In The Saddle: Why safety beats sexy these days

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If you’re a lover of a good old-fashioned BBC period drama like me, you’ll know doubt enjoy taking in all the dramatic scenery, beautifully decorated rooms and glorious dresses.

As a horse lover I can’t help but stare at the magnificent men on their huge hunters about to gallop off with a woman impeccably dressed and riding side saddle in front.

How things have changed over the years, and I don’t just mean the scenery and frocks. I can’t imagine hopping on my horse these days without looking like I’m fifty foot wide - what with the body protector, riding hat and hi-viz - it’s really not the sexy look most people associate with women and horses. And I certainly couldn’t manage it all side saddle.

Safety on horseback has certainly come on in leaps and bounds, and rightly so.

The risks of riding half a tonne of animal is far more dangerous than the sport of rugby. Let’s face it, in that sport the ball doesn’t have a mind of its own and can’t crush you to death in an instant.

Back in the eighties, when I was a child learning to ride, we had a simple hat held on with just a piece of elastic underneath. That’s if you were lucky, the older version didn’t even have a strap.

These days the hats are designed in many cases to withstand the weight of a horse coming down on top of you, it’s amazing how technology and an understanding of rider safety has developed in such a short space of time.

Body protectors, protect the vital organs and can even be bought these days with air bags built inside them. They go off when you are ejected from the saddle, but just remember to disarm it before dismounting or you could end up a tad embarrassed rolling around the floor cocooned in the bag.

Believe it or not, the law hasn’t seemed to keep up at the same speed as the technology. It’s only a legal requirement to wear a riding hat up until the age of 14. After that a rider can choose to ride out, even on the roads (and trust me I’ve seen it done) completely hat-free.

The law also doesn’t require you to wear hi-viz, but if it gives a motorist an extra three seconds to see me and my horse around a bend then I’m all for wearing one.

If riders do use the roads at night they must ensure that the horse has reflective bands on their legs and they carry a light.

Yes, things are definitely much different from Lady Mary saddling up in an elegant figure hugging

riding dress and a pretty hair grip in Downton Abbey.

And jumping side saddle across a glistening brook, well - we’d be lucky to get past a flapping carrier bag partially hidden in a hedge and stay on some days!

As much as I love April, she’s a horse at the end of the day. She’s a huge animal, that despite me knowing very well, can still be unpredictable. I believe it’s best to leave the looking ‘elegant’ to the ladies in the 18th and 19th century. Better safe, and bulky, than sorry and hat-free in my mind.

* You can follow Anita’s day-to-day horsey escapades with her horse, April, via Facebook at ‘In The Saddle - Anita Marsh’ or via Twitter @inthesaddleblog

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