Picture by The Horse and Dog Photographer, Phillip Yale

A rider whose brain “bounced around like a ping-pong ball” when she was kicked in the head after a fall says her experience shows how easily accidents can happen.

Claire Howie was unable to work for months owing to the brain haemorrhage she suffered in August 2014 and has had to “rebuild her life” as a result.

“But my hat saved my life that day,” she told H&H.

Claire is among riders backing British Equestrian Trade Association’s (BETA) first safety week, which runs from 26 April until 6 May.

The aim of the initiative is to encourage riders to ensure their safety equipment is properly maintained, fitted and fastened, as well as being up to the appropriate standard.

Claire, an HGV driver who schools other people’s horses as well as eventing her own, was riding a five-year-old mare belonging to a client when the accident happened. “She’d been going well,” Claire said. “We came round to this pretty harmless cross-pole and the mare decided she didn’t want to jump it.

“I don’t recall a lot but the horse’s owner was videoing it and I saw it afterwards; she came round to the jump, refused at the last minute and dropped her shoulder and I went out of the side door, in the direction of the fence.

“Because she was young, she spooked herself because I’d come off, did a 360-degree spin and kicked me. I’d hit the fence with the front of my head and in a split second, she kicked me in the back of the head.

“My neurosurgeon later said it was as if my brain had been bouncing around my head like a ping-pong ball.”

Claire is now riding again and has almost fully recovered but the brain injury she suffered meant she spent days in hospital and “two months in bed” – but also more long-term symptoms.

“I lost my house, I lost everything because I couldn’t work,” she said. “I had to rebuild my life – but if I hadn’t been wearing my hat, my skull would have been caved in.”

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“It was the quality and build of it too. It’s not about having all the bling, it has to be good quality, fitted properly and up to standard. If I see people riding without hats now, it gives me the heebie-jeebies as I know what could have happened to me.

“You think you’re a good rider and you know your horse but this shows how easily these things happen; it only takes one freak accident and it’s all over.

“We wear safety equipment for a reason; your life is important.”

For more information, visit the BETA website or search for #BETASafetyWeek on social media.

For more on the first BETA safety week, see this week’s H&H magazine, out 26 April.

Also in this Thursday’s edition, don’t miss our full Badminton preview, including cross-country course walk with Mary King and full form guide for every horse and rider.