May 14, 2013

It's All About Energy

One of my favourite things about working events has to be the people I meet.  Owners, trainers, product reps, sponsors, photographers, artists, vets...just about every category you can think of and a few you probably can't.

Wendy shows off her display space in the indoor arena.
At Southern Eighths, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Wendy McCaughan, a designer from Ireland who decided to take equestrian safety into her own hands by creating KanTeq and manufacturing custom fit body protectors.  The business model is very similar to that of my beloved Rodney Powell, but I learned, and Wendy confirmed, that he has gone out of business, gasp, sadness!  I have a body that is all kinds of odd shapes, so a made-to-form vest which has been certified is something I cling to with desperate hands.  All foams have a lifespan though (and it's not 20 years, sorry, my friends), as I have learned from several materials and textiles engineers, so what to do when I must replace my sturdy RP? 

Wendy had come to the US in late April to display her product at Rolex and we were lucky enough to have her stay over to the next weekend to visit South Carolina and provide some demos and information on falls and energy and how to think about protecting yourself as you inevitably hurl yourself from your steed.  As we do.

I've talked about my vest before and my basic thoughts on the types of protection available to us at this time.  Too bad we don't have knee protectors.

I apparently lack Irish style genes, but it doesn't stop me!
Wendy was kind enough to share with me, though, a lovely article that she had put together on energy management, with the help of the testers and engineers who examined the shock absorption properties of her vest (yes -- they tested it and she showed me the graphs of data, eeee, GEEK OUT!).  It was such a well-written and concise summary of the topic that I begged her permission to share it with you (if you haven't already seen it in BHS publications).  So without further ado and with a huge thanks to Wendy and KanTeq for not only supporting our long format event but also for just being a wonderful, kind, fun person to chat with and for letting me try on her sweet (blue!), very comfortable vest, which was both reassuringly solid and notably lighter than my RP, while at the same time giving me complete freedom to move (absolutely KEY in a fall; if you can't move, that impact energy is going to find its own way out = not good) and breathe.  That sentence is way too long...

My disclaimer:  I have received no incentives to share this product with you and have no stake other than my own safety parameters and intellectual curiosity.  I hold, as you know, quite firmly to my self-proclaimed title of Mme. Skeptic and Ms. Analyse-It-To-Death (that one's not so catchy).  But I was really impressed by the work and thought that went into this vest and with Wendy herself and her earnest desire to have an open, honest dialogue with riders and to provide them with effective protection, having evented herself on the other side of the ocean.

ENERGY MANAGEMENT – Body Protectors and Air Jackets Explained
Written by Wendy McCaughan

This article is intended to be a basic but factual and helpful piece for anyone who is confused by what is on offer in the market – there is no reference to brands including my own. My thanks to the Impact Engineer and Aeronautical Engineer who helped me get the physics right.

Body Protectors and Air Jackets perform in different ways.

The purpose of a traditional body protector is to help prevent injury to joints, bones and internal organs in the event of a riding accident when thrown from a horse or kicked. It does this by absorbing and spreading the forces involved. To a large extent body protectors are designed to emulate a ridged shell with spinal conformity and have the effect of wrapping around the ribcage. They should be impervious and ideally largely unbending around the circumference of the upper body, backed up by an impact absorbing and dispersing layer to cushion the blow. Too much flexion in the shell would allow blunt point impact to bend and possibly break a bone.

I finally got to do a Google Image search for physics!!!!!

An air jacket is designed to help provide protection by decelerating or slowing down the moment of impact.  However, to spread impact loads on the rider’s body, a body protector must also be worn because the inflated bladder of an air jacket will not dissipate sufficient energy – instead this energy is transferred from outside to inside, which is why there is a “bounce,” and must then be absorbed on the inside. BETA, the FEI, USEF, and BE insist that if you are wearing an air jacket it must be worn with a body protector to give sufficient impact absorption. 

Physics of Impact

When falling from something there is the energy from gravity accelerating the person’s weight (mass) plus the energy given by the thing they fell off (bike, horse etc). Most riders are sitting at over 1.4 metres (4’8”) above the ground and may be traveling anywhere from 15-25 mph.  That is a long way to fall, even when the horse is stationary. Once on the ground there is the added danger of being kicked or trampled - an average horse weighs 1200-1500 lbs, (544 – 680 kg), so the risk to the rider is significant.

Newton’s third law of motion states: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” i.e. push a ball and it rolls away, the more energy put into the push the further the ball goes. When landing, this energy has to go somewhere and often the energy goes into the rider’s body. Therefore the choice of safety garment must be shock absorbing so that the body inside is protected.

In a horse riding environment impact types would be:

-Flat impact on ground with no hard lumps,
-Blunt but point loaded impact i.e. a rock, tree root, fence post or rail,
-Sharp penetrative impact.

I would say that the first two and a combination of both are most likely. If when falling from a horse we hit, for example, a tree root or fence, the energy is transferred into a small area causing greater damage than if we fall onto flat ground. Therefore it is vital that the rider chooses the best shock absorbing and energy dispersing materials as their primary layer of protection (it is all about lessening the transfer of energy to the body). Body protector foams for use in the equestrian sector are designed to pass stringent impact tests.

Do not want.
Safety Standards

All body protectors carrying the EN: 13158 or BETA marked labels have been tested to one of 3 levels and this denotes that at each level the body protector is capable of absorbing and spreading a given amount of impact. Protectors meeting BETA Level 3 should provide a level of protection that is considered appropriate for normal horse riding, competitions and for working with horses. These certified body protectors also have specific dimensional and space requirements so that sufficient torso areas are protected.

Air jackets are not body protectors. Whatever the benefits of wearing these items, currently none of them meet the relevant European CE standard for body protectors for equestrian use. To pass the standard protectors must be independently tested by a European-approved laboratory, using impact performance test methods to simulate impact due to falls and kicks from horses.

4 comments:

  1. Those vests look quite nice, but I am shocked that you're into something that is so "trendy", lol--the COTHers were all gushing about the Rolex Kan-Teq booth! I would love the blue one if it came w/o the orange.

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  2. Dammit, Frizz, I didn't know it was trendy! Now I have to un-learn that so I can still love them.

    In all serious, they were super nice. Definitely not cheap, even a bit steep compared to my dear RP, but given the level of engineering, attention to detail, and fit, worth paying for. Materials costs are going up everywhere, sigh. Definitely the most comfortable vest I have ever tried on and the shoulder pieces fit muuuuch better than mine do (which I rarely use for that reason).

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  3. For safety purposes, high visibility Safety vest and Reflective tape are going to make you far more visible.

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    Replies
    1. This post refers to body protection during falls.

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