It is important that the hat fits correctly as its protection depends on this nearly as much as the construction of the hat. The hat should be a snug, comfy fit and stay firmly in place while you gently move your head up and down and from side to side – without closing the chin strap. The hat fits quite close to your eyebrows, (say 1-2 cm above), and just above or touching, your ears. Once in position there will be an air pocket which creates a small vacuum; this helps in the case of a blow and also helps the hat stay in place. You will feel slight resistance when removing the hat – if you don’t it does not fit correctly. Another guide is to place your hand on the hat and rock it back and forth. Your forehead should rise and fall as you do this - if it does not the hat is not the correct size.Once you have established the hat is the right size you can close the chin strap. This should be loose enough to be comfortable and tight enough to ensure the hat stays firmly in place no matter what happens.A good hat will set you back £20 upwards, but more usually around the £30 - £40 mark. This is not an extravagance, but safety. After all it is your skull and brain, or your child’s, you are protecting.It is recommended that after a hat has been subjected to a hard bang it is replaced as the structure could have been damaged and a lot of the protection lost. For that reason buying second hand hats is not recommended unless you know it has not had a fall, kick or other hard thump. If you look on the internet you might see this called “Riding Helmets” but chances are if you walk into an equestrian shop and ask for a helmet they will send you to a motorbike store. It is generally called a hat and occasionally it is referred to as a riding cap and only in a few rare cases is it called a helmet, although this name is starting to spread.
There are two basic types of footwear; long boots that go to your knee, and short boots, (Jodhpur Boots), that cover your ankle. Each type has many variations but as a beginner a basic one is all you require and short ones are not only cheaper but in many cases more comfortable and practical. Riding boots provide all the necessary safety features while riding but have the added advantage of toe protection for working on the ground. This is in case a horse stands on your feet, and many jodhpur boots also have heel protection in case the horse accidently strikes the back of your foot while walking. Many jodhpur boots also have an elastic inset in the ankle area to allow greater flexibility, but a soft leather or suede boot will still allow movement. While a few other types of footwear will suffice for the riding part, there is nothing that suits both riding and offers adequate protection while on the ground, therefore be extra careful of where you put your feet while holding or walking a horse.If you are just starting out and do not want to spend money on boots you may only use twice, you can use other boots provided:
*Stirrups are metal and a strong grip on plain metal is good, but most stirrups have rubber treads placed on them and that is where a strong grip becomes a problem. The reason for these requirements is simple – if you fall off the first three mentioned above might mean your foot gets caught in the stirrup and you will be dragged. Painful and frightening in itself, the bigger risk is being caught under a galloping horses hooves.The last condition is because boots of the wrong length tend to get caught in the saddle flap and this may cause you to fall off.An example of alternative riding footwear is Desert Boots, (with a small heel). These work well enough for riding but have no reinforcement if you get stood on by half a ton of horseflesh.Many companies offer different types of boots for working with horses while on the ground, but really this is not necessary at this stage - jodhpur boots will do fine and few experienced riders change their boots between working on the ground and riding. Cheap jodhpur boots start around £20, but may not be the comfiest for walking long distances as they tend to be more rigid, whereas spending a bit more could offer comfort and safety in one package.
Proper riding trousers, like boots, come in two basic styles – long, (jodhpurs), worn with jodhpur boots, and short, (breeches), worn with long boots or jodhpur boots and half chaps, (like the chaps cowboys wore in westerns but finishing at the knee, see below). Jodhpurs and breeches are made in stretch material for comfort and movement, have extra material inside the knee area to protect against being nipped by the stirrup leather, and seams on the outside of the leg to avoid chaffing while sitting in the saddle. The extra layer inside the knee can be leather or suede to give extra grip and sometimes this extends all the way up to the seat. For competing purposes these trousers are either white or cream, but for every day wear this is impractical and dark colours such as blue or brown show less dirt and oil from the saddle.Again for your first foray into riding close fitting jeans or trousers in strong fabric will do, although you will have discomfort and maybe even bruising from the inside seams and where the stirrup leathers have constantly nipped your calf. You do not want loose fitting trousers as they may get caught up in the saddle parts throwing you off balance or frightening the horse.Jodhpurs or breeches cost £20 or more and how much you spend depends on your budget and what type you want.Half chaps turn short boots into long boots but are more economical and often more comfortable and useful. They protect your legs from being nipped by the stirrup leather and offer better grip. They work with any boot and trouser so are adaptable. They cost anything from £10 - £100 depending on the material and style. They have elastic that goes under the boot to keep them from riding up and back zips for taking on and off.
You do not need a special jacket for riding outside of competitions, but like boots there are a few important things to note:The coat, (or any top), must either be short enough not to reach the saddle or have some sort of opening or flap so it cannot get caught on the back of the saddle. Double zips are one way to avoid this as you simply open the bottom zip far enough up to avoid this. Another alternative is a flap at the back or on both sides as this leaves enough material to let you move freely even if it is over the back of the saddle. Yet another possibility is something that ties at the bottom as you can tie it tight enough to ensure no mishaps occur with it getting caught on the saddle.The coat must not flap about or have dangle bits that flap as this can frighten the horse. This applies to scarves too, so if you wear one make sure it does not come loose and flap about.If you do start to take riding seriously there are many types of winter rain-proof macs specially designed for riding. These have a long opening in the back and straps that fasten around your legs to stop them flapping, while still keeping you dry. In this case there really is no other type of coat that will do, but when you know you will be continuing with this sport this expense can be worth the money.
Gloves are something a beginner really does not need and an expense they can easily avoid.Gloves are not an essential for riding, but in the winter months they may help keep your hands warm. Plain leather gloves work well, but these can be expensive as they tend to wear out quite quickly. Riding gloves have extra layers between the fingers and on the palm to stop them wearing out and protect your hands against burns, blisters and chaffing and often have some sort of fabric such as rubber on the palm to give improved grip. There is a strong school of thought that says wearing gloves does not let you feel the horse’s mouth properly and for this reason many experiences riders do not use gloves, but it is a question of choice.
This is a grey area with some experts saying these are a good thing as they offer more protection and others believing they hamper movement to the extent you are more likely to have problems. For that reason whether or not you want one depends on your own choice and the equestrian centre you frequent.