Equestrian sports are steeped in tradition. One of the things I love about foxhunting is that it’s just not that different today than it was a century ago. Looking at the vintage postcard from the Myopia Hunt Club, I can tell you that if you go to a hunt this fall, it doesn’t look all that different! In fact, as one of my foxhunting friends said to me, “I love having a dress code because I know I’m always wearing the right thing!”
While many sports have embraced new technologies in the forms of advanced materials and electronics, equestrian sports, for the most part, are still being dragged kicking and screaming from the nineteenth century.
Take, for example, the development of safer helmets. I STILL know people who insist on using the traditional “hunt caps” of my childhood. Why? Mostly because they prefer the sleeker line of helmets that fit closer to their heads (i.e., not as much padding). Or, they prefer to wear a top hat in dressage or out foxhunting, because it is a mark of distinction and seniority. Me? I wear the safest helmet I can find because it doesn’t matter how good you looked if you have a traumatic brain injury.
Another advance in safety of riding has been the development of the frangible pin, which makes cross country fences safer by enabling them to be knocked down. This simple (and low tech) device is now employed at many of the most prestigious events as a way of preventing rotational falls.
During the past 10 years I’ve seen some interesting developments in the area of saddle design. Equestrian entrepreneurs are taking advantage of new materials to create saddles that are lighter weight, more adjustable, and more comfortable for both horse and rider.
The Bua saddle is made from high-performance thermoplastic composites, materials that kare both strong and flexible. The saddles feature a cantilevered design so that the cantle is suspended from the pommel. This creates a lightweight yet shock-absorbing two-plane tree system instead of the traditional one plane. The company claims that the Bua design distributes weight more effectively, making it more comfortable for the horse and improves balance and comfort for the rider. The saddle is also completely modular so you can interchange panels and use the same saddle, for example, for both dressage and jumping. In this regard, it’s not that different from the Wow saddles or even the old County Drespri. The Bua retails for about $2100 which would make it a bargain if it performs as advertised.
For the smartphone obsessed among us, there are also some cool new apps. Equisense, a French start up, is launching its Balios Sensor, an activity tracker (or equine “wearable”) that gives you real time feedback on your ride. This is a step up from the riding GPS as it gives you data on your horses fitness and performance as well as the more common GPS tracking and time. The sensor even sends you an alert if your horse shows any asymmetry that could be an early sign of lameness.
This would be a great training tool for conditioning your horse or allow you to share data with your coach on your training rides. I can see eventers really latching onto this.
So, are you an early adopter or a traditionalist? Are you the one out their with your smartphone apps and your high-tech saddle? Let me know!