It is no secret horseback riding can be one of the most dangerous sports. In fact, riding is considered more dangerous than football, skiing, and even motorcycle riding. Due to the increased risks involved with the sport, technological advancements in safety produce more cutting-edge protective gear each year. Among these advancements, air vests have grown in popularity as more brands release their own versions in a variety of styles with different ratings. When considering an air vest for horse riding, searching the options can seem overwhelming- so we’ve compiled a list of the best equestrian air vests! The prices might shock you, but safety is an investment worth making.
Equestrian Air Vests
Although there is some variation among air vest designs, the principle remains the same. Vests have some type of mechanism, usually a string attachment to a saddle, which activates a mechanism when the rider departs the saddle. This mechanism will inflate the vest prior to impact, usually from a punctured air canister activated by the string. Air vests are strategically manufactured to stabilize the neck, head, and create a soft protective barrier around the torso. This allows for a cushioned impact, particularly around the chest and sternum. Air vests can be worn alone or with a body protector. However, most companies recommend pairing the air vest with a traditional body protector for optimal injury-prevention. This is why a lightweight and adjustable vest is greatly preferred for layering purposes, especially in the summer months.
Air Vests vs Body Protectors
Before the emergence of equestrian air vests, traditional body protectors dominated the market. Body protectors are worn during rides but do not change in any way upon impact. They feature a lightweight and comfortable foam interior to help minimize impact when a rider hits the ground or an object. They protect the core, helping minimize or eliminate rib, chest, and internal injuries. Unlike their inflatable counterpart, they do not offer neck or spinal protection. Air vests aim to decrease the severity or “crushing” injuries, particularly during hard impact or injuries involving the horse itself.
Regular body protector vests are a requirement for cross-country jumping. Although air vests are not a requirement, they can be used with a traditional body protector. Yes, a rider will wear both! Air vests are not a substitute for a body protector. For competition purposes, an air vest can be worn over a BETA Level 3 or SEI-certified body protector. Ideally, but not mandatory, body protectors will attach to the air vest to prevent movement in a rotational fall.
Find The Best Equestrian Safety Vests Reviews
Air vests can be used in any type of riding, although some competition agencies may have specific rules or requirements. They are traditionally seen in the cross-country portion of three-day eventing. Cross-country jumping is a dangerous high-speed jump course where riders must navigate complex jumps and natural obstacles. The courses involve mixed terrain, watercourses, and solid jumps (opposed to collapsible fences).
One of the reasons vests are more common in cross-country and other jumping courses is due to the distance of a possible fall. Contrary to popular belief, speed does not increase the risk of injury in horseback riding. The primary factor in injury risk and assessment is the distance from the rider’s original position to the ground- making jumping a much more dangerous discipline. Many instructors require students to utilize air vests or even regular body protectors when starting to jump. Some training facilities incorporate the usage of vests in their regular lesson programs as well.
Air vests are still new and do not fall under the same safety ratings as traditional body protectors. Body protectors fall under ASTM standards, but there is no current standard for air vests. Currently, ASTM F 1937 04 and ASTM F 2681 18 protectors are rated for sport horse events and racing. BETA is internationally recognized and a more popular standard, as is the European (EN) standard. Recently European testing organization, SATRA, developed its standard for air vests. However, only a few on the market meet these standards. Some personal protection equipment (PPE) companies utilize independent companies or labs to conduct their own safety tests, ratings, or approvals. Although they are not a sanctioned standard such as ASTM or SEI, it is beneficial to look for these tests when shopping for safety gear.
Ongoing Studies for Air Vest for Horse Riding
As of now, little is known about the actual safety and efficiency of air vest usage. Studies are best performed with minimal to no change in variables, which is almost impossible to control when conducting field studies on accidents involving independently moving and thinking humans and horses together.
The International Research Council on the Biomechanics of Injury Conference showed 2016 study results indicating air vests reduced serious chest injury by a mere 13%. However, this study used a deceased equine cadaver being dropped on a dummy. In studies conducted from FEI statistics and injury reports, the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found air vests were actually associated with higher injury percentages! However, many experts believe this is due to the level of competitors typically utilizing air vests- they are more injury-prone due to the level of competition, and may have had a more brazen approach to riding than someone without the added protection.
Air vest users were found to have 1.7 increased odds of serious or fatal injury in comparison to riders without one. However, experts all agree there is significantly more work needed to solidify any of these studies. The variables and biomechanics of an individual fall vary greatly. This makes any realistic case study nearly impossible to repeat without major changes to the variables. The science of safety remains the same, offering additional core and spinal protection.
Top Picks For The Best Air Vest For Horse Riding
Are you a cross-country rider, or want an extra safety precaution? Whether you’re wearing These are our top picks in air vests for horseback riding:
This is one of the most affordable air vests on the market. Although you can’t put a price on safety, affordable products are always ideal. The vest uses a CO2 trigger system to help decrease injury risk. This vest is ultralightweight and comfortable and available in children’s sizes. This makes it a great option for layering over other traditional body protectors or for riders that feel restricted when wearing a vest.
- Economical by comparison
- Children’s and adult sizes
- No SATRA rating
- Warm when riding
- Frequently sells out and restocks are quick to go
This air vest uses a 48cc cartridge for high-speed airbag deployment. The vest uses a fast key ball mechanism to activate the CO2 cartridge. The fit is a harness one-size-fits-all style, and weighs only 1.9 pounds! The cut of the LV model makes keeps riders cool even in summer months or when layered with a body protector. It is a quieter mechanism when deployed, and a good option for lesson programs that accommodate multiple sized students.
- Great for summer months
- Adjustable fit for multiple riders
- No SATRA rating
- Limited size range
The Point Two Pro Air Hunter vest is extremely lightweight and the most popular edition of the Point Two air vest collection. Its design has extreme rider comfort in mind, featuring adjustable straps and an extended tail for lower back, coccyx, and kidney protection. The Pro Air design is worn alone or with a traditional body protector, but be sure measurements are accurate and compatible with how the vest is going to be worn.
- Very lightweight
- High comfort factor
- Extended tail portion for additional protection
- More expensive by comparison
The Helite equestrian air vest provides high volume protection up to 28 L depending on the size of the airbag/vest. The system reactivates in less than 2 minutes! These vests boast a 2-year guarantee and possess certification by the Alienor Laboratory. This organization rates and certifies PPE as an independent body. A 4-year warranty is also available for purchase. The detection inflates in 100 ms and uses an adjustable fit system with superior neck protection and stability.
- Has a lab certification for PPE
- Adjustable fit
- Warrantied with optional extended warranty
- Not normally sold/shipped from all countries
- More expensive by comparison
Final Thoughts – Air Vest for Horse Riding
Purchasing an air-vest for riding can be a big decision due to the large price tag on this product line. Although the studies have shown the increased safety during falls, statistics on riders wearing air vests can leave equestrians questioning the validity of these claims. Most manufacturers recommend to go ahead and pair your new air vest with a traditional body protector to get the most out of your injury-prevention methods. If you are ride cross-country and wear an air-vest, what type do you sport?
If you’ve got friends with horses, especially jumpers, be sure to share this article! The above list may help someone with their holiday gift shopping this year!