Contact lenses or glasses: what are the pros and cons of wearing them when riding?

  • If you go about your everyday life wearing glasses or contact lenses then it’s almost a certainty that you will need to do the same when you go riding. For the majority of people which form of eyewear they choose seems to comes down to personal preference, but we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages to both types when riding.

    “I much prefer the vision you get with contact lenses compared to glasses. When I had an eye infection two years ago, I had to go six weeks with glasses and the difference was noticeable,” says event rider Victoria Madsen.

    While contact lenses allow for a wider field of vision, they also attract dust and can prove painful if you get dirt or grit in them, as Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and former jockey Andrew Thornton can attest.

    “I’ve worn glasses since I was 18-months-old but I wasn’t allowed to wear them to race in so I had to learn to wear contacts,” says Andrew, who was one of the first jockeys to wear contact lenses and was subsequently given the nickname ‘Lensio’ by his fellow weighing room comrades.

    “They never bothered me except when it was wet and muddy or when I got a bit of grit in them which stung like hell. When you are schooling on wet mornings they can steam up so you have to pull your goggles down, but you get used to it.”

    Damp and dusty conditions can also affect those who wear glasses and the lenses will require regular wiping or cleaning. If you become hot and sweaty when you ride, you may find that your glasses slide down your nose although non-slip nose pads can help avoid this, as can having them professionally fitted. Some riders find sticking the arms of their glasses under the elastic band in a hairnet can help, and there are close-fitting sport straps that can be purchased to aid security.

    Another downside to wearing glasses is that they can be uncomfortable to wear in conjunction with a riding hat, as the arms can dig in behind the ears. On the plus side, glasses help prevent insects, dirt or grit from entering your eye.

    The biggest risk to consider when riding in glasses is what happens if they fall off or if you fall off while wearing them. There are sports-specific frames available, while lenses should have appropriate toughening to reduce the risk of them shattering should they sustain a direct impact. Your optometrist can advise you.

    “I use a sports strap in case I fall off and lose them — I have lost them once and broken them once in a fall in 25 years of riding in them, which is pretty good odds,” says American trainer Lauren Romanelli, whose glasses boast transition lenses.

    “I would wear sunglasses even if I had contacts because my eyes are super sensitive to the sun, especially in showjumping and dressage where the reflection off the arena surface is so harsh, so transition lenses really help. On cross-country it’s super because if I go in and out of shaded areas my glasses adjust,” explains Lauren.

    There are no rules or restrictions regarding glasses or contact lenses when competing in British Eventing, British Dressage or British Showjumping competitions and Australian Olympic event rider Bill Levett (pictured) prefers using goggles for cross-country.

    “I first started to wear goggles as they helped reduce the impact of wind when I was going cross-country as my eyes would often water in the wind or cold weather,” says Bill.

    “However later on as I needed to wear glasses (all part of ageing gracefully), I found out about prescription goggles. I looked at those used in cycling and skiing as its important to find a style that fits well and doesn’t fog or mist up in changing conditions and I’ve never looked back.

    “I’ve never worn contacts, but my wife Jenny said she used to struggle with the odd one moving or popping out going cross-country as her eyes watered, especially in the wind and cold, so she also converted to prescription goggles,” adds Bill.

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    Other eventers known to wear glasses or goggles are showjumper Albert Zoer and eventers Andrew Nicholson and Laura Collett. The latter severely damaged the sight in her right eye following a serious fall in 2013 and she finds sun, wind and rain affect her left eye so wearing googles when she rides cross-country help to combat that. Those riding in contact lenses also include jockeys Tom Scudamore and Mark Bradburn.

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