The first thing to realize about body-protectors vests is that no vest can protect against spinal injuries, because these are caused by severe rotation, not by a direct hit. Any vest that keeps your body still enough to prevent such rotation injuries would make it impossible to ride properly. A protective vest is meant to protect against blunt trauma, such as might happen if you were trampled or thrown against a jump.
Your safety vest must fit comfortably, because that means you will be more likely to wear it (see sidebar on page 8), and it should be designed for your particular sport and needs. An event rider might opt for a vest that includes shoulder pads, while a foxhunter might want a body protector that can fit under his or her hunt coat. Most sport-horse disciplines aren’t going to want lightweight racing vests, which may not offer riders the same level of body protection.
Be sure to check with your discipline’s association when choosing a vest. For instance, the U.S. Eventing Association recommends wearing a vest that meets either BETA or ASTM safety standards. USA Equestrian rules for eventing simply require that all riders wear a protective vest of some kind. Pony Club doesn’t require vests, but they recommend it. Dressage and hunter/jumper competition rules don’t have any safety-vest requirements.
With the variety of off-the-rack body-protector vests on the market, you should be able to find one to suit your sport and build. You can even have one custom-built that will fulfill USAE and USEA requirements. However, that doesn’t guarantee the vest will actually perform as you may hope.
Pretty much everyone knows the label “ASTM-SEI” differentiates between a riding helmet that is mere apparel and one that is actually a protective helmet. Now body protectors can receive that same certification, if they choose.
The American Society for Testing and Standards (ASTM) sets safety standards for body-protector vests, just as it does for riding helmets. Its ASTM F 1937-98 vest standard sets requirements for dimensions, sizing and body coverage. The standard also specifies the requirements for testing, such as the shock attenuation test, penetration and deformation test and a padding separation test. However, the ASTM does no testing or certifying itself.
With helmets, the ASTM standard requires manufacturers to submit their products to the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) for certification. Once it certifies a product, the SEI also continues to monitor the company to ensure it continues to produce certified helmets.
But with vests, everything’s left up to the safety-vest manufacturers. No one enforces anything — the manufacturers just get a copy of the ASTM standards and build a vest they believe meets those standards. We find this a bit unsettling, but Ray Schute, the ASTM consultant for body-protector standards, explained the rationale is that body protectors aren’t the lifesavers helmets are. True enough.
Head protection is obviously vital, while body protectors are only designed to protect against things like bruises, abrasions, blunt-trauma injuries and punctures, such as if a horse wearing caulks steps on you.
A body-protector vest won’t save you from life-threatening internal injuries, spinal injuries or fractures. Still, if you’re going to fork out over $100 for a safety product, you’d probably like some type of reassurance that it’s going to actually supply you with some protection.
Only one body protector, the Flex Rider by Intec, currently bears an ASTM-SEI label, signifying the SEI certifies this vest meets the ASTM safety standards.
This doesn’t necessarily mean other vests are inferior. Any manufacturer can build a vest to meet the ASTM standards, and the SEI isn’t the only independent group that does testing. It just means Intec followed the same protocol as currently required for helmets.
Phoenix Performance’s Tipperary body-protector vests are certified to meet the ASTM standard by SATRA, a third-party company in England. Phoenix Performance President David Anderson explained the choice was made because it’s more sensible for them to use one centralized testing agency since they market their products in different countries. The Intec Flex Rider vests are also SATRA-certified.
Casel Equi told us labs in Massachusetts ensure their vests meet ASTM standards. Troxel said their vests meet the ASTM standards, but aren’t certified by SEI. They also meet the requirements of European standard EN 13158, level 2.
ASTM is not the only safety standard for body-protector vests, nor is it the original. BETA, or the British Equestrian Trade Association, has set standards for vest protection and safety for many years and is widely respected. And, unlike the ASTM, BETA enforces their standards.
Garments can only claim conformity to the BETA standard and bear the tags if they are licensed to the scheme and ensure that their garments undergo testing on an annual basis. The BETA ratings are from 1 (a lightweight body protector, typically worn by race jockeys) to 3 for a heavier-duty eventer’s vest, and their current standards are listed as BETA 2000. The BETA 3 is believed to be closest to the new ASTM standard.
We prefer the ASTM standard with SEI certification. We have faith in the ASTM, which has developed safety standards for a number of sports, and the SEI has proven they have the ability to weed out substandard helmets and helmet companies. Given that Intec’s Flex Rider, the only vest currently ASTM-SEI, is also one of the least expensive on the market, we feel it’s the clear choice. It’s a bonus that it’s also BETA 3 and SATRA certified.
Since SATRA also fulfills the qualifications of an outside third-party certifier for an ASTM vest, Phoenix Performance’s Tipperary line is also a wise choice. And, we believe you can also feel confident if the vest you choose is BETA 3-certified. However, we would be wary of other vests that claim to meet ASTM standards but don’t have outside third-party certification.
For more information and up-to-date lists of approved body protectors, look at the following websites: ASTM: www.astm.org, SEI: www.seinet.org, SATRA: www.satra.co.uk, and BETA: www.beta-uk.org. See also our December 1999 and May 1996 back issues for history in the development of body-protector vests.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Intec 888/468-3250; Phoenix Performance 888/313-8842; Casel Equi 888/320-5239; Troxel 800/288-4280.