Wearing an equestrian air vest is a reliable way to increase a your odds of remaining safe and injury-free while enjoying activities. Most falls from a horse are no big deal, but they can be scary, especially considering the distance you may fall and the speed at which you’re riding. Although falls like this don’t happen often, wearing a horse riding vest will help you feel confident that you’re protected when they do. In this post, we’ll explain the purpose of riding vests and compare the best equestrian air vests, so you can best determine what is right for you.
Our top equestrian air vest picks
- Hit Air Advantage Vest
- Seaver Safefit Vest
- FreeJump Vest
- Helite Zipi’In II Vest
- Allshot Belair Vest
- Hit Air Vest – Child’s
- Allshot SafeKid Safety Airbag Vest – Child’s
- Charles Owen AirMesh Vest
- Ovation Comfortflex Vest
- Charles Owen AirMesh Vest – Child’s
What is an equestrian air vest?
Equestrian air vests are a type of horse riding safety vest designed for riders seeking additional protection for the torso area. They are filled with air to help reduce the impact if you fall by shielding the spine, ribs, and internal organs.
Protective riding vests have been found to reduce the risk of injury for riders by 56% and are now required in the cross-country portion of eventing competitions. Furthermore, the United States Pony Club (USPC) requires that members wear protective vests when riding in the cross-country portion of eventing competitions, and all USPC eventing competitions require members to wear protective vests while riding the cross-country portion. While not every competition currently requires them, we see protective vest requirements as an important sign for improving your safety and believe that air vests are worth considering for any competition.
Why do equestrians wear air vests?
Riders wear air vests for added protection in the event of a fall from a horse. Air vests are particularly beneficial if you take part in high-risk disciplines, such as eventing, show jumping, and cross-country riding, where falls are more common and often occur at higher speeds. However, vests are a good idea for any rider as an added safety measure.
Safety vests, including air vests, are still a relatively new option for equestrians. Studies show that they may reduce the seriousness of crushing injuries from falls, though more research is needed. So, should you wear an air vest? Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your comfort level on a horse. It’s a good idea to consider one, although we hope you never need one.
While an air vest cannot guarantee complete protection from injury, it can provide an additional layer of safety and peace of mind, helping you feel more confident and secure while riding.
How does an air vest work?
An air vest has a cord or a lanyard that attaches to the saddle. If you’re 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 and provide a protective cushion around the body before the rider hits the ground.
When the air canister is punctured, it makes a loud popping sound. As a result, people often ask if this will spook your horse. And generally speaking, no, it won’t. While the horse will be a bit surprised since the situation is abnormal and his rider is no longer in the saddle, in addition to the popping noise, most horses don’t react much. If you’re concerned about your horse, try a test run. Deploy the vest while standing next to your horse to desensitize him.
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 you replace the air canister after any fall.
Below is an example of the Hit Air Airbag Vest being worn for protection, worn over a classic style vest galloping cross country, and, what it looks like after it has deployed.
When to wear an equestrian air vest
Air vests or body protectors are a worthwhile safety investment for any rider but particularly for those engaged in high-impact sports like cross-country and hunting. It’s also a good idea to wear a vest as a new rider or when working with a young or flighty horse prone to kick. Protective vests are gaining popularity in other riding disciplines, both in competition and for recreational use.
You can wear an air vest over a riding shirt when you practice, but, when competing, you should wear a proper equestrian jacket, and that’s where airbag show jackets come in. They maintain the sleek and fitted look of an equestrian jacket while providing room for an air vest underneath. With an airbag jacket, riders no longer need to choose between style and safety–you can have both!
Airbag-style safety vests, like the Helite Zip’ In 2 Vest, have become popular because they are discrete and can be worn without a hard safety vest underneath. When worn, the vests are minimally noticeable and still give you a polished look at the show ring. The airbags deploy outwards for better rider comfort and, when activated, give superior protection to the neck, spine, and ribcage in the event of a fall. This vest can even be worn under special show jackets that are designed to expand on deployment.
How long should your air vest last?
The lifespan of an equestrian air vest can vary depending on its quality and how often you wear it. You don’t necessarily need to throw your air vest out after a fall–just replace the air canister. The number of inflations before replacing your vest varies by manufacturer and the model of the air vest. It is important to check the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations for the specific air vest you own. The vest should be inspected regularly for signs of wear and tear, such as cracks, tears, or punctures, which could compromise the effectiveness of the airbag system.
What to consider when buying an air vest
You’ll want to ensure that your air vest fits well to make sure it can do the job it’s intended to do. Every rider is a different size and shape, but all riders should consider the following:
- The top should reach the uppermost area of the sternum and the prominent bone at the base of the back of the neck.
- The vest should fit around the torso.
- 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 best way to check the back length of the vest 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.
Equestrian air vest comparison chart
|Brand||Price||Area Protected||Deployment Time||Air Cartridge Cost|
|Hit Air Advantage Air Vest||$615||neck, spine, hips, torso||.5 seconds||$30|
|Helite Zip’In Airbag Vest II||$759||neck, spine, hips, torso||Less than 100 ms||$32|
|FreeJump Airbag Vest||$849.99||neck, cervical, back, lumbar, sacrum, pelvis, thorax||98 ms||$44|
|Seaver Safefit Airbag Vest||$789||neck, back, abdomen, thorax, trunk||Less than 200 ms|
|Allshot Belair Airbag Vest||$870||cervical, dorsal region, hips, pelvis, sacrum, tailbone, vital organs||80 ms||$35-$44|
10 best air vests for equestrians
There are many vest options to choose from. Here are ten of the most popular equestrian air vests on the market today.
Best air vests for adults
1. Hit Air Advantage Air Vest ($615)
This air vest offers a “harness type” airbag deployment for a faster response time. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and even protects your hips when inflated. It also deploys outward, away from the body, so it’s more comfortable when it does deploy. For English riding, this vest has a saddle strap attachment to be used with an English saddle that connects to the stirrup bars. This connects the vest to the saddle, and when a rider is ejected, it pulls on the connection and punctures the air can, inflating the vest. This vest is available with a clip enclosure or a zipper.
- Areas it protects: neck, spine, hips, torso
- Deployment time: .5 seconds
Cost of air cartridges: Hit Air Safety Vest Replacement Co2 Canisters ($30)
2. Seaver Safefit Airbag Vest ($789)
Designed to meet the needs of riders, the Seaver Safefit airbag vest is made from lightweight fabrics that move with you. It’s so comfortable, you’ll forget you’re wearing an airbag vest. The breathable mesh panels will help keep you cool when the competition heats up. Available in navy and black, you can choose an option that best fits your show attire. The Safefit comes with a year of free access to the SafeRide app, which tracks your ride and can detect falls and reach out to your emergency contact if there is no response after a fall detection.
- Areas it protects: neck, back, abdomen, thorax, trunk
- Deployment time: less than 200 ms
3. FreeJump Airbag Safety Vest ($849.99)
This low-profile air vest offers superior protection from the top of your neck to the tip of your tailbone. We love how discreet this vest is, it’s practically invisible under your jacket, and it’s the only air vest that comes in two bust lengths for a more precise fit. Made in France to CE EU certification standards, and outperforming all CRITT certifications you can ride with confidence knowing you’ve got top-level protection. The stretch materials and perforated fabrics will keep you cool and comfortable. The FreeJump airbag vest is perfect for every level from schooling to top competitions.
- Areas it protects: neck, cervical, back, lumbar, sacrum, pelvis, thorax
- Deployment time: 98 ms
- Replacement air cartridges: FreeJump Safety Vest Replacement Co2 Canisters ($44)
4. Helite Zip’In II Air Vest ($759.00)
If you want an air vest that’s comfortable and safe, then go no further than the Helite Zip’In airbag vest! It’s a minimal, lightweight, and discreet design that partners well under an approved show coat for the ultimate in style and safety. This vest has an attachment lanyard and saddle strap to connect the vest to the saddle. Not only does this vest offer the safety features you expect in an air vest, but it can also be zipped into partner brands’ show coats for a perfect fit. You can grab a couple of great options at the Farm House, including this Equiline Airbag Compatible Show Coat and the Oscar & Gabrielle Women’s Jade Light Show Jacket.
- Areas it protects: neck, spine, hips, torso
- Deployment time: less than 100 ms
- Cost of air cartridges: Helite Safety Vest Replacement Co2 Canisters ($32)
5. Allshot Belair Airbag Vest ($870)
The Belair is best for dressage, hunter, and jumper disciplines. You can wear this vest with any zip-up show jacket that has at least 15% or more elastane. This Allshot airbag vest is at the forefront of safety standards, certified to European AFNOR standards. It comes with a removable D30 back protector that helps spread the concussion of impact in case of a fall. If you’re a petite equestrian or youth rider over 66 lbs, this vest is perfect for you.
- Areas it protects: cervical, dorsal region, hips, pelvis, sacrum, tailbone, vital organs
- Deployment time: less than 100 ms
- Replacement air cartridge: Allshot Replacement CO2 Air Cartridge ($35-$44)
Best air vests for kids
6. Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest — Child’s ($419)
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 you forget. Recommended for use over a body protector.
7. Allshot SafeKid Safety Airbag Vest– $750.00
Our list would be incomplete if we didn’t include the Allshot SafeKid Safety Airbag Vest. Allshot has created the first protective airbag vest system made just for kids. This is the only airiest on the market for kids aged 6-11. The Allshot SafeKid Safety Airbag Vest is not just a small version of the adult vest, it has been designed and made specifically to meet the needs of your child’s body. This vest provides safe and gives peace of mind as your child rides their horse.
Learn more: Top Reasons Children Should Wear an Air Vest
Bonus: Best body protectors
8. Charles Owen AirMesh Ladies Vest ($449)
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.
9. Ovation Comfortflex Safety Vest ($229.95)
This SEI-ASTM, CE level 3 certified and Beta level 3 protective vest provides a comfortable, non-restrictive fit that will not compromise your ability in the saddle. Body protectors offer a degree of protection from impacts suffered from horse sports by reducing the severity of high levels of energy dissipation often experienced during a fall.
10. Charles Owen jL9 Body Protector — Child’s ($332)
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.
Riding jackets for air vests
Airbag jackets are equestrian riding jackets designed to fit an airbag vest. These jackets come with an airbag safety vest built into them, or, more commonly, are structured to allow for an air vest to be worn underneath. In either case, the jacket is designed to fit the rider comfortably, whether the vest is inflated or not.
The Equiline Airbag Show Coat offers the best of Equiline’s quality with an incredible fit. This show coat successfully combines style, comfort, and safety in one near-perfect jacket. It’s made of a bi-elastic, comfortable fabric that’s breathable, and it’s unlined to ensure a lighter and less bulky feel. This show coat is designed to work with the Helite Zip’in 2 Airbag, one of our favorites (sold separately). It comes in navy or black and can be customized with an Alcantara or satin collar.
Another show jacket designed to be worn over an air vest is this show jacket by Oscar & Gabrielle. It not only accommodates the Helite Zip’in 2 Airbag, but it also can be worn with the Free Jump Air Vest. (Both air vests are sold separately.) No longer do you need to choose between safety and elegance! This jade jacket has a fitted and feminine cut with a very elastic and resistant fabric, which allows it to adjust its shape after the airbag inflates. It’s made of mesh and breathable fabric for great ventilation and airflow, so it’s comfortable in any weather. This jacket comes in a navy blue shade we know you’ll love.
This jacket also comes in a men’s cut in a shade of navy blue.
How to care for your air vest
Store your vest in a climate-controlled and dry tack room if you have one. Otherwise, keep it in your house. You can keep it clean by wiping it with a damp cloth and dry brushing any dirt. You should store your vest either on a hanger or laying flat. Never fold your vest or leave it crumpled in your trunk. Storing your vest folded can potentially compromise the air chambers, potentially weakening the chambers at the folded areas.
How to refill your equestrian air vest
When you need to replace your air canister, you’ll start by removing the old air canister. The canister generally unscrews without any other action required. The process for replacing the air canister may vary slightly between air vests, so you should follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. You’ll want to use an approved air canister for the vest you have. Generally speaking, there will be a couple of easy steps to prepare the mechanism to fit the new air canister without deploying it, often using a fitted screw with an Allen wrench. Then you screw in the new canister.
Consider the safety of an equestrian air vest
Though most riders aren’t required to wear equestrian air vests, safety equipment is never a bad idea. Air vests are useful for everyday riding, and they are acceptable during all competitions.
Check out ourselection of air 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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