Normalizing Rider Safety One Vest at a Time

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Photo courtesy of Ride EquiSafe

Two months ago, Catherine Winter launched Ride EquiSafe, a one-stop shop for all things safety.

BY KRISTIN PITZER

A few years ago, Catherine Winter, who had been riding hunter/jumpers most of her life, decided to add eventing to her skillset. At the time, safety equipment in the hunter/jumper ring wasn’t as popular as it was in eventing, so Winter had to borrow a vest for her first cross country schooling. She later decided to buy her own and began researching her options.

Finding the right vest for her was easier said than done, though. Winter visited multiple stores and websites, and after coming up short, she eventually made the decision to fly to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event to shop its trade show. It was there that she finally found a vest she liked. 

After having so many difficulties locating a vest that checked all her boxes, and with the visibility that safety equipment had gained in the hunter/jumper arena, Winter decided to start a company that only sold rider protective equipment — no bits, brushes, bridles or other tack. Ride EquiSafe was launched in fall 2020 and carries the broadest selection of safety equipment in North America — body protectors, air vests, air vest compatible clothing and safety stirrups.

Photo courtesy of Ride EquiSafe

“We only carry safety equipment, and that allows us to really be experts on each piece of equipment and to be able to talk to the customers to understand what their safety priorities are,” Winter said. “Based on that, we can give them information so that they can make an informed and educated decision about what products they should consider.”

Ride EquiSafe was modelled after custom saddle-selling methods, so rather than having a brick-and-mortar store, Winter tows a mobile shop that she sets up at horse shows. She also hosts “Say Yes to the Vest” parties, where she hauls her products to a private barn and educates attendees on the different brands and types of vests available. Riders can try gear on while sipping mimosas in a fun, low-pressure environment.

Launching a business in the middle of a worldwide pandemic is not for the faint of heart, but since Winter stocks a wider variety of brands and styles than most other vendors, she’s managed to draw quite a crowd at competitions. Carrying such a broad selection and being completely brand agnostic enables Winter to truly understand what each customer needs and get them in the right equipment, versus only having one or two brands.

Catherine Winter. Photo courtesy of Ride EquiSafe

While Winter’s short term goal is to continue investing in her business by offering as much stock as possible, in the long term, she hopes having Ride EquiSafe on site at events will normalize safety in the hunter/jumper arena one day.

“We, as an organization and as a sport, will have been successful if people prioritize their safety,” Winter said. “We need to recognize that [safety equipment] is not going to have a negative impact on a ribbon, and what does a ribbon count if you have a permanent injury?”

One of Winter’s first customers, Amy Trent, is working to change the perception of safety equipment with the help of Ride EquiSafe. Trent purchased a vest from the company for her 11-year-old daughter after a friend’s daughter was injured at a show over the summer.

Photo courtesy of Ride EquiSafe

“It really kind of woke me up to what’s possible as far as injuries and inspired me to say, OK, I need to do what I need to do to protect my kid,” Trent said. “It’s not something that is super common at this point, but I certainly hope that it will become mandatory by USEF [United States Equestrian Federation] at some point for junior riders.”

Trent, a nurse practitioner for cardiology, credited Winter’s knowledge for helping her find a vest that fit her daughter and that her daughter was willing to wear.

“The company was just fantastic,” Trent said. “She basically narrowed down by my daughter’s size, how much she weighs, what her figure looks like, and found one that was the best for her and fits her really well. It’s not super heavy, and you don’t really notice it until you get up close.”

Much like other equestrian gear, safety equipment can be highly personal and specialized. By giving customers the opportunity to touch and try multiple products, Winter hopes to create a personalized experience akin to shopping for other tack and clothing in the horse world.

“We spend a lot of time and money getting fitted for custom boots, and we spend a lot of time and money getting a saddle fit to a horse,” Winter said. “We should have the same care in getting ourselves fitted for safety equipment.”

For more information on Ride EquiSafe or to search the company’s inventory, visit https://www.rideequisafe.com/

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