Holy Exploding Vests! Air Vests for All Riding Sports.

What do motorcycles, airplanes, and horses have in common?  Vests that inflate when you pull the string!  Last week we addressed protective vests (read about it here).  When doing any cross country activity, you must wear a protective vest, but what about an air vest?  They are completely optional.  They may be a good option if you are not a cross country rider but want more protection, the vests are less bulky so they are easier to use in an every day situation.

So a little history on these vests, they were originally invented for motorcycle racing.  As you can imagine, at those speeds, a fall will hurt, bad.  Add some concrete and you just earned a very expensive trip in an ambulance.  If well fitted and well adjusted, they will inflate before you hit the ground, similar to an airbag in your car.  “So basically an airbag for motorcycles.”  Yep.  If you are nearby when one goes off, at least the first time, it will scare the shit out of you.

“How does it work?”  Well there is an air canister inside the vest, similar to a self inflating life jacket, think airplanes.  “Your exits are here, 2 over the wings, and at the back of the plane.”  For those who have never been in a plane crash with water exits, this small air canister is shoved in part of the vest and looks a lot like a mini scuba tank.  So when you pull on the cord/lanyard on your vest, a trigger like a gun is pulled which shoots a “firing pin” (yep similar to a gun) that punctures a hole in the tiny scuba tank.  “Greaaat, so if I fall off, I am firing an air gun next to fluffy pony?”  Yes, and it may freak your horse out, although it’s not super loud, it is a bit exciting.

“So how does the air come out of the canister and fill the vest?  Does it just think that someone is firing a gun at it and decide it needs to leave the canister on principle.  Like the neighborhood is suddenly taken over by gang members?”  Sort of.  Much like a regular scuba tank or propane tank for your grill, the gas inside is under pressure.  “Over crowded” is a good way of thinking of it.  If you are locked in a packed room with a gazillion other people, it’s hot, there aren’t any chairs, then you hear the door unlock and someone yell, “Look a way out!” people will stampede to get out.  Same with the CO2 in the canister.  “I’m hot just thinking about that, I’m going to turn on a fan.”

As with all other safety equipment, proper fit and adjustment is key.  There is a lanyard that goes from the vest to the saddle, if the lanyard is not short enough, you will hit the ground before the vest deploys, if its too short you will lean over to adjust your boot and deploy the vest (yes I saw this happen once, yes I laughed after I knew the person was ok).  If you forget to unhook it before you get off, you deploy the vest.  It does take some force to deploy the vest, 33lbs. is the smallest load I saw, so if you aren’t too enthusiastic about getting off, you might feel it before you deploy it.

Getting down to the vests, there are 2 types of deployment internal and external.  “What the heck does that mean?”  During one of my offshore training classes, I put on a life vest and inflated it as a demonstration.  For safety reasons, there are actually 2 vests, in case the first one gets a hole or breaks, the second one is there as a back up.  I put on the vest, and fitted it snugly.  I inflated the vest, the one furthest out filled up quickly and was quite comfortable to wear around.  Then I asked the instructor what happens if you inflate the second one, he told me to inflate it and see.  When I pulled the red toggle, just like on airplanes, the lifejacket between the already filled one and my body filled with air.  Things got quite uncomfortable.  So external deployment is like inflating the first life jacket, it expands away from your body, the internal type inflates close to your body and can be a bit like getting squished.*  Neither is bad, its just a matter of preference.

On a note about the canister, once used it’s trash, there is no reusing them.  Something to keep in mind if you might be deploying your vest regularly.

For standards there isn’t much out there yet.  One standard is EN1621-4  which is the motorcycle standard for air vests, although no company touts passing that.  There also seems to be “SATRA M38” testing but I can not find information on what that entails.

A quick comparison in no particular order:

Point Two: Internal deployment – Manufactures motorcycle vests as well, has passed BETA level 3 tests and SATRA M38 tests, inflates within the vest for easy repacking, replacement canisters are $25-$30**, low end model will cost you about $675, they have a hybrid mentioned above.  They have a number of very informative videos on their website, the one below has a number of rotational falls with the horse landing on top of the rider and the rider walking away, you need a strong stomach to watch.

Hit Air: External deployment – Says it has done testing and has 20 years experience, inflates outside the vest so less of a “squished” feeling, needs to be repacked into the vest, replacement canisters are $50**, Low end model will cost you about $420.  Skip to minute 2:50 if you just want to see it inflate.

Helite: Internal deployment – has a shell type vest on the market, they mainly do motorcycle stuff but outfitted 12 nations at the London Olympics.  Not a lot of information on this company yet, the vest will run you about $700.  This is more like a fashion vest with a safety element, if you are looking for something with less bulk for more every day wear.  I haven’t seen it in the US but they sell a show jacket with an air vest built in, if you are a jumper looking for some added safety, I would look into these!  Replacement canisters are $30**.

Airowear:  External deployment – They have the AyrVest which is a combination air vest and safety vest, the safety vest passes BETA level 3 and the air vest passes SATRA M38 and will cost you about $710.  Replacement canisters are $45**.  Sorry I couldn’t find a video on this one.

As far as what the vest covers, they all are pretty much the same.  Hit Air has a large neck roll but the others do come up high around the neck to control the head during a fall.  Here is a nice video of Hit Air and Point Two, literally back to back, the coverage is very similar,skip to 4:25 to see the side to side coverage.  It is a little promotional for Point Two but the video of the 2 girls comparing back to back is an unfair comparison since you can see that the Point Two has begun to deflate.

As always, something is better than nothing, whether you are ready to make the investment for an air vest or not is a personal decision.  I am doing novice and I don’t have an air vest currently, I may reconsider if/when I move up to training.  There is no right or wrong answer, I will point out that the cheaper ones inflate a bit slower than the more expensive ones, however deployment time and inflation time are 2 different things, deployment time is how quickly it starts inflating, where inflation time is how long it takes to become fully inflated, the “slowest” rate I saw for full inflation is 0.25 seconds, a quarter of a second is still quite fast.

So what is my suggestion?  For upper level XC either the Airowear, if I want a combo vest or the Point Two for just the vest.  Simply because they have certifications.  The Hit Air may be just as good but since they don’t have a certification, its harder to guarantee, but honestly for me doing Novice and and maybe training, I am considering Hit Air because it is so much more affordable.  If you are a show jumper or dressage rider looking for low key and discreet protection, I would get the Helite.  As I stated above, any protection is better than no protection so if the Hit Air is in your price range then go for it!


*This can differ from each person.

**The canisters may be cheaper if you buy in bulk or get them on sale, this is just what was found generally on the internet.

Disclaimer:  I do not own an air vest, I do not sell them, I am merely presenting the facts and engineering behind them

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Protective Vest, Safety Vest, Cross Country Vest, Which is the Best?

We have all seen them, whether watching jockeys, bull riders, cross country or those one or two people at the Hunter Jumper shows. Funny looking foam vests, some in plain black some in colors. Which is the best, which protects the most? What about the kind that blow up like a life preserver?  I did have a lot of requests for this article when I was at an event this weekend.  The time has come my friends.

First of all, I have heard people call them flak jackets, this is similar to someone calling a bagel a donut.  “Did someone say donut?” Sorry, I have no donuts, but it is breakfast time so I wish I had a donut.  Flak jackets are made for bullets and shrapnel, they have kevlar or metal plates in them.  The light ones weigh 5lbs. some of the early ones weighed as much as 22lbs.  My tipperary weighs about 1lb.  For those wondering what kevlar is, oddly enough this has become a popular turn out blanket material.  When you see “ballistic nylon” advertised, its similar stuff.  “Sweet, so my pony is bullet proof!”  Not quite, in order to make kevlar inpenetrable to bullets, they take many layers of your horse’s blanket material and glue them together.  All of those layers slow down and stop the bullet so when you get shot,  I won’t lie to you, it will hurt, bad, but you probably won’t die.  So, just because your blanket says its “ballistic nylon” does not mean you should head out and shoot at your horse, really really really bad idea.

Ok with that out of the way, let’s talk about standards.  “Ooo jump standards, I love those!!!”  Not those standards, testing standards/certifications, you know, all of those letters and numbers that they put on helmets and vests that no one really knows what it means.  “Oh, boring standards, hooray, she said sarcastically.”

ASTM F1937-04 – Standard Specification for Body Protectors Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding

ASTM F2681-08 – Standard Specification for Body Protectors Used in Equine Racing – This is not suitable for cross country or jumping but might be ok for trail riding.

BETA 2009 – British Equestrian Trade Association, Body Protector Standard – There are 3 levels of protection:

  • Level 1 (black label) provides the lowest level of protection that is only considered appropriate for licensed jockeys while racing.
  • Level 2 (brown label) offers a lower than normal level of protection so is considered suitable for low risk situations – not including jumping, riding on the roads, riding young or excitable horses or riding while inexperienced.
  • Level 3 (purple label) is considered appropriate for general riding, competitions including eventing and working with horses. Level 3 body protectors should prevent minor bruising that would have produced stiffness and pain, reduce soft tissue injuries and prevent a limited number of rib fractures.

EN 13158:2009 – European Norms For Protective Clothing – Similar to BETA, just the European standard.

SATRA – Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association – An independent British testing company that certifies vests along with other safety equipment like steel toe boots and safety glasses.

A quick point on ASTM standards.  You can say that you have an ASTM certified vest and all that means is that you built it to their standards, you have to have ASTM/SEI (Like your helmet, click here to read more), to know that the vest has been tested.  Essentially ASTM is just a checklist that you have to follow, SEI is the company that tests it.  BETA (and EN13158) have a standard and they test the product.

Next is the differences, truthfully, there isn’t much.  Both standards require that you cover certain parts of the body, and the variances are very slight if at all.  They also require impact capabilities, ASTM standard tests are comparable to BETA Level 2, not quite as high as Level 3 but not far off.  A rough estimate of the difference between the 2 standards is that ASTM drops an 11lb weight from a height and BETA level 3 drops a 16lb weight from the same height.  “Clearly the European/British standards are far superior, I will buy a BETA level 3 vest.”  Hold your horses, BETA tests on a flat hard surface where ASTM tests on clay which can indent (like a human body) and the pass/fail requirements are the same for both, however, if the clay on the ASTM test dents more than 1″ it fails, BETA doesn’t test this.  “Well then, what do I buy?”

So similar to helmets, any vest is better than no vest, a well-fitting vest is better than an ill-fitting one, a rated vest is generally better than an unrated one, a tested vest is usually better than an untested one, and a vest that meets many standards will ensure you are covered no matter what.  “A rated vest is generally better?  A tested vest is usually better?  You mean it is better.”  Not necessarily, an unrated vest means it just hasn’t adhered to the standard, it could be designed just under the standard but still be a very safe vest.  With a tested vest, you know what you are getting but an untested one could be better, you just can’t prove it because it hasn’t been tested.  “This is all really confusing.”

Well lets talk about what is required:

USEA: A protective vest must be warn for cross country warm up and competition.  A rated vest is recommended.

Europe: BETA Level 3 for all of their cross country stuff including many Pony Clubs so if you are heading there, make sure your vest is properly certified.

Bottom Line Suggestion:  If you are doing upper level eventing (or just want to be super safe at lower levels), and you want the best protection you can get, that is proven, get one that is ASTM/SEI and BETA level 3.  So far the only one I know that might fit this bill is Airowear Outlyne, most places will advertise that it is BETA Level 3 but show nothing on ASTM, however if you visit Airowear’s site, they make mention of it also meeting ASTM standards for Sale in the US.

For BETA Level 3:  Charles Owen Kontakt 5, Airowear Flexion, Point Two ProFlex Vest, Point Two Hybrid Jacket, Racesafe Provent 3.0

For ASTM F-1937-04/SEI: Charles Owen JL9 (BETA Level 2 Rated as well), Tipperary Eventer Pro

Like helmets vests need to be replaced every 3-5 years according to the manufacturer, 5 is a good standard unless you abuse your vest.  Like a helmet, they are made of foam which degrades over time,  this is accelerated by things like heat (you know like leaving it in your car or horse trailer over the summer), sweat, and chemicals (think fly spray).  If you do get in a wreck and the foam dents and does not return to its original shape after 30 minutes, its time to replace.  Also, fit is very important, if your vest is too long it will hit on the back of the saddle and could get caught.  I am pretty short 5’3″ and in some cases a childs vest is a better fit for me.  Try some on before you buy.  Another thing to note, the higher the rating the “stiffer” they will be, most foams warm with body heat and conform nicely but do expect a stiffer product if you have been using a typical Tipperary or other light weight vest.

On another note, I have a Tipperary, it is embarrassingly old, (quite possibly 20 years old?).  I will say, I have recently (as in the last 2 or 3 years) come off my horse quite tragically and the vest did its job quite well.  I basically landed on my spine on the poles holding a bank, my trainer looked like she was going to puke.  I hopped right up and got right back on, no worse for wear.  Thus, any vest is better than no vest.  To answer the question before it gets asked, yes I am vest shopping because of this article.

Stay tuned next week, we will discuss air vests!  If you put your email address in the box on the right, I will send the article directly to your email, which means you will get it before it hits Facebook.


Space Age Stirrup For Your Safety. Is This The Future Of Stirrups, Or Another Gimmick?

I was flipping through my favorite Tack of The Day website, as those of you who use the site know, it can be hit or miss, one of the offerings today was a “Urine Detector Light” for $10.  Everyone knows that “Urine Detector Lights” are just every day black lights.  Why do I need a flashlight size one?  I probably don’t want to know what is in that hotel room when I travel anyhow.  Anyhow, back on topic, they have these crazy looking stirrups on there.  It took me a minute to figure out what I was even looking at.

It turns out, a company that I have never heard of Space Technology Safety (STS) started making racing stirrups, then decided to branch out into English stirrups and western stirrups.  I’m not going to lie, they look super weird.  They do have a lot of merits though, they have a large foot “pad” area to increase grip, the have an easy slip out opening for safety and they even have a “toe stop” bar in front to keep your foot from slipping into the stirrup.  This might be a nice cheat for those who always get yelled at for too much foot in the stirrup, although if you look at how the foot is positioned this bar does not go directly in front of the toe so it’s still possible to get too much foot in, just not as much as before.  The nice thing is, there are no pads to change and its a metal stirrup instead of plastic with lots of metal tread and the foot part is angled to help keep your heels down.  Unfortunately there is no mention of metal composition but it is definitely a “beefier” design than the FreeJump stirrups we discussed a few months back, thus I would be tempted to try these over FreeJump.  Since there are no joints, you don’t have to worry about the rubber degrading on flexible stirrups causing instability.  I seriously considered buying these from Tack of The Day but I got stuck on the $110 price plus I had to add $8 for shipping.  If someone does decide to purchase them, let me know how they go and if you like them!  I doubt they will be accepted in the hunter ring or dressage ring for a while, if ever, but they might make great stirrups for Jumpers or Cross Country.

Update:  After many comments on the safety of hooking something with these stirrups, I do not recommend the ones on TOTD however if you are looking for a safety stirrup Victory Canter sells them with the rubber arm that closes the loop.  This should aid in preventing hooking on bits, shoelaces, fences etc.  There will always be a risk of hooking something, but this risk is possible with FreeJump stirrups, Peacock stirrups or any other stirrup that is not a complete loop.  If we are being completely honest, a regular stirrup can hook things as well, I have had plain old fillis stirrups hook on fences and pull off my saddle.  This is why they tell you to ALWAYS keep your stirrup safety bar down on your saddle

Below is a 7 minute video on how the stirrups work, although I will warn you, it’s pretty dry.  Watch at your own risk.

Note:  As always, the disclaimer, I do not work for STS or Tack of the Day, I have not personally tried these stirrups but I would like to, feel free to send me a pair!

September 11th, What Does It Mean To You? What Does It Have To Do With Horses?

16 years ago a major event happened in the US.  For anyone 20 or younger, they know the day is important but they either weren’t there or don’t remember.  For the rest of us, it was a day most of us won’t ever forget.  Planes crashed into the World Trade Center Buildings known as the Twin Towers causing them to collapse as well as another World Trade Center building.  Later that day a different plane crashed into the pentagon, this part is usually forgotten.  For the record, that eagle in the picture is made of chocolate and those are red, white, and blue cakes, not sideways French flags, or upside-down Netherlands flags.

I was in college, at Baylor University, I was living at home at the time, BTW I don’t recommend this to anyone but that’s another story.  I had spent the morning sleeping in and getting a few things done before making the 30 min drive to my afternoon American Literature class, slightly ironic.  I was also taking some other Lit class but it happened on the day of American Lit.  I heard it on the radio driving in, it was like 1 in the afternoon.  I had no idea what was going on, I was so lost, then when I realized what was going on, I was even more lost.  At that point both towers had collapsed.  I have family all over New England, I was worried about them, none lived in “The City” but some regularly went for fun or work.  Classes were canceled, the University was abuzz.  TVs were tuned to the news everywhere.  The loss was painful, I cried, to say I am not a crier is an understatement.  I didn’t even lose anyone I knew, but I still felt loss.

I also felt a sense of pride, I was proud to be American, I was proud to fly the old “Red, White, and Blue”, I was proud to stand with my fellow Americans and pray for my fellow Americans.

I know some of that has been lost over the years, as is natural.  Disaster unites, as we saw locally with Hurricane Harvey, and hopefully the same will happen with Irma.

“So what does this have to do with Horses?”  Well a lot actually, allow me to elaborate.  When you are having a bad day, what do you do?  “I go see Fluffy pony.”  Right, you ride, groom, hand graze, or even just watch him play in the pasture.  It’s relaxing, it soothes you, it’s calming, it releases endorphins which make you feel good.  Exercise also releases endorphins, despite what some people might think, riding is exercise so it will also help you feel better. I don’t remember if I rode on September 11, 2001 or not, but I know I went to the barn and saw my horse.  During the hurricane, I couldn’t ride, but I could go out and feed, check on, and pet my horses, that brought me a sense of normalcy in the madness.

Since I am not a licensed therapist or really a licensed anything, I can’t write you a prescription for a healthy dose of horses or riding, I can suggest you spend some time with your pony today.    These physiologists agree.  If you have kids remember they can get stressed too, a little time grooming can go a long way toward easing their stress, science agrees!  I put Mini EE on Buddy the Donkey the other day, sadly no pictures but now she wants to ride ALL THE HORSES, including Emma who was a very good sport and allowed about a minute of “riding” aka Mini EE sitting on her back while she munched hay.

If you find yourself stressed out, even if it’s just a bad day at work/school/home with the kids, heck its Moanday, we all deserve some pony time.  Even 10 minutes with your horse can significantly calm your frazzled nerves.  The study conducted only did 90 minutes a week, that is 13 minutes a day or 45 minutes twice a week.  Don’t have a horse?  Take a lesson, just one a week will cover your 90 minutes with tacking and untacking.  Or volunteer at a rescue to groom or hand walk, then you get double points, volunteering to help the less fortunate horses alone will make you feel good.  I would like to note that this works for puppies and kitties too.  The one risk of volunteering at a rescue is that you may come home with one, two, or three, but if you have one, what is a few more right?

Stress will creep up on you like a ghost in the dark, you may not even realize how stressed you are, spend some time with your horse!

*Note: I went to Baylor for 3 years before switching to Texas Tech and graduating.  Also, I am not any kind of mental health professional, these are merely suggestions based on articles found on the internet and personal experience.

How Wet Will My Pony Get? Understanding Flood Maps, Flood Plains and Floodways.

In the wake of the Hurricane Harvey disaster I thought it would be a good time to demystify Flood Maps.  “Ugh this sounds soo boring.”  I’m not going to lie, this is pretty dry stuff, but you might be interested to know, there are lots of horse pastures in flood zones.  “Wait, are you telling me that if we have a flood, Fluffy Pony could get flooded and drown?”  Yep.

Hopefully I have your attention.  “But I don’t own the property so how can I find out anything about flood stuff?”  Great question!  Did you know that flood maps are public records?  That means anyone can look at them and find out where properties will flood.  FEMA may be a bad guy to some people but they have made things pretty easy.  A good place to start is the FEMA website.  There is a lot of helpful information on their website including definitions to the terms you see and flood maps.


So let’s go over a few terms.

Floodway – These areas are designed to flow with water, that’s right, flow with current, anytime a creek or river overflows.  Basically these get hit first, they are made to take flood waters and help move it along to try and avoid filling floodplain areas.  Most places will not allow you to build new structures in a floodway, although people have been known to build without permits and sometimes buildings that were already there before it became floodway are allowed to stay.  

100 year Floodplain (1% chance of flooding every year)- The description can be deceiving, you may think that this area will only flood once every 100 years.  Sorry my friend, what it means is that you have a 1% chance of flooding every year.  So that means if it rains 100 times a year, there is a chance you will flood once.  In places like Houston, 100 times a year is a bit of a stretch so let’s say we get 25 good rains a year (not counting those little drippy rains we get in the afternoons).  If you have 25 good rains a year then you in theory could flood once every 4 years.

500 year Floodplain (0.2% chance of flooding every year) – Similar to the 100 year flood plain but less of a chance.  This is a 0.2% chance of flooding every year.  So if we go with 25 good rains a year, then you may flood once every 20 years.

1000 year Floodplain (0.1% chance of flooding every year) – This is a new one thanks to Hurricane Harvey, it works similarly to the other Floodplains so with 25 rains a year it could flood every 40 years.

Note: These are assumptions above, this does not mean that if you move into a 100 year floodplain that you will flood every 4 years.  It depends on how many rain events you get in a year and this is all probability, much like gambling, you have a chance to win, you also have a chance to lose, it all depends on the statistics and the odds.

So to find your nearest floodplain/floodway, try the FEMA interactive map.  Type in your address, barn address, the address of your BFF, or the address of your arch nemesis, and hit search.  Click on the “View Web Map” Icon.  Or skip that and go directly to this link which will take you to the maps and then you can sign in with your Facebook account or whatever you have available.  It will take you to a map similar to google maps.  It may look really confusing at first but give it a second to load, then click on “Basemap” in the upper left of the map, that will give you options I personally like the “Imagery Hybrid” map, it’s a satellite map with flood maps overlaid on top.  You can see if your back pasture is in a floodplain or if your indoor arena is in a floodway.  Hopefully your indoor is not in a floodway, it will wash all of your nice footing out and create huge holes in the ground from running water.  If you look at the purple area below, you will see a race track, that is the farm that I was at when it flooded waist deep.  

Yep, that was almost completely in a floodway (the area with the red hatch lines), and let me tell you, it flooded in a big way.  Even the back corner of the property is in a 100 year floodplain (teal/green area), and the road itself to get to the property is in all of those including the 500 year floodplain (yellow/orange/tan area).

If you have access to google earth, or another way to find elevation:  Another trick to find out what your odds are, find the nearest flood area, find the elevation around the floodway/floodplain, then compare it to the elevation of your property.  In flat places like Houston, a foot or two can make a big difference.

So the question is, how wet will your pony get?  Well if you have 1″ of water in the 500 year flood plain, then a 100 year flood plain would have about 2-3′ of water in it, then the floodway can have 5′-7′ or more depending on the depth of the creek.  At one location near the EE farm, it is about 15′ from the deepest part of the creek to the top of the water if its a 500 year flood with only 1″ of water in the 500 year flood so Fluffy pony will be swimming!

If you are in the Houston area, this website can help you during a rain event.  It will tell you how much rain the creek near you has gotten.  Click on the “More Information” it will give you info on that particular creek.

Below I have chosen one of the creeks still flooded from Harvey.  Click on the “Stream Elevation” tab to get all the details.

As you can see this creek is out of its banks.  But at what point are you in the floodway, 100 year Floodplain, 500 year Floodplain?  Well scroll down my friends and all will be known to you.

The 10 year and 50 year flood plain are pretty much considered floodway.  Currently this creek is just above the 500 year floodplain, so in this case if your horse is in a 500 year floodplain pasture, he would have water on his hooves, if he is in a 100 year flood plain pasture he would be belly/chest deep, your pony might be swimming.  If your pasture is in the floodway, your horses would be swimming or close to it and your ponies would be swimming for sure.  If you don’t live in the Houston Area, you may have a similar site to help you, especially if you are in a flood prone, highly populated area.

Note: The above is just to provide perspective, this provides no guarantees that your property will or will not flood.  This is merely to provide education to help you prepare for future disasters.  If you are in a flood prone area, it is always better to evacuate and not need to than to be stuck, better safe than sorry.