In Parts 1 and 2, I covered the first things I do to try to stay aboard tricky horses at all costs. You may be wondering what on earth your clothing has to do with successfully staying on something which is determined to throw some serious shapes and doesn’t particularly care what happens to you, but bear with me.
Top of the list: A good helmet. This should go without saying. Properly fitted, not ancient, not been dropped countless times. It should be the right shape for your head, and comfortable. If there is ANY chance at all of a fall (and it can happen to any rider on any horse at any time… check out what happened to Courtney King-Dye if you don’t believe me) then you need a skid lid. No exceptions. Former Olympian Courtney has been brave enough to share her struggles since her life-altering TBI. We should all learn from them.
Second: A good, comfortable (otherwise you will make excuses not to wear it) well-fitting body protector. Wearing one on a really sharp horse relaxes me – at least if I do get ejected, I’m much less likely to get hurt! The last time I got properly launched, I landed on the tarmac on my shoulder and back, and I truly didn’t feel a thing, either then or the next few days. I am not a spring chicken any more, and I really don’t think it would have been a negligible fall without my fantastic body protector to take the impact and save me from bruising or worse.
Also, take it from me, when you get wheeled into A&E wearing breeches, grimacing with pain and with an obvious “I fell off a horse” injury, the first question the Triage Nurse will ask you (after checking out your riding gear, asking your name and date of birth to see if you have any functioning brain cells at all, and patently doubting your sanity whatever you say) is…
“Were you wearing a helmet?”
A YES! answer gets an approving nod and a decisive tick.
“Were you wearing a body protector?”
YES! Yes I was!
This elicits a more approving Hmm and a nod, as that box is also ticked on the form. Yes, I swear there was a box. Now you feel like the star pupil.
At this point the possibly begrudging attention gets focussed. I swear, you get treated better because they see that you at least attempted to mitigate the damage of a possible fall when doing something so utterly incomprehensible as trying to stay aboard a 1/2 tonne flight animal with a definite mind of its own. Having medics onside helps a lot. They call motor bikes ‘donor bikes’, for heaven’s sake. Let’s try to keep them onside for all horse riders!
Next on the list, but possibly the most helpful in terms of actually keeping you on: Sticky-bum breeches. A Thing of Wonder. But… beware, these can, frankly, be either triumphant or disastrous – a huge help or an ‘oh crikey I wish I’d never bothered’ hindrance. If they squeak, they can easily become the latter. Breeches which squeak loudly when a youngster starts acting up can rapidly turn a minor excited bounce into a major “WTF get it off me” offensive. So, be careful what you buy. I rate offensively squeaky breeches right down there alongside lumps of hard rubber on an arena surface (which rattle against the kickboards, and then rattle again when the horse spooks at the first rattle, which causes a bigger spook, a vicious spiral of dramarama… you get the gist.)
My first pair of sticky-bums were RTS (René Tebbel Sport), and were usefully sticky. Eventually I discovered Kerrits, which are more sticky (legendarily so). They are, so far, my Holy Grail of sticky-bums. I pretty much live in their Winter weight ones at the moment (Sit Tight and Warm, now called Sit Tight Windpro), and through the summer in their lightweight ones (Flex Tight II and Ice Fil Tech Tight). I haven’t tried the rest of the range but their sticky-bum full seats are their USP and I would trust any of them to do the job. You can buy direct (but beware the Import Duty lottery!) or from Three Lows Equestrian and The Comfy Horse Company in the U.K. If anyone knows other stockists, please let me know. They are blissfully comfy, fitting like jogging pants, not at all restrictive, and they help hugely with the security.
The Full Seats from Pikeur and Cavallo are also excellent. I have had mine for absolutely yonks (one competition pair I clearly remember doing my first Intermediate in, back in 1992, and they are still going strong) so they are definitely worth the investment. My Pikeur breeches for the yard might have cost £140 ish but they last me 10 years or more before the knees eventually give out… cheap breeches never last me more than a couple of years.
As for why I am so evangelical about my sticky-bums: more than once I have managed to stay on a seriously major spook, entirely thanks to my backside being pretty firmly glued to the saddle. One was caused by ducks suddenly levitating out of the drainage ditch in front of us, in full panicked splashing quackers mode. Pheasant spooks are for amateurs by comparison… trust me, ducks doing vertical take offs are really where it’s at.
The youngster I was riding was a sharp, very flighty sort anyway, and she spun so violently away that I was flung to the side hard enough that my head was down near her shoulder, and I had that awful “I’m a goner” thought go across my mind. Anyone who has fallen off a lot will know that feeling, your brain goes “okay, relax… let go… here comes the ground.”
In this case that was followed instantly by “Uh, my arse is still in the saddle, hasn’t moved… I am OKAY. Repeat, I am OKAY, I am still in the saddle. Hang on!”
Any normal breeches would definitely not have stuck me down so helpfully. I straightened her up and we carried on. If I’d come off I am positive she’d have zoomed off home and it wouldn’t have ended so well. I won’t get on a sharp one now without my good sticky-bums on. I am REALLY not a fan of falling off and my bad knee probably won’t take it (again)!
Sticky-bums, they’re worth it. Leather or suede full chaps are pretty good, but not quite as fantastic at gluing me in the plate, in my (somewhat extensive) experience.
So, the right riding kit, the right neck strap, and a good repertoire of relaxing, breath-controlling songs… pretty good to go!