A guide to help you choose a safety vest

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NOTE: This is an just an overview of available safety vests and Eventing Connect or Equine Connect Today Corporation is not endorsing any brand or model of  body protectors.


The main purpose of a safety vest is to reduce soft tissue injury in the unfortunate chance you are to suffer an unplanned, involuntary dismount. Modern safety vests do not claim to be life-saving devices, but they will help soften the blow upon landing or if a hoof were to glance off your chest.

Several international standards have been developed to test the effectiveness of equestrian safety vests. In such testing, the vests will be placed on a sensor, and quantifiable force applied. The reading on the sensor will show how much impact the foam material absorbed. In addition, these standards have specific regulations for the vests’ fastening systems, shape, and design.

If you purchase an accredited vest (BETA, ASTM, SEI), you can be assured that its design and materials have met or surpassed a certain standard of safety. However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than an untested vest.

 

Popular vests in Eventing (in alphabetical order):

Airowear
Airowear’s design is similar to Charles Owen, using large pieces of shock-absorbing foam. These vests are slightly more flexible, as they are supple without needing warm-up time. Airowear vests meet the BETA 2009 standard and are offered in a wide variety of gender-specific sizes. This vest may be a little pricier, but you have an excellent chance of finding a good fit.

  • Front closure: covered zipper
  • Sides: adjustable velcro straps
  • Adjustable shoulders: yes

Charles Owen
Charles Owen offers a durable safety vest that meets the ASTM standard as well as BETA 2009. This vest is made in a “turtle shell” style from perforated Gelfoam panels that conform to your shape when warmed by body heat. The advantage to this design is that the large pieces of foam are very effective at absorbing and dispersing impact, offering a high level of protection. The downside is that it is bulkier and less comfortable than the segmented style of Tipperary vests.

  • Front closure: covered zipper
  • Sides: belted, snap buckle in front
  • Adjustable shoulders: yes

Intec
Intec is not trying to revolutionize the safety vest market. Instead they have seen what riders like, copied it, and offered it at a lower price. Intec has two designs; the FlexRider Cushioned riding vest, and the FlexRider Crusader riding vest. The Cushioned riding vest is a knock-off of the traditional Tipperary Eventer style vest, with a front zipper, side laces, and flexible segmented foam blocks. This vest is NOT tested to any sort of standard, and the company is very upfront with that. The Crusader riding vest is ASTM-approved and similar to the Airowear type vest. It has a front covered zipper with adjustable velcro sides and shoulders. Its outer shell is removable for washing. Both Intec vests are available at about half the cost of their name-brand counterparts.

  • Front closure: zipper
  • Sides: adjustable velcro
  • Adjustable shoulders: adjustable velcro

Kanteq
Kanteq vests are designed with women in mind using a revolutionary foam material in large, well-shaped panels. This “KNOX” foam material has been independently tested and shown to provide up to 20% more shock absorption and dissipation than traditional PVC nitrile foam used in many other safety vests. Kanteq vests are on the more expensive side, but are BETA-approved and offer something unique to the market.

  • Front closure: zipper
  • Sides: non-adjustable solid panel
  • Adjustable shoulders: no

Tipperary
If you go to any horse trial in North America this weekend, chances are you will see a hundred Tipperary Eventer vests. Many riders have long trusted these vests, from beginner novice up to the Olympics. Riders like them because they are lightweight and highly flexible, allowing for uninhibited movement. The downside is that the traditional Tipperary Eventer vest is not approved by a big regulatory agency; it is widely assumed that the side laces along with the fabric covered gaps between foam panels won’t pass safety tests due to the remote possibility of a puncture. Still…thousands of eventers wear their Tipperary vests with comfortable confidence.

If you like the Tipperary fit and style, but want something approved, check out the ASTM-certified Pro 3015 Tipperary vest. The company took their popular model and updated it to meet current standards. It’s more expensive and possibly a less flexible than the original Eventer model, but it is a nice addition to their product line, with extra peace of mind.

  • Front closure: zipper
  • Sides: adjustable laces
  • Adjustable shoulders: no

WoofWear EXO
This vest isn’t terribly popular and in fact it’s officially discontinued. But, there are limited number of them still available in tack stores and could be an option if the size is right for you. The EXO was a revolutionary design consisting of a high-tech magnesium alloy frame encompassing your upper body. It is BETA-approved. This vest is the ONLY model capable of protecting riders from some crushing injuries– think of it as a rider’s roll cage. The downside of the EXO is it is heavier, bulky, and you are essentially locked into it– it takes an allen key to undo the shoulder bolts (key included). Its rigidity makes for a very protective garment, but can be difficult to fit a variety of sizes. The EXO is also significantly pricier than other vests, at close to $600 USD. However, if you compare it to the cost of an air vest (example: Point Two ProAir retails for $675 USD), the price doesn’t seem so bad.

  • Front closure: none (bolts over the shoulders)
  • Sides: adjustable internal waistband
  • Adjustable shoulders: yes, with inner floating straps

Bottom-line, it’s up to you depending on where you compete:
It would be nice to see some international cooperation in safety standards and some published independent comparison testing among brands.

Until then, it’s up to you to decide what vest to wear on cross-country. While British Eventing rules mandate that a BETA-approved vest must be worn, current USEA rules only “recommend” ASTM certification. Equine Canada rules are very slack only stating, “A body protective vest must be worn. An inflatable vest is permitted only if worn over the body protective vest.” (section D114.2 Dress – Cross Country test).

Choose the best vest you can afford that enables you to ride comfortably and confidently. You need to be confident about the vest’s ability to protect you, and confident in your ability to perform.

Be realistic and understand that in certain situations a vest is not going to save you from injury or death. Eventing can be dangerous; it is up to you to be informed about the equipment you choose.
Know the rules about body protectors in your national federation

For example, here are the Canadian, American and British Eventing requirements:

  • Equine Canada does not specify any safety standard certifications: Canada Eventing body prot-rule
  •  British Eventing requires certification by BETA:British Eventing body prot-rule

Three different safety approval agencies discussed in this article include:

BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association): Is not simply a testing agency, it’s a trade organization that has other requirements of its members.

  • Mission statement
  • In addition, it has established the BETA 2009 Standard for body protectors for horse riders and this is now a requirement for body protectors worn by riders at British Eventing competitions. This organization is clear to point out that it is “Not a guarantee of safety.”

ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials): It should be noted that, unlike BETA, this organization is not a “Trade association”. ASTM is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world. It is a trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. that guides design, manufacturing and trade in the global economy.

  • Mission statement
  • Their standard testing  for equestrian body protectors qualifies under the ASTM F1937-04(2010). However, the document with the testing details must be purchased for $38.00 US.

SEI (Safety Equipment Institute): Unlike Beta, this is not a “Trade Association”. It is a private, non-profit organization that administers a non-governmental, third-party certification program and tests and certifies a broad range of safety and protective products used occupationally and recreationally.

– Charles Owen – jL9 Body Protector
– Phoenix Performance Products – Tipperary Eventer Pro – 3015
– Superhouse Limited – USG SHBP-002

 

Get informed about the safety equipment you purchase.

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