A helicopter company has been overwhelmed by the positive response it has received after offering free high-vis vests to local riders.
Cobham Helicopter Academy, based at Newquay airport, announced on social media it would be giving out free high-vis to riders in Devon and Cornwall after realising its pilots were struggling to see them.
Andrew Catterall, a senior rearcrew instructor with the company, was inspired by his wife Lynsey, who events with her mare Lily, to help riders be seen from the air.
“We’ve only been in the area since 2017, but we’ve had a recent increase in the amount of flying we’ve been doing. It became noticeable there was a lot of people hacking, particularly on the moors, without high-vis and it makes them very difficult to see,” Andrew told H&H.
“If we’re doing 120mph in the air, horses and riders tend to blend into the background unless they’ve got something to make them stand out.”
Andrew approached his boss, Tony O’Connor, with the idea of giving out free high-vis to riders and he was given a budget to fund the vests.
“Horses and helicopters don’t mix well so if we can stay apart, so much the better. If we do see riders, one of the things we try not to do is manoeuvre too quickly because that makes the blades slap and you get the extra noise which can startle horses. The further away we can see riders the more gently we can manoeuvre round them or try to avoid them,” said Andrew.
“Depending on what we’re doing we could be flying from anywhere around 2,500 feet to a couple of hundred feet. When we’re doing low-level flying it tends to be open land and that’s where people are out on horses.”
The company put an advert on Facebook and Andrew said “it’s gone crazy!”
“We’re very conscious of horses. Because we’re relatively new to Cornwall, by giving out vests it lets everyone know we’re here – and it makes them easier for us to see,” he said.
“I initially thought we might have 60 or 70 people get in touch, but we’ve reached 175. It’s worth every penny to help keep people safe and reduce any distress to horses or riders.”
Article continued below…
The rider caught on video a low-flying helicopter pilot taking evasive action to avoid her horse while out riding recently
The two riders were wearing dark clothing and on dark horses with no high-vis gear when riding out on the road
Andrew said the feedback has been “brilliant”.
“It’s been a shock. I expected to get some comments about helicopters flying around annoying them but it’s all been really positive,” he said.
“I’ve seen how a horse can react and I’ve heard scary stories from Lynsey when she is out hacking — there needs to be more awareness of horses out riding.”
The company will be issuing the high-vis vests to riders in the next few days and hopes to run the scheme again in the future.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.