Does the sound of an air jacket inflating spook other horses and ponies? This debate has reopened as the Pony Club has made a new recommendation, discouraging the use of air jackets in group rides on the grounds that it does.

But the move has been branded “irresponsible” by a leading manufacturer.

As part of the 2014 body protector rule, the Pony Club has said it does “not encourage” the use of air jackets for groups.

“When an air jacket inflates, the sudden noise startles horses in the immediate vicinity, thereby causing difficulties for the other members of a ride if used for a group ride in a confined area.”

However, leading manufacturer Point Two argues that this reasoning is flawed and that the Pony Club is wrong to “steer people away from more advanced safety”.

“5 years ago if someone fell off, it was normal that the other horses spooked. But now it is blamed on the noise of the air jacket,” said Lee Middleton from Point Two.

“They [the Pony Club] are making a decision on behalf of a child, but there is no science behind what they are saying. It is very, very irresponsible.”

Pony Club volunteers are now seeing children as young as 8 riding in air vests and are concerned that the recommendation will be difficult to enforce.

A district commissioner told H&H: “Even if it is for the sake of other children in the ride, it is very difficult to tell a parent not to put safety equipment on their child. I would also be worried that I would be liable if the child then fell off and was hurt.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (13 March 2014)