Before you set out on your first riding lessons you ought to consider the risks you are undertaking. One of the unique aspects of riding compared to other sports is that you are entering into a partnership with a free-thinking animal which can be startled, frightened, stubborn, exuberant, teasing or clumsy just like you can. It's the special nature of this relationship that makes it so rewarding.
A kick from a horse can break bones and even kill, and your prospects if half a ton of horse falls upon you are not always good. If you're still reading and haven't decided that croquet is a much better bet then you do need to weigh up the risks and make a personal decision about it.
To reduce the risk of injury if the worst happens there are three important personal safety items you must consider as essential - head protection, footwear and body protectors.
The riding school will be able to supply a hat for your first few lessons (if they can't, leave immediately). If you decide to take up riding then you will want to get your own hat. Buy a hat that conforms to the latest standards (PAS 015 or BSEN1384) from a stockist where advice on correct fitting can be obtained. Skull type hats offer the best protection and don't look too bad with a silk (fabric cover) over the top. Expect to pay £30 to £40.
Don't be tempted with a second hand one unless you know it's history. If the hat has been in a previous accident it may be seriously weakened even if it looks fine from the outside. Hats should be thrown away if they've been called into use.
A useful saving can be made if you can find a 'child's' hat that will fit - you save money by not paying VAT.
Should you unfortunately find yourself using the ejector seat you want to part cleanly with the horse. The wrong footwear could mean your feet become trapped in the stirrups and you are dragged with the horse.
To start with, sturdy plain boots with a definite heel will suffice. Shoes or boots with deeply ridged soles or fancy buckles are dangerous, as are trainers - their flat soles could completely slip through the stirrups. If in doubt ask your instructor.
There are two main styles of boots - short and long. The basic ranges of long boots have one major problem for the beginner rider. Their moulded plastic uppers are quite inflexible around the ankle area making it difficult to maintain a good lower leg position - the boot always trying to force your leg to its moulded shape. Leather boots have much better flexibility but are expensive.
Short boots, also known as jodhpur boots, are probably the better choice for your first purchase. They offer good mobility for the ankle and are comfortable to wear when not riding. To give some protection and support for your lower leg half chaps can be worn with them. Prices for the basic long and short boot start from around £30.
These are made of a lightweight but very dense foam panels which cover the back and chest area of the rider. They can help absorb some of the energy of a fall, a hoof - if you are unfortunate enough to be fall underneath a horse, or something like a fence post if you are riding outside. They cannot help much with twisting or flexing injuries.
Modern designs can fit underneath a jacket or coat and have removable panels so the outer cover can be washed. Again seek the advise of a good stockist as there is a range of protection levels available and it's important you get one that fits correctly. They are graded into 3 categories, each identified with a coloured BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) label.
I think it's reasonable not to buy a body protector until you've had a few lessons and you've decided if you are going to continue. In this early period what you will be doing should be very low in risk and closely supervised. Once you have decided, don't put off the purchase - I have seen a couple of accidents resulting in bruises that would undoubtedly have been much worse had the riders not been wearing body protectors. I strongly advise you to get one.
Horse's can be unpredictable but the majority of times I've fallen off have been due to my balance or a poor position. Most of these have been a sort of ungracious slither from the saddle whilst jumping with no injuries other than perhaps to pride.
Next - some other clothes that will help.