When to wear a hat...

The topic of whether and when to wear a riding or safety hat comes around on a regular basis. Brian Robinson, one of the ABRS trustees has been particularly concerned to raise the topic again, hence this article.

We at the ABRS do not want to take the authoritarian and even draconian line that hats should always be worn at all times. Apart from that being unenforceable, it is not necessary. The point is to risk assess when it IS necessary, or even just sensible.

We are aware of the arguments - some hats are"uncool" in the way they look;  they are expensive; they give me "hat hair"; I want to ride without a hat, it's more comfortable; I get too hot; it's my choice whether I wear a hat or not, it's my head.  Well, try looking cool and comfortable on a ventilator with someone coming in every day to manually evacuate your bowels when you suffer brain damage following a fall where wearing a hat would have protected you from injury. We assure you hat hair will be the least of your worries!  The same with it being your head. It is in as much as it is attached to your neck, but how will your family feel when that head is broken beyond repair and moreover, the care falls on them as there is no compensation to be had where an injury is your own fault?

What we want to do is just raise awareness of the need to decide when a hat must be worn, when it might be a good idea and when it's probably not needed. Incidentally, this applies to any safety equipment, such as boots or body protectors.  One of the Bunn family lost a toe recently when leading two horses in while wearing nothing more than flip flops. One of the horses spooked and jumped on her foot, then in twisting away, severed through a toe. It could not be re-attached.  If someone from an experienced horse family such as the Bunn's can do it, it can happen to anyone. Even dressage riders are now moving away from top hats in favour of safety caps, following Charlotte Dujardin's lead.  If it's good enough for her, then we all need to think about it.

As an employer, you need to make wearing of hats part of your risk assessment. You have a duty of care towards employees and clients to provide a safe environment for them to be in.  In the case of employees, there are also the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations to be considered.  Obviously hats should be worn when riding in any environment.It is probably wise to consider wearing them when leading horses, bringing them in or putting them out. It only takes a slip in mud to find yourself under several sets of hooves.  You may want to clip wearing a hat, especially if clipping on a hard surface, which of course makes clipping easier, but there is a case of a young girl being barged by a pony, not deliberately and dying due to her head hitting a hard concrete surface. If you know a horse to be unpredictable, or a youngster, then again, consider a hat. There are other steps you can take in those situations, such as leading an unpredictable horse in alone if it will do so, or leading a youngster in with a quiet older horse, using two people. Yes, some of these precautions do take extra time and time is often at a premium with horses. But how long do you want to be out of work due to an injury?

When we speak of "hats", we mean good quality hats conforming to whatever are the current safety standards. Hats should ideally be thrown away and a new one bought after a fall.  Any with any sign of damage should be discarded, though damage is not always visible on the outside.  Hats will also deteriorate over time and will not offer the protection they did when new.  Do not buy a second hand hat unless you know it's full history and know it is not damaged; perhaps a friend has bought the wrong size  and it has never been worn. It should still be professionally fitted. There is also no point in wearing a hat that is insecurely fixed or not correctly fastened.

Employers can insist that their employees wear hats at certain times, under protest if necessary!  In some cases, you will find that any insurance will not cover you if a hat clearly should have been being worn and an avoidable injury occurs to your employee.  You could find yourself personally liable for any compensation in that case. It is stating the obvious to say that a hat will not prevent a broken leg, but it may well protect a broken skull.  Livery yards can insist that hats are worn when riding on the owner's premises, but you cannot insist on it when liveries are off your premises. It is difficult to police, we agree, but if it is in your livery contract and there are notices posted, especially on entering the schools, that hats must be worn, then liveries cannot say they didn't know or they weren't warned. Trainers and instructors can also insist that hats are worn, either for lessons on their own premises, or on premises where there is a hat/safety clothing policy.  If you hold shows of any type on your premises, then again, you can stipulate what type of protective wear must be worn and state that random checks will be made.  Beware the safeguarding regulations if in physical contact with children or other vulnerable people and get consent from an adult. If they refuse to be inspected, you could refuse to let them compete.  But co-operation is much better and we would hope riders will see the sense in trying to be kept safe. There is often a "higher" duty towards children than adults. Children under 14 must wear hats when on the road.

Our aim is not to spoil anyone's pleasure in riding and horse owning, but to try and keep them safe to go on doing that for as long as they can.   Adults can make the choice for themselves where there are no restrictions and we cannot force them to comply with safety precautions in their own time or on public or their own land. The point is to give them enough information to make an informed choice and they must be ready to bear any adverse consequences, as must you as an employer, a riding school owner, trainer or instructor. We are not advocating taking away choice unless it is in a situation where you have to protect yourself as an employer etc, or it is required by law or insurance. We just want people to be aware of what an unwise choice might lead to. After that -it's up to them.

One final point is that equestrians might want to consider is whether to take out public liability insurance to protect them against claims made against them if an accident occurs. There are many on the market and sometimes it comes with membership of a body such as British Dressage.  Personal accident insurance is being promoted by the insurance industry, but you do need to be careful about which policy you choose if you go for this option, as some are not quite as comprehensive as they may seem.Consult a reputable broker to help you decide.

Brian Robinson and Brenda Gilligan (Solicitor)
ABRS Trustees July 2017

NB:Disclaimer:  Please note that this article does not and is not intended to provide a comprehensive or definitive guide to the law and if there are any doubts, do take advice on your individual circumstances from an independent solicitor. Neither the individuals nor the Association of British Riding Schools or their connections cannot and will not be responsible for any adverse consequences where action has been taken or not taken solely on the contents of this article without further advice having been taken in a formal context.

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