The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) provides some expert advice on the importance of a body protector.
Hands up, those who admit to wearing a body protector only when jumping or competing! We don’t want to single anyone out, but we bet a fair few of you head out on your rides and leave your body protector behind in the tack room, exposing yourself to the risk of kicks and falls.
Big and Bulky
You probably dislike the bulky way body protectors feel and look, but have you taken a look at today’s safety garments?
Forget the models of yesteryear, which you shouldn’t be wearing anyway – more on that later. Today’s body protectors are made from more advanced materials – often two layers of PVC nitrile foam – and you can even get gender-specific models.
So if you have a chest to be proud of, there are body protectors that fit your generous contours instead of flattening them.
Get a Proper Fit
Would you squeeze your large feet into your child’s small boots or slop around in your husband’s huge shoes? No. So why do some riders wear a second-hand or borrowed body protector, insisting it will “do” when it quite clearly won’t?
One of the most important points about a body protector is that it fits properly so that it can do the job it was designed to do!
Visiting a retailer with staff who have been trained to fit body protectors is the best way to make sure that you find the perfect safety garment.
The Fitting Process
Time is precious and many of us struggle to find enough of it to nip down to the tack shop. But it’s no use sending a barn buddy of a similar size to pick up a body protector on your behalf.
Every rider is a slightly different shape and size, so it’s important that everyone receive an individual fitting. It won’t take that long and an hour or two out of your day is really a small price to pay for something that could help save something so precious – you! When you go to buy a body protector, wear light clothing rather than thick outer garments. It will feel stiff and a bit odd at first, but as it heats up with your body temperature, it will become more malleable.
Body protectors should feature the BETA 2009 or 2000 Level 3 standard, because these provide riders with the best impact absorption and coverage, and supersede all previous BETA standards.
Although there is little difference in the safety aspects between the two – BETA 2009 is the result of a revision to the European and, therefore, BETA body protector standard – small changes have been made, such as the introduction of zip covers, a restriction on removable tailpieces and the re-positioning of shoulder fastenings.
Garments meeting 2000 are not about to become obsolete but will be phased out over time as older body protectors are replaced with the 2009 version. If you are unsure how old your garment is, check the label inside – rather than the BETA label – which should state the date of manufacture.
Time to Change
Body protectors should be replaced at least every three to five years because absorption properties will start to decline after this period. This is really important, because although a body protector can appear in good working order, it might have become brittle with age.
Always check your garment for dents immediately after a fall or kick. The foam should expand back into shape after 30 minutes. If this doesn’t happen, it is likely the garment has incurred damage and subsequently lost its absorption properties. It is important in this instance that the body protector be replaced. Hidden damage to a garment is a very good reason for avoiding secondhand purchases, no matter how tempting they might be.
Garments with an old BETA red Level 5 and blue Level 7, along with green Class 1, orange Class 2 or purple Class 3 labels, should be replaced.
Air vests are not body protectors and should not be regarded as such. They do not meet any level of the BETA body protector standard. A key difference between the two is the type of protection provided. A body protector offers permanent, static protection, both on and off a horse. An air vest, meanwhile, provides only temporary, dynamic protection once the garment is inflated. Research has shown that air vests are most suited to flat falls on wider load-bearing surfaces, but they offer little protection from sharp or smaller blunt objects such as hooves, poles and edges.
Air jackets used in equestrian sport originally came from the motorcycle industry. Although they might appear an ideal alternative to body protectors, they have been designed for a completely different sport. It should be noted that some brands of air vest carry a CE mark, but this is neither a safety standard nor quality mark. It’s simply a mandatory declaration required under European legislation to show that a manufacturer has complied with all relevant EU directives.
If a rider wishes to wear an air vest, a BETA Level 3 body protector should always be worn underneath. There is, however, a new range of hybrid safety garments that combine an air vest and a BETA 2009 body protector.
It takes time, but do invest in a properly designed and fitted body protector – it’s not worth the risk to do otherwise.
BETA Fitting Tips
• The top of the safety garment must reach the top of the sternum at the front, and the prominent bone at the base of the neck at the back.
• The front of the garment should finish at least two fingers’ width lower than the ribcage. The bottom of the garment should not hit your hipbone when bending at the waist, or prevent you from doing so.
• The body protector should fit all the way round the torso.
• All Velcro markers should be covered. The markers on all BETA 2009 and some BETA 2000 body protectors act as indicators. If any colored markers are showing after the fitting, the body protector does not fit correctly and a larger size should be tried.
• The best way to check the back length of the body protector is by sitting on a saddle. There should be at least a hand’s width between the bottom of the garment and the cantle.
The BETA website (beta-uk.org) features a full list of retailers to help you find your nearest stockist. We advise riders to buy their protectors from a retailer trained by BETA because they provide advice and information on safety garments completely free of charge and as part of a first-class fitting service.