Last Updated on March 4, 2022 by Allison Price
A pandemic is a great way to remind people about safety. Riders from all disciplines are discussing the need to include an additional safety feature in the saddle, both in tack shops as well as online.
There are so many options and prices for equestrian PPE, not to mention the departure from the horse show look. So where do you begin?
The Plaid Horse met Danielle Santos (director of sales and partnerships at Charles Owen Inc.) to begin our education in body protection. “In times of uncertainty–recession, war, pandemic–people look for safety,” said Santos. Charles Owen and Airowear, its sister brand, offer body protectors that protect vital organs like the ribcage. They also have a newer vest called an air vest.
Santos stated, “What we push as a company is going through independent certifications.” There’s in-house testing and certification from an external body. This allows the product to be tested in specific equestrian scenarios. Independent testing provides scientific information that you can use to improve your product’s performance.
For example, helmets must be certified to meet minimum safety standards in the United States. A helmet that has received foreign certifications also means it has been subject to additional testing. Body protectors are the same. A body protector that has been certified by SEI to ASTM F1937-04 will be labeled in the United States. Some body protectors can have additional certifications such as the BETA certification to European standard EN13158.2018.Sandy Ferrell has worn a body protector in show ring for many years.
Laura Qusen (director of operations at Tipperary) said that obtaining a certification is “a rigorous process in order for a very good purpose, which is protecting you body.” According to Qusen, body protectors are becoming more popular with different riders. “While falls are rare, hunter jumper riders are beginning to realize that it doesn’t take one to make it important that they protect themselves.”
“Helmets are a great addition to any sport. They have become mandatory in all disciplines and have made a huge difference in their acceptance. This acceptance is starting to show up on vests, which is a great thing. While your head is important to protect, your chest and back are equally important.
The industry is currently working to establish independent certifications for air vests. The SATRA M38 is currently the only standard for air vests. Santos stated that air vests are a new technology and that in the future, there will be as much science behind them as body protectors.
After undergoing heart surgery, Deloise NobleStrong, a Maryland professional rider/trainer, started wearing a body protector. In a Facebook post, she said that her doctors were horrified when I decided to ride horses again. However, she promised to take extra precautions. We all know that professional riders and young horses are likely to be injured. So I decided to make a vow to myself: “No vest, no ride” and I still haven’t and won’t put my body on a horse since those surgeries.
“Am I still at risk of permanent injury from a bizarre riding accident?” Yes. Although this is not a superpower shield it is a safety measure. Animal and losing a foot. She says that if ever there was a time when our lives were perfect for increasing safety measures to keep ourselves out of the hospital, it is now.
Sandy Ferrell, a top hunter rider, made an impact at horse shows several years ago by wearing a body guard in the ring. After a fall on a young horse, Ferrell decided to wear a vest. She says that it has been a comforting piece of clothing ever since. Ferrell said that her vest feels like a seatbelt to her in an interview with The Plaid Horse. Ferrell stated that he wouldn’t ride a horse without it. It would be worthwhile if I could inspire one person. When asked if my vest had affected my placings, I simply look at them and respond “Well, I just won a championship in Devon!”
Ferrell started wearing an Airbag from Horse Pilot in 2012 and has been sponsored by the company ever since. Jumper rider KaleyCuoco also shared an Instagram endorsement for Horse Pilot.
Monica Ward, owner of EQU Lifestyle Boutique, carries the Horse Pilot vest and says that it is becoming more and more popular with her clients. It’s exciting to see the sport grow. It’s great to see air vests becoming more common.
A USEF article from May this year states that “there are many manufacturers today offering equestrian-air vests. While the designs may vary, the principle of how they function is the same.” The vests come with a lanyard that attaches directly to the saddle. The lanyard attaches to the saddle and triggers an activation device. This punctures an air canister that instantly inflates the vest.
The article also mentions a study by the Universities of Sydney in Australia that examined cross-country falls during FEI events between riders who wore air vests and riders who didn’t. The article was written by Dr. Mark Hart, the USEF’s Team Physician. Hart stated that the study “revealed many unanswered questions” and highlighted the need for more research.
Riders have access to more than just air vests. Aexos is a company that makes the Halo collar for horses. The Halo is a compression shirt that has neck protection and hardens on impact to protect the body. It was originally made for football, hockey, and lacrosse. We are seeing a reduction of linear and rotational forces on our heads by 35-48%. This has a dramatic effect on whiplash or acceleration/decelerations injuries of the head and neck,” says Aexos CEO Dr. Daryl Sherman. The collar is made of rate-sensitive foam. The collar allows the rider full mobility during normal riding activities. The collar stiffens when the head/neck is accelerated to reduce the acceleration and protect the rider. It works seamlessly with helmets and vests.Nilani Trent in the Aexos Halo collar under her show clothes.
We thought that we would attract customers from lacrosse, football, and hockey when we launched our retail store. These segments were the most popular, and we received many orders. However, we received significant orders from other sports, including cheerleading, cycling, martial arts, cheerleading soccer, motocross, ski, and waterskiing. Equestrian sports was the most popular segment with orders.
Nilani Trent, a jumper rider and amateur hunter, was intrigued by the products. She has been a loyal customer and a collaborator ever since. Trent stated, “I wanted something to prevent whiplash-related head injuries.” “There aren’t many equestrian brands that offer air vests, so I thought, why not try other sports?” Trent wears the Halo underneath her show jacket and jacket (see photo left). It’s extremely comfortable and supportive. It’s so subtle that you can’t tell it’s there underneath my show clothes.
There can be psychological benefits to wearing extra protection, no matter what type of gear the rider uses beyond their helmet. Tonya Johnston, Plaidcast host and equestrian mental skill coach, stated that riders can feel more confident when they have additional safety gear.
A little more confidence can make a big difference in these uncertain times, and in a sport that is always unpredictable.
A Hunter Rider’s Maiden Voyage
In all my years of riding I have never tried on a protective body wrap. The more I learned about them, I realized that there was an extra safety precaution I could take. Full disclosure: I prefer my hunt coats to any safety vest. I don’t think it would be difficult to find a hunter rider that disagrees. For me, however, this wasn’t enough to stop me from giving body protectors another try.
First, I tried Charles Owen JL. It was humid and hot so I expected to feel uncomfortable and hot. To my surprise, I almost forgot that I was wearing it after we had done a few laps. The Charles Owen proved this to be true. It will feel the same way after you ride in it as it does in the store.
For my first show since the pandemic, I used the Tipperary Eventer Pro . This precaution gave me an extra level of security, just like the Charles Owen. The Eventer Pro was more visible, but the Charles Owen was less ventilated. Although vests are not my first choice, and you will sweat a lot under them in summer, I believe these factors are worth it in case of an unfortunate accident.