When Were Equestrian Safety Vests Invented?

The equestrian safety vest was invented a little less than 40 years ago and almost instantly improved rider safety. Equestrian competitors could ride to the jumps and feel secure with the knowledge they had something between them and the ground in the event of a fall.

Early versions of the equestrian safety vest consisted of sectional foam padding stitched into sections that allow the rider's upper body to flex and twist without restriction. Eventers were quick to adapt to the use of the safety vest, but other disciplines took their time. Once riders from other disciplines started seeing the benefits of wearing an equestrian safety vest, it became a must-have piece of safety gear along with the helmet.

A major improvement to the equestrian safety vest came in the form of the airbag vest sometime in the early 2000s. The concept came from the motorcycle safety gear industry.

Motorcyclists hit the ground at much higher speeds and rates of impact than horseback riders do and gave someone the idea that the airbag vest would work for equestrians. The concept has been proven to work and work well as prominent riders in all equestrian disciplines have embraced the use of the airbag vest for safety.

Equoware wants riders to be able to ride with the same level of safety as the major riders, and proudly offers the best in airbag riding vests for customers. Following is a look at the airbag safety vest for equestrians and why it's a better option than the traditional body protector:

How an Equestrian Air Bag Safety Vest Works

An equestrian airbag safety vest is a passive safety device that inflates when a rider is thrown from their horse. The vest is made from materials that are known for their ability to hold the CO2 during sudden inflation and withstand the shock of impact. Proven construction techniques ensure that the vest acts as it should, and also allows for multiple re-uses after inflation. 

A CO2 cartridge pack is attached to the vest and features a lanyard that connects to a pin that keeps the cartridge closed unless pulled out through force. The other end of the lanyard attaches to the saddle at different points.

Where the lanyard attaches is dependent on the instructions provided by the manufacturer. When a rider is thrown from their horse, the lanyard is tensioned at a high rate of speed and pulls the pin out of the CO2 cartridge. The vest inflates before the rider hits the ground and protects the rider from serious injury.

Many riders have expressed concern that their horses would spook at the sound of the CO2 cartridge being released. It's been found that, while some horses react to the sound, most don't react strongly enough to cause them to bolt further. 

How an Air Bag Vest Protects the Upper Body

Falling off a horse is an event involving sudden deceleration or acceleration of the rider into a wall, obstacle, or terrain. Humans are built with most of their mass located in the torso which results in the head or upper body landing first. The rider is at risk of sustaining injuries to parts of the body that include the:

  • Spine
  • Neck
  • Ribs
  • Internal organs
  • Shoulders
  • Collarbones
  • Coccyx (tailbone)

The traditional padded foam vest provides coverage to all of these regions of the body, but the airbag riding vest "pushes" the rider away from impact when inflated during a fall.

Less shock is transmitted to the torso upon impact, and soft tissue injuries are less likely to happen. In the event, a rider does sustain injuries while wearing an airbag vest, the injuries are less severe and recovery is faster. 

How Effective is an Air Bag Vest Compared to the Body Protector?

The scientific data is still out when it comes to how effective an airbag safety vest is versus the foam safety vest, but testing done by manufacturers has shown a reduction in spinal injuries when the airbag vest is worn over a traditional safety vest.

Foam has been proven to disperse the shock upon impact and transmit less of it to the body. The airbag concept has been shown to be effective in a variety of safety applications ranging from cars to motorcycles. Riders of all disciplines who have worn an airbag vest and fallen from their horse have reported preferring the experience delivered by the airbag riding vest. 

Riders who have fallen wearing an airbag vest say that the landing is a little bouncy with less of their body coming into contact with the ground. Anecdotes of rider's experiences may not be scientific, but the fact remains that riders wearing an airbag vest come out of a fall in much better shape than they do with a foam vest.

Foam vests remain close to the body at all times, and put the rider closer to the ground during a fall, and deliver more impact shock to the limbs. In contrast, the airbag vest expands out and prevents a majority of the shock from the fall from reaching the torso and limbs.

Safety Certification for Air Bag Riding Vests

To date, there hasn't been much in the way of independent scientific study of the airbag vest. The lack of scientific study doesn't tell the whole story, however. The vests are made to meet multiple safety certifications from different certification organizations.

Manufacturers also perform their own testing to find out how well their products perform under stress as well as constructing their products to meet the various safety standards. That means riders can take confidence that their safety equipment will perform as expected in the event of a fall. 

The American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) does not have a standard for airbag safety vests, but SATRA, a UK-based safety testing organization, does. To date, there are no commonly accepted standards for airbag riding vest testing.

However, the lack of safety certification does not mean that the equestrian airbag safety vest isn't effective or unsafe. The effectiveness of an airbag as a safety device for automobile drivers has been known for decades, and the airbag vest has been in use for motorcyclists at the competitive level since 2007. 

There is never such a thing as too much protection when riding a horse. Riders can double up by wearing a protective vest with foam padding underneath their airbag riding vest. Many competitive riders already do this, and it's something that any rider can take advantage of. Safer falls directly translate into less in the way of injuries and psychological trauma that accompanies a sudden dismount.