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We Are Flying Solo

March 12, 2011

This Is How We Roll: Safety Vests

This week has been spent rebuilding Solo's muscle and fitness.  Which means transitions, lateral work, hill work, and longeing.  Which means he is b.o.r.e.d.  As he comes out of the barn, he says "Please god, don't take me to the sandbox again.  PLEASE GOD!"  Today, a long wander through the woods on a warm sunny day is in order!

We are back to the vet next Thursday to check blood levels, etc and hopefully progress will continue.

This morning though, I wanted to talk about safety vests. A must-have item for any aspiring eventer and generally falling into the "big ticket item" category at prices from $100 to $500. Fortunately, unlike helmets, you can fall on them repeatedly without having to replace. Whew.

But the air vests are $800, you insist. Yes, yes they are. And they also require a conventional vest underneath. And they also have failed to provide me with sufficient data that they are anything more than yet another product riding on a tide of very successful marketing. I know there are people out there who claim, "It saved me!" but I claim, no, your conventional vest underneath and your helmet saved you. It's simple physics: an air vest CANNOT PROTECT YOU FROM A 1200 POUND HORSE CRUSHING YOU. Not going to happen; for that you need a rigid structure, like the Woof Exo's magnesium cage, which I have recently heard will soon no longer be available? An airbag will also not protect your neck from any of the torsional injuries which are usually associated with a fall from a horse; once again, you would need a rigid, fixed structure for that. In fact, it will not doing anything more than offer a bit of cushion from bumps and blows. Which is exactly what the conventional vest you are already wearing does. So, to this particular scientist, I cry redundancy.  However, if data (anecdotes do not equal data) does become available, I am open to hearing about it!

That said, if folks have the money and simply want to wear it (or you are a BNR and you get a free one, but then I doubt you are reading this smurf blog, ROFL!), knock yourself out. I do believe that it does offer an extra layer of bump protection, but that is not something I personally have that much money to throw at. But please don't make any wild and crazy claims unless you have good data to back it up.

Ok, moving on....

My criteria for my own vest: BETA 3 approved -- yes, I know this is not required. However, it tells me that some level of testing has been done on the product I am trusting my internal organs to! And it may be required in the future, at which point I do not want to have to re-shop. The vest must also be comfortable, not restrict range of motion, and be easy to put on/take off.

The first vest I owned was a secondhand eBay find.  It was comfortable and did the job for schooling, but I needed a little better fit as we moved on to competition.  Mum once again generously stepped up and offered to donate one for my birthday (parents like safe kids, LOL!).  So I ended up contacting the good folks at VTO saddlery and submitting a set of measurements for a Rodney Powell Elite vest.

I LOVE THIS VEST. And I have, uh, "field-tested" this vest. In all ways. Yeah, even that way. Hey, no, not that way! Get your mind out of the gutter!  You can laugh at my stupid picture face instead.

It fits like a glove. When you put it on, within two minutes, the foam conforms to your body and you no longer even notice you are wearing bloody body armour. My range of motion is completely unimpaired. After two Carolina summers, I can tell you it is no hotter than any other vests I have tried on, which is pretty impressive considering this is heavy-duty armour!  I also did get the shoulder pads -- I'm not sure I buy their claim that it will prevent collar bone breakage, but they certainly will absorb some impact to the shoulder in a fall on an otherwise unprotected area.  I can't say I wear them every time, but for big courses, I strap them on!

I highly, highly recommend this vest and the VTO folks to anyone in the market. Each vest is custom built to fit you based on a series of measurements you send in. They also have a model specifically designed for those of you with large female metronomes in the chest region. ;-) Can't tell you much more about that, sorry, I am happily not a member of that group! But Rodney Powell has made a great, great product that will serve you well in your eventing adventures, so I would encourage checking it out post haste!


  1. I ADORE my custom-fit Tipperary vest, and I won't even mention how old it it. I wear it out on every hack when I'm alone - it's not going to do me any good sitting in the tackroom if I come off, after all.

    And um, can I please borrow your equitation? And maybe your horse too? Y'all look AWESOME!

  2. I have the Tipperary Eventer and like it for comfort. I also like the Rodney Powell vest but for the speed bumps I am planning for Nina this year I will stick with what I have.
    I am also not impressed with the air vests - I guess time will tell. For myself, I have a feeling that sooner or later I would forget to unhook it as I dismounted and get dumped hard by a departing spooked horse.
    A friend of mine uses that rigid frame vest, the Exo whatever, but he had to modify it in order to be able to ride in it so that one has a lot of work to be done on it.

  3. Barbara, you are right about the Exo. It is also very heavy.

    jenj, thanks for your kind words! The beauty of one's own blog is the power to only post the pics that look good, ROFL!

  4. ROFL, that is the best funny-face-jumping-pic yet! Especially if you click on it and embiggen it. I think you should win an award.

    As for vests, I've been searching around myself and the Rodney Powell cerainly looks like one of the better choices. And when I do buy a vest, it will most likely be from VTO because they have a large selection and their customer service is truly amazing.

  5. I am not a fan of the air vests either. I have heard they can do more harm then good, especially if they deploy AFTER you hit the ground and then end up smooshing your already banged up but hopefully not too broken body. Yay for safety!

  6. I am glad someone else agrees with me that the air vest is malarky. Everyone went all "oooooo new shit" and ran out and bought it.
    I feel air will do nothing for you...
    anyways moving on..
    I love my tipperary, its cool, c omfy and fits like a glove.
    You guys look awesome in that picture!

  7. Another... "not a fan of the Air Vest". I own the Charles Owen vest and it does the same as the one you describe... I love the feel of it when I ride.

  8. So glad to hear folks have so many vests that make them happy! It's always worthwhile to get something comfy that you will wear because it certainly does no good sitting in the tack room!

  9. OK fine. I'll jump in just cause someone has to throw the "pro-airvest" comment in the ring. :)

    So, courtesy of the extra wall throws that P has offered me, in order to keep my father from stealing her in the night and setting her free in some national park somewhere to run wild... he bought, (and I must wear) an airvest for EVERY ride. (turns out parents are still protective regardless of age..)
    If Pia's spunky, I throw on my regular vest underneath like I'm supposed to. if she's not, I wear the airvest alone (I know, i KNOW, blasphemy).
    I've had one inflated on me before, and while I fully acknowledge that it won't protect me from Pia rolling over me, I do feel fairly strongly that the inflated collar could go a long way toward helping prevent a sharp neck snap. Additionally, given the rib bruising from my last unplanned dismount, I'm pretty sure the vest can't hurt in that category either.
    Having also just had my cars airbags smack me in the face, I feel like I was appreciative of their moderate protection and softening effects, even though it was the car's steel cage that ultimately prevented me from being totally squished.

    Granted, I'm struggling with basics in the sandbox, and not looking for increased protection in rotational falls at this point so I'm in a different category than most people in terms of what's on my shopping list.

    Also, what I do like is that they don't restrict my movement or seat AT ALL (which my old xc vests certainly did granted we're talking a totally different generation of vests here). Since the airvest doesn't bother me at all, I figure it doesn't hurt to snap on when I mount up.

    So, I guess I do like it, and I certainly feel safer having it on, but I also recognize that I probably would have never purchased one on my own, and I still think the hype is not totally aligned with whatever increased protection they offer.

  10. wow. I didn't realize how long that comment was.. sorry for the ramble!!