Rider protection in the equine world – how do we feel about it?

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Mariel Aguirre about her fall earlier this summer. About how it changed her view on safety and her determination to make everyone aware about the risks in our sport. Of course, you can make a bad fall by bike… or by walking down the street.
Unfortunately we can’t live under a glass bell, but we can make people aware of the risks we face and on how to have optimal protection.

I would like to thank Mariel for sharing this with us! Here’s her story…

After my fall in July, I was out of the sport for six weeks due to injuries to my vertebrae, ribs, and lungs. I was never scared to ride again, but I was scared at how quickly everything can change. One second you’re riding a 150 class and the next you’re being helicoptered to the hospital after a fall over a 1 meter jump. Breaking a limb is one thing, but injuring your spine, neck or head, is a whole different ball game. I think those who have had such injuries can say that there’s a moment when you’re very scared that you’re going to be injured for life. It’s one of those things that you think will never happen to you. It was a stupid fall, and one that often doesn’t have consequences. But for me it did. And in reality, the worst falls always happen in the dumbest ways, and all it takes is for it to happen once, for it to be game over.

I began researching back protectors during my time off. In other sports, wearing body protection is a sign that you are going to go in there and give it your all; you protect yourself so you can take all the risks possible to be unbeatable, and the best athletes wear the most protection. However in our sport, which is considered a dangerous sports, wearing protection has a negative image attached to it; it is considered amateur, and the rider wearing protection is probably the “least” capable/most likely to fall. I sadly haven’t had one person tell me otherwise.

I had to make it a habit. Everyday when I put my helmet on, I put my body protector on – to hack, to ride, and to jump. It is not yet a part of our sport, but there is no other sport where the athlete risks so much and protects so little. I felt proud to take action after my injury, but I also felt out of place, uncomfortable, “amateur”. We want to look good, we want to feel comfortable on the horse, we want to look professional, and the reality is that wearing a back protector doesn’t cover any of these categories. I wish I would’ve started wearing it when my parents told me to years ago. I wish I would’ve listened instead of saying no because nobody wears one.

Is it overconfidence in our skills? Is it lack of awareness? Or do we just think it’ll never happen to us? These accidents don’t happen everyday, that’s why they are accidents. But we give ourselves every chance to get injured when they do happen by turning a blind eye to safety.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I want to share my perspective, and the body protectors I’ve found that work for me in and out of the ring. I’m not expecting to change riders’ opinions; Riders still today refuse to wear their helmets at home even though we know so many who have had severe injuries, and fatal injuries, due to ignorance. I do know however, that the conversation around safety in our sport is happening, and I wanted to be a part of it and share my experience.

Don’t hesitate to DM Mariel for more info on the back protectors.