The Ultimate Guide to Riding Safety Vests

The Ultimate Guide to Riding Safety Vests

Riding safety vests have become more popular for riders spanning many disciplines. Let’s face it if you ride horses, you’re going to fall at some point. As a new rider in weekly lessons as a child, I think I had been riding for nearly two years before my first fall. I clearly remember this being my fault for not listening to what my trainer said. Like any sport, the higher the level of competition the higher the risk for injury, and the more critical it is to wear a riding safety vest. But with so many different safety vests on the market, it’s hard to know how each of them performs, who needs to wear one, or how it’s supposed to fit. These are common questions for new riders or adults returning to the sport, so we’ll highlight everything you should know about riding vests.

two horse riders wearing protective vests while on horseback

What are riding safety vests?

Riding safety vests protect riders’ vital organs in the event of a fall. Currently, there are two different styles of safety vests available–the classic body protector and the airbag vest. Both vests are designed to do a similar job of absorbing shock in the event of a fall. Due to the potential of human error with the airbag vest, the only equestrian safety vest approved for competing in cross country is the classic style body protector, made with a combination of dense foam, tactical materials and ballistic nylon.

Shown below are styles of classic safety vests from Airowear & USG.

different brands of safety vests

Types of horse riding safety vests

There are two types of safety vests: 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. Both are beneficial if you fall from your horse, but they work in different ways.

1. Body protectors

Body protectors are made of lightweight foam that dissipates a fall’s impact. They are designed to protect the torso at all times; however, they don’t protect against crush injuries or spinal injuries.  Body protectors offer additional defense against potentially dangerous hooves and poles, which is why the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) recommends wearing body protectors.

The body protector or impact absorption vest aborbs the impact during a fall. Similar to a bulletproof vest, the material is generally made of a heavy-duty proprietary dense foam. This vest is designed to support and cushion the body on impact, reducing the likelihood of injury to the rider. This style of vest is required for use in the cross-country phase of combined training or eventing.

  • For body protectors, all velcro markers should be covered. 
  • If you purchase a body protector, look for the BETA 2009 or 2000 Level 3 standard for the best protection.

2. Air vests

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. Air vests only protect a rider when inflated, unlike body armor, but they protect the torso, neck, and pelvis. 

These vests are worn at a slightly more relaxed fit than the classic vest and are designed to be worn with a small C02 removable air cartridge embedded in the vest. A coiled lanyard is attached from the vest to the ‘D’ located near your stirrup bar. When a rider falls, the lanyard will deploy the airbag which inflates in .2 seconds around the rider’s upper body and absorb the impact of the fall. Deflating an air vest is easy–most air vests deflate on their own automatically a few minutes after they are inflated.

You may wear an airbag vest over top of the classic vest on the cross country if you desire, but at this time the airbag vest may not be worn as a stand-alone when schooling or competing on cross country.

Learn more: 10 Best Equestrian Air Vests

Are you required to wear a horse riding safety vest?

All safety vests are available in sizes for adults and children and are suitable for any style of equestrian riding, most fox hunting organizations prefer that you ask for proper vest protocol in advance. The only discipline that requires a safety vest for riding is the cross-country phase of combined training, also known as the sport of eventing.

How should your riding vest fit?

The fit of the vest will vary slightly by style. The body protector is form-fitting and often uses either laces or heavy-duty velcro in multiple locations to achieve a second skin type fit. From the front, the classic style vest should cover your collarbone down to your first rib. The chest and shoulders should lie flat against your body. You will note the backside of the vest is longer. The rear of the vest should cover the base of your neck down and should stop 2-4” from your saddle when you are seated. If the vest touches your saddle, it is likely too long and will interfere with your ability to ride.

Proper fit of safety vest

The air vest style fits similarly to the classic style covering and protecting the same areas, the only difference being that the air vest is not second-skin tight. It should be tight enough to not be flopping around while you are galloping and jumping

Speaking from my personal experience as a junior here, (long before I knew better). If the bottom of your vest hits the saddle while you are galloping cross country, it can – and will, slide up your back and bump the bottom of your helmet. No big deal right? – It’s a very big deal, as it bumps the bottom of your helmet at the back, it pushes the visor of your helmet down in the front making it difficult ( impossible) to see. Although now just a fun factoid to share, I 10/10 do not recommend this method of discovering your vest does not fit.

How long does a horse riding safety vest last?

With proper care, your safety vest should last between 5 and 7 years. It is important to check your vest frequently for rips, tears, or wear to maintain optimum protection. Over time, the integrity of the shock-absorbing materials begins to degrade and will no longer provide optimum impact absorption in the event of a fall.

Both styles of the vest are reusable in the event of a fall. The classic vest requires no real maintenance other than making sure it is not ripped or torn and is clean for your next event. The air vest will need to be checked for rips or tears & then deflated. Once the air has been removed it can be repacked into the compartments in the vest. This style of vest requires a new C02 cartridge before it can be used again. Each C02 cartridge is good for one deployment.

Shop replacement CO2 cartridges for Allshot, Helite, or Frejump safety vests.

7 of the best horse riding safety vests

1. Ovation Comfortflex Body Protector – Adult ($229.95)

Ovation Comfortflex Body Protector

We love this safety vest, as it offers all the protection you need for English riding at a great budget-friendly price. This Ovation body protector is comfortable and non-restrictive, so it won’t compromise your ability in the saddle. It offers solid protection while reducing the severity of energy dissipation experienced during a fall. It even has reflective piping on the front and back for riding safety in low-light conditions. This vest is SEI-ASTM, CE level 3 certified, and Beta Level 4.

2. Hit Air Airbag Safety Vest ($499)

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.

3. Charles Owen jL9 Body Protector ($360)

Body protectors don’t have to be bulky and uncomfortable! This one is incredibly flexible with the feel of gel and the performance of the foam. It’s less rigid than others, so it molds more effectively to your body, especially your ribs, without restricting breathing. It’s also lightweight and adjustable, with a dual security and fastening system over the shoulders to ensure it stays put. This body protector is certified to BETA level 2.

This body protector is also available for children for $332.

4. Seaver Safefit Airbag Vest ($789)

Seaver SAFEFIT airbag jacket

The SAFEFIT airbag vest is quickly becoming a favorite at The Farm House. This vest is super lightweight, you’ll barely notice it while riding. You can wear the Seaver SAFEFIT with any show coat that is at least 15% elastane, and it comes in navy or black making it perfect for Hunter riders. This vest also comes with an app for your smartphone which tracks your ride and can reach out to your emergency contact if there is no response when a fall is detected.

5. USG Flexi Motion Adult Body Protector Vest ($398)

This is a solid all-around body protector vest that’s durable, comfortable, and machine washable for easy cleaning. The small triangular blocks allow for maximum movement, and it’s easy to customize the fit in the waist and shoulders. This vest is certified BETA label level 3 and EN 13158-2009 level 3.

This vest is also available in children’s sizes ($244).

6. Allshot Equitrust Body Protector ($299)

We love this lightweight body protector, as it’s a perfect compromise between a body protector and an airbag vest. It comes in sizes ranging from adult to child, and it’s perfectly designed both for children who don’t yet fit into an airbag vest and for adults who don’t want an airbag vest but want protection. It’s made of breathable materials and has a removable back protector not found in most other body protectors. This vest is certified to the European safety standards ECE1621-2.

7. FreeJump Airbag Safety Vest ($849)

Freejump Airbag Safety Vest

Freejump Airbag is the result of dedication to innovation and the desire to provide ever greater performance, comfort, and safety for riders. The Freejump Airbag should be worn close to the body, over a thin layer of clothing. It’s also compatible with a custom-made show jacket and comes with a saddle strap and key ball air cartridge deployment lanyard.

Riding safety vests–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.

Learn more: Reasons Why Safety Vests are Important for Children

Explore our collection of riding 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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I’ve done a lot of research & it’s reported that the Hit Air vests R the least likely to spook UR horse or nearby horses when a vest inflates. I just purchased a Hit Air original vest.

Champ's Mom

Hi I’m wondering how loud the air vessel which one do you like best it seems like the hit air you like better than the 2 point I am very confused ! Want one with good tailbone pelvis coverage thank you

Dorothy McCann

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