The Barnes Buckle is an innovation that doesn’t get much mention here in the U.S. — but it should. The Barnes Buckle is
a stirrup release mechanism that fits between the stirrup and the leather and releases the stirrup should the rider’s foot become trapped during a fall thus preventing the rider from being dragged.
The Barnes Buckle first came to my attention after I bought a treeless saddle that had a closed ring attachment for the stirrup leathers. This is an inherently unsafe design because there is no way for the leather to detach from the saddle (unlike the stirrup bars in conventional treed saddles). The other alternative is to use safety stirrups and I prefer to use jointed stirrups which I find to be easier on my knees.
The Barnes Buckle was invented by Maurice Barnes, in England, after he saw footage of a jockey being dragged. There are two models currently available, the standard and the professional. The latter is lighter and smaller than the original model.
The Buckle is made from marine grade stainless steel (no problems with rust!) and under normal riding conditions it will withstand 1,400 kgs before parting. However, the change of angle should the rider’s foot become trapped during a fall will mean that the buckle releases with just 6 kgs of pressure, thus preventing the rider from being dragged.
The Barnes Buckle is popular in England, used at racing stables and by professionals such as Olympian Matt Ryan.I was introduced to Maurice Barnes and the Buckle at the BETA show in February” said Matt. “Put them on and give them a try,” Maurice said. “Well I put them on my saddle and tried them jumping and cross country. Initially I was concerned that they might become unclasped. But Maurice assured me that under any riding conditions they would withstand a strain of well over a tonne without coming undone. As I tend to ride with my lower leg very forward and I stand on the stirrups a lot and don’t grip with my knees, the stirrups do have to take a lot of strain. After weeks of using the Buckle without a problem, I became confident of them. Then in July I had a fall at West Wilts that finally convinced me. As I approached a big ditch and palisade my horse questioned me on take off, hesitated, and his front feet went in to the ditch slamming him up against the palisade. I went zooming straight over his head. I didn’t even realise it but my foot had become trapped in the stirrup, but the Buckle released as it should have done and I landed cleanly on the other side of the palisade. I’m all for safety and so now I never ride without it”, says Matt.
Anecdotal reports from online forums suggest that the buckle works well and does not interfere with normal riding. Certainly this is a safety device that deserves to be better known in the US!
I have not seen the Barnes Buckle sold in the US, but there are several places in the UK where you can order one: