7 Best Horse-Riding Vests

by Michelle Drum April 25, 2021 5 min read

rider wearing horse-riding vest while jumping horse

Though you may not realize it, studies have shown that equestrian sports have a higher injury risk than most other popular sports, including football. Wearing safety equipment is a reliable way to increase a rider’s odds of remaining safe and injury-free while enjoying their activities. And one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment for riding is a safety vest. Here’s what you need to know about horse-riding vests and seven top options to consider.

What are Horse-Riding Vests?

Horse-riding vests, also known as equestrian protective riding vests or safety vests, are designed for riders seeking additional protection for the torso area. Horse-riding vests are a piece of equestrian gear that can help reduce the impact on a rider who falls, shielding the spine, ribs, and internal organs. 

Protective riding vests are required in the cross country portion of an eventing competition. United States Pony Club (USPC) research shows a 56% reduction in the relative risk of injury for riders wearing a horse-riding vest. All USPC eventing competitions require members to wear protective vests while riding the cross country portion.

There are two types of vests: riding vests filled with air (sometimes called air vests) and body protectors. The key difference between them is that an air vest protects only once the garment inflates, while a body protector offers permanent, static protection. Research has shown that air vests provide some protection for flat falls and in the case of a horse landing on its rider during a fall. Body protectors offer additional defense against potentially dangerous objects like hooves and poles, which is why the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) recommends body protectors.

How Does a Horse-Riding Air Vest Work?

An air vest has a cord or a lanyard that attaches to the saddle. If the rider is ejected from the saddle, the cord or lanyard triggers the vest’s activation device. In turn, this action punctures the air canister, which instantly releases air to inflate the vest before the rider hits the ground. 

The air vest should be thoroughly inspected for tears after a fall and the deployment of the canister. If the fall is significant, you should have the manufacturer check the air vest to ensure it’s still working correctly. Make sure to replace the air canister after any fall.

What to Look for When Buying a Horse-Riding Vest

You’ll want to ensure that your riding vest fits well to make sure it can do the job it’s intended to do. Every rider is a different size and shape. If you purchase a body protector, look for the BETA 2009 or 2000 Level 3 standard for the best protection. 

For body protectors, all velcro markers should be covered. For both body protectors or air vests:

  • The top should reach the uppermost area of the sternum and the prominent bone at the base of the back of the neck.
  • The front should be at least two fingers’ width lower than the ribcage. You should be able to bend at the waist without the vest hitting your hip bone.
  • The vest should fit all the way around the torso.

The best way to check the back length is by sitting on a saddle. There should be at least a hand’s width between the cantle and the bottom of the vest. Consider changing your vest every three-to-five years to make sure it stays in proper working order. 

When to Wear a Riding Vest

Protective vests are a worthwhile safety investment for any rider but particularly for those engaged in high-impact sports like cross-country and hunting. Vests are gaining popularity for other riding disciplines both in competition and for recreational use as well. Additionally, it’s a good idea to wear a vest as a new rider or when working with a young or flighty horse prone to kick.

7 Best Horse-Riding Vests

There are many vest options to choose from. Here are seven of the most popular horse-riding vests (of both types) on the market today:

1. Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest ($419)

Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest

Lightweight, cool, and comfortable, this vest uses a new high-speed deployment system that is quiet and effective and maximizes protection. Note: the manufacturer recommends wearing this vest with a body protector.


2. FreeJump Airbag Safety Vest ($899.99)

Freejump Airbag Safety Vest

Freejump Airbag is the result of dedication for innovation, and of the desire for ever greater performance, comfort and safety for riders. The Freejump Airbag should be worn close to the body, over a thin layer of clothing. Also compatible with specially made show jackets. Comes complete with saddle strap and keyball air cartridge deployment lanyard. 


3. Charles Owen AirMesh Ladies Vest ($463.95)

Charles Owen AirMesh Ladies Vest

This top performer is one of the most highly-ventilated BETA 2009 Level 3 body protectors available. It’s lightweight and designed to offer the ultimate fit for comfort and safety.


4. Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest — Child's ($419)

Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest — Child's

This highly-rated vest is similar to the adult model, providing superior ventilation and comfort in a lightweight vest. It offers a quiet, high-speed deployment system, making it less likely to spook a horse. When getting off the horse, the one-touch release system is easy-to-use, and the vest won’t be triggered if the rider forgets. Recommended for use over a body protector.


5. Charles Owen jL9 Body Protector — Child's ($303.95)

Charles Owen jL9 Body Protector

Get the comfortable feeling of gel with the performance of foam in this children’s body protector. It offers the maximum protection available without unwanted bulk and is certified to BETA level 2.


6. Helite Zip In 2 Air Vest ($749.00) 

The Helite Zip In II Air Vest is minimal, lightweight, and has a discreet design that looks great both in and out of the show ring. Safety equipment has never looked so good! Comes complete with saddle strap and keyball air cartridge deployment lanyard. 


7. Ovation Comfortflex Safety Vest ($169)

This SEI-ASTM, CE level 3 certified and Beta level 3 protective vest provides a comfortable, non-restrictive fit that will not compromise the rider’s ability in the saddle. Body protectors offer a degree of protection from impacts suffered as a consequence of horse sport activities by reducing the severity of high levels of energy dissipation often experienced during a fall.

Horse Riding Vests are a Smart Choice for Any Rider

While there’s no requirement for air vests and body protectors in the U.S., there’s a reason they’re being used more often in various disciplines. Thanks to their ability to protect riders in an injury-prone sport, horse-riding vests are an excellent investment.

Horse Riding Vest Demo

Hit Air Vest Demo

Helite Zip'in 2 Air Safety Vest Demo

Explore our collection of safety vests that have been tested by our staff and customers. If you have questions about any of our products, give us a call at 864-457-3557. We’re happy to help!


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