with pics

pix coming - can also use eventer pic from last week.

THE esteemed equestrian Pammy Hutton recently raised the question of riding bareback in her column in the Horse and Hound. Pammy was discussing the issue of the changing rules in dressage and how riders could now rise at the trot - rather than sit. She then discussed how riding bareback was once very much a part of learning to ride, and how in her mind, it was a great way to learn balance - and how to tackle the tricky sitting trot. After all, without stirrups, there’s no other way of staying on than gripping on firmly, and then of course, its a great boost to the all-important confidence - if you can stay on without a saddle, how good are you going to be with a saddle. Pammy’s comments were music to my ears, and also to many Horse and Hound readers who responded with tales of what they were put through when learning to ride back in the day - Round the World, jockey stirrups and kneeling on the horse’s back, to name but a few. Indeed, I won't be alone in fondly remembering cantering along bareback with just a headcollar and lead rein to control my pony. Not that I'd do it now. The horse I ride is 18.2hh and has a wickedly sharp backbone - so not only would he be incredibly uncomfortable to ride, he's an awfully long way up, and my old bones are not as quick to mend as they once were. I've never worn a back protector, but then despite many a fall, I've never really hurt myself. If I went in for serious cross country, or perhaps even hunting, I'd probably consider it, and considering the riders I know, any of them who has experienced a bad fall has quickly gone off and invested in some sort of safety wear. But I'm increasingly in the minority - more riders are wearing back protectors for normal everyday riding. A friend recently explained to me, she felt of her's the same as a safety belt in a car. She felt naked without it and wore it even when doing flatwork in the school. A recent survey by Cambridge University found that 70 per cent of accidents in which riders ended up in hospital happened while they were out hacking, or in the school - a sobering thought.

And now, we have a new generation of protective wear - using airbag technology. Peter Riley, the UK distributor of Airvest jackets and gillets, who lives in Leathley, near Otley, and who brought some of his products along to the Skipton Building Society Horse Trials, said it was when Yorkshire event rider Oliver Townend fell at the Kentucky Derby in 2010 that everything changed. Townend fell and his horse rolled on top of him, breaking his left shoulder, collarbone, sternum and four ribs. Townend, who had been wearing an air jacket - one of the first to come on to the market - swore it was the jacket that saved his life, urged others to wear them, and sales rocketed overnight.

"It was the defining moment for airbags and from that time on, people started buying them," said Peter. Air jackets,and gillets, are without doubt the new generation of safety wear - and not just for horse riders, Peter can see them being adopted by motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and mountain climbers - indeed, anyone liable to fall from a height. "The traditional back protector is very good in what they do, they protect against a rider being trodden on, or kicked, but when falling off, they don't absorb trauma like an air jacket does," said Peter. Visually, they are a hundred miles apart from the back protectors - they are light weight, not bulky at all - and crucially, dare I say it, fashionable. It is something that Peter, as the father of a fashion conscious 21 year old showjumper, is keenly aware of. "It is a significant difference, they are starting to look attractive and the equestrian world is very image conscious. My own 21 year old daughter would not wear a back protector, but she will wear an air jacket," he said. The jackets are made of a light shell material, and can be customised with crystals - like Peter's daughter's own 'blinged-up' version. Peter very much hopes riders will see the advantage in investing in a jacket or gillet - even though at the moment when he attends competitions, he finds his daughter is in the very small minority with a jacket - when the most innocent of falls can potentially cause so much damage - as his wife, Mandy Riley knows only too well. She fell while out hacking several years ago, and has not been able to ride since, without suffering for days after with crippling back pain. The product is not cheap - £455 for a gillet and £475 for a jacket. But the airbags do come with a lifetime guarantee, so its a one-off cost, with only the relatively inexpensive jacket or gillet to replace depending on wear every couple of years or so. "As long as you don't change body type, the air bags just zip out and come with a lifetime guarantee - and its not expensive when it could save your life," said Peter.

To find out more about air jackets and gillets, to to Peter's website at airvest.co.uk or treehouseairjackets.co.uk


At Badminton this year , there were a lot of falls - and it was interesting to see the number of riders pinned to the ground by their inflated air jackets - they may have needed helping up in some cases, but get up they did. Air jackets have been around only a short time and not only for event riders - an increasing number of hobby riders are taking to them. They are much less bulky than the back protector and thery