It’s a well-known rite of passage: just about everyone has fallen off their horse at one point or another. Though most falls aren’t a big deal, some can cause significant injury or worse. In fact, studies show equestrian sports have a higher risk of injury than most other sports, and that includes football! You can improve your chances of avoiding injury with safety equipment, and an equestrian air vest is a great piece to consider. Here’s what you need to know about them.
An equestrian air vest is a piece of safety equipment that protects the torso, neck, and pelvis from a fall. They have a cord or a lanyard that attaches to the saddle. When a rider is ejected from the horse, the cord or lanyard triggers the vest, which punctures the air canister and inflates the vest before the rider hits the ground. There are a number of different air vests on the market today, though they all work in a similar way.
There are two types of equestrian safety vests: air vests and body protectors. Both of these pieces of safety equipment are helpful, and they protect riders in different ways from different types of injuries. Air vests protect a rider only when the vest inflates after a rider is ejected from a horse. They protect the torso and the neck from falls and from crush injuries (if a horse falls on the rider).
Body protectors are made with lightweight foam designed to dissipate the impact of a fall. They provide protection for the torso and offer protection from potentially dangerous objects like poles and horse hooves. Body protectors do not inflate, so they provide protection for a rider at any time. However, they don’t offer protection for spinal injuries or crush injuries.
Maintenance is key to keep an equestrian air vest working properly. It’s important to inspect your air vest for tears before using it, particularly after a fall. And if you do fall, be sure to replace the air canister and thoroughly check for tears. After a significant fall, it’s a good idea to send your air vest to the manufacturer for servicing to be sure the mechanisms work properly. It’s also not a bad idea to send it to the manufacturer for servicing annually.
When a rider is ejected from a horse, the cord or lanyard attaching the air vest to the saddle of the horse gets pulled. This punctures the air canister in the vest, inflating it with air. When the air canister is punctured, it does make 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.
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.
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 brush 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.
Safety vests, including air vests, are still a relatively new option for equestrians. Based on anecdotal evidence, many riders do believe they offer safety benefits. There are studies showing 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.
Safety vests are available in sizes for children and adults. Hard safety vests are required for the cross country phase of eventing, and you can add an air vest over your safety vest for added protection.
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 our selection 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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