Body Protectors Are Developing

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A trainer was killed when a horse he walked behind kicked and struck him in the chest.

A child was kicked in the upper chest by a horse with both back legs, and she sustained only two broken ribs.

A rider was thrown and landed nearly 30 feet from the horse, flat on her back. No back injuries. Just broken ribs.

The first incident occurred a couple of decades ago. The second two are recent happenings — and both equestrians were wearing body-protector vests — Flex-Rider ASTM/SEI-certified protector vests.

In 1996, Horse Journal lamented the fact that body protector vests were only tested by the equestrian trade itself. The only standard at the time was BETA. While we didn’t criticize the BETA system then — and we won’t now either — BETA stands for the British Equestrian Trade Association.

We wanted an American standard, and we wanted vests sold in the U.S. to be certified to meet that standard by an independent, third-party testing organization. We didn’t want to trust manufacturers to simply say they meet the safety standards. We wanted proof.

ASTM/SEI is the same combination that guarantees riding helmets (and other sporting equipment) will help protect you from serious injury. A helmet that doesn’t bear this logo is an item of apparel. (ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials, but the company now is called ASTM International.)

In 1999, we told you that a body-protector standard (ASTM F-1937-98) had been released and the SEI would test vests. Looking at vests again, a decade later, we find an updated standard, called ASTM F-1937-04. That’s what you want to see in the label of your vest. (An updated BETA 2009 standard also is apparently in the works.)

We found six equestrian body protector vests listed on the SEI site as having been certified (www.seinet.org). They are from Charles Owen, Lami-Cell (Eastwest International) and Intec Performance Gear. The exact model vest names are listed on the site.

During the research for this story, several vest makers told us their vests meet ASTM standards. The trouble began when we asked who certified that they do. One vest actually had an SEI tag sewn into it, but it wasn’t on the SEI website. When we contacted the SEI to find out why, we were told they needed to investigate it. Could we have a counterfeit vest' We’ll let you know.

Body-protector vests won’t protect you from internal injuries or twisting/contortion injuries, and they’re not yet all that comfortable to wear (if they’re actually ASTM/SEI-certified anyway). Their purpose is to cushion the blow from a blunt injury, such as hitting the ground or being kicked. They are designed to lessen the chance of a fatality.

As we watch the standards develop, I’m reminded of the growing pains we went through with riding helmets. The original ASTM/SEI-certified helmets were huge and ugly, and riders hated them. Now they’re sleek, lightweight and comfortable. I’m sure the body-protector standard will evolve as well. When that’s done, maybe they’ll look into a safety-stirrup standard.

Cynthia Foley, Editor-in-Chief