We Didn?t Need Air Vests When Our Happy Mouth Bits Failed

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In the May issue of the Horse Journal, I reviewed air vests, and in the August issue of the Horse Journal, we have a short article on the recall of eight types of Happy Mouth bits sold by English Riding Supply.? Since last week I had a fall that caused me to ponder air vests again, and We've had two of those bits disintegrate, they're this week?s topic.

This spring, I wore a Hit-Air SV-2 air vest in two horse trials and on about a dozen other training days, and I wrote in the May issue and in my May 8 blog that I wouldn?t be continuing to wear either that vest or a Point Two vest. My experience was that, while air vests could become useful safety devices, they have too many functional problems to make them worth $800. they're not fail-safe?there are too many ways a user can accidentally render them useless.

I also think they're functionally impractical. And my experience last week gave me more evidence of that.

We took five horses to do a cross-country school at the Horse Park at Woodside, about 100 miles from our farm. I rode two of the horses, both for students of ours, and the first one sent me sailing over her head (in a perfect somersault) when she slammed on the brakes on the final stride before a ditch. (I'll admit to being a bit overconfident approaching the ditch, since the mare had already hopped without concern over another ditch.)

Had I been wearing the Hit-Air vest, correctly attached, it should have inflated and cushioned my landing in the ditch. Fine. But then, as the horse's trainer, I would have been faced with a training dilemma. The horse has been disobedient and needed immediate correction and reassurance, but I'd be standing there like the Michelin man. Should I now just shred this piece of apparel and remount to quickly solve the problem, or should I spend 10 to 20 minutes to hike back to the truck, deflate the vest, change the cylinder and then remount to try again'

As a trainer, I know that I want to get back on the horse and solve the problem right away. I don't want to horse to sit there and stew. You have to solve problems like this right away. So, had I been wearing a Hit-Air or Point Two, my answer would have been to shed the vest, remount, and solve the problem.

I want to emphasize here too the fail-safe performance of the Woofwear Ergo crash vest I was wearing (one of the body protectors I tested in 2009) and of my Charles Owen helmet.

I landed in the ditch, slamming my mid-back against the front riveting and banging my head into the ground as I fell back. I was, as they say in the NFL, ?shaken up on the play.? As I took a moment to get back in the game (and to control my annoyance at myself), I thought I'd end up with a lovely bruise and soreness on my back. But I didn't end up with any bruising or soreness at all. Within an hour I could barely remember that I'd bashed my back. Clearly the Woof vest had done its job and dissipated the impact, as had the Charles Owen jockey?s helmet.

Both of these safety devices had performed in the fail-safe way they were designed?all I'd had to do was put them on and fasten the straps. And as soon as I stood up, they were ready to do their jobs again.

Fortunately, neither my wife, Heather, nor one of our students, needed a crash vest of any kind when the two Happy Mouth bits fell apart. Heather was actually about halfway around a cross-country course in competition when the joint broke. She was wondering why Myster suddenly became rather hard to steer, wondering if some kind of weird injury had befallen him. Then she saw half the bit hanging out of Myster?s mouth, but, since He's short-necked and she has long arms, she could reach down and grab hold of both sides of the noseband to pull him up.

The second malfunction happened while Heather was giving a lesson to a student on our schoolmaster Sam. Suddenly the student couldn?t turn Sam. She easily did a walk transition (Sam responds perfectly to the half-halt with your seat), and Sam walked over to Heather and spat the round roller out into her hand. It was as if this wise old horse was saying, ?Houston, we have a problem.? Quite amusing.

it's a shame these bits have this manufacturing flaw, because we (and our horses) really liked them. I guess we're atypical consumers in that we didn't complain?partly because we couldn?t remember where we'd bought them. Since we got the recall notice a few weeks ago from English Riding Supply, clearly we bought at least one of them there. But we have no receipt to prove it, so we can't get a refund.