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From: Kathy

Hi - I have really enjoyed your horse-sense newsgroup and appreciate the time you take to help all of us out.

My daughter is just starting Pony Club. We are very concerned about safety. She is 13 years old and is really serious about her riding. We have always insisted that she wear an approved helmet, learn an emergency dismount, etc. even before Pony Club. As she becomes more active with Pony Club she will start to do more riding. The club she is in is real active in combined training and eventing. I would like your safety recommendations. We are seriously considering the purchase of a safety vest for her as she begins to do some serious riding here. There is a vest for sale in our area that fits her for $50.00. It is made by Horsefeathers and is brand new. The child whom it was bought for never used it. However it has no shoulder or arm pads. I have seen the pads available seperately in other catalogs.

I did a search on the web and through back issues of magazines and couldn't come up with any sense of a set of standards, etc. which I could follow. I did find a Tipperary safety vest and a Harry Hall Body Protector by Harry Hall in the Dover Saddlery catalog, a Caldene vest in the State Line catalog. I have not seen the Horsefeathers advertised in any of the catalogs. The horsefeathers vest has no arm protection. Do you know if the Harry Hall shoulder pads would fit the vest?

I would appreciate it very much if you could give me a recommendation on a vest as I feel that I am just winging it now.I noticed that there is also a pony club mom that makes custom vests on the WWW but I didn't see anything about conforming to standards.Thanks so much for your time. Take care! - Kathy

Hi Kathy -- you are right to be concerned about a protective vest meeting standards. Yes, there are standards -- and if anyone is making vests that DON'T meet them, I would consider those vests to be "items of apparel only," as they say in the catalogues about the old shellac hunt-caps! You want your protective vest to meet BETA standards, just as you want your helmet to meet ASTM/SEI standards.

You'll find more detailed information about body protectors below, and I've sent a similar note to Kris Carroll for the Junior Riders, and to Equine-L.

Most brands have their own shoulder pads, and the vests are designed to accomodate those particular pads. I'm not sure that you could get Harry Hall shoulder pads to fit a Tipperary vest, or vice versa, but why would you want to? If you trust the company to make the vest, trust them for the shoulder pads as well!

Be sure that your daughter tries on several types of vest, and that she sits in riding position while wearing them. Some are more comfortable than others, and some are more secure than others (Harry Halls and Tipperarys are both available with crotch straps). If your daughter has not finished growing, you'll want to think about that when you buy her a safety vest! Many models will see a child through SOME growth in width (adjustable lace-up or hook-and-loop fasteners on the sides); some also will adjust as the child adds height (the latest vests from Tipperary have hook-and-loop adjustments at the shoulders too).

Her vest needs to be comfortable so that she can wear it without being distracted. If you plan to have her wear it for showjumping as well, you must plan to buy her a huntcoat that is a size LARGER than usual, to accomodate the vest. Even the low-profile vests (details later) require a larger-than-usual jacket.

Body protectors have been required on cross-country in England for a long, long time -- and at racetracks. Jump jockeys have had to wear them since 1988; flat jockeys since 1991. Body protectors are mandatory for jockeys at Canadian racetracks, and all riders at recognized tracks in the US must wear them. Many trainers are also buying vests for their exercise riders!

There are MANY different designs and styles -- some are tiny and look like little vests, others are larger and cover the pelvis; many offer add-on items such as shoulder/upper arm protection.

There is, however, only ONE standard, and that is set by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA). It's like the ASTM/SEI standard for helmets in the USA; in fact, the tests themselves are similar, in that vests are tested by dropping weights onto them and measuring the amount of energy absorbed.

BETA is in the process of developing new standards for body protectors*; the current standards offer two rankings: 5 and 7. Any vest that doesn't have at least a '5' rating is more decorative than protective! Some vests, although ranked 5 or 7, offer additional protection in the form of a higher- rated section in the spine area (a '9', say). THEY WILL BE LABELED.

Remember that NO VEST can protect against spinal injuries, becuase these are rarely caused by a "direct hit" -- they are caused by sudden and/or severe rotation and bending. Any vest that immobilized the body enough to prevent such injuries would make it impossible for the wearer to ride a horse -- riders must be able to rotate and bend their spines normally as they ride!

One of the most popular brands in the US is the Tipperary. Tipperary makes a wide variety of vest types and models. There are sport-specific vests designed for jockeys, rodeo riders, eventers, polo players, etc. Tipperary also customizes vests (cover materials, colours, designs, trim, piping) and offers shoulder sleeves and shoulder caps to match each vest. Riders with a passion for colour-coordination may also purchase matching saddle pads and helmet covers. Harry Hall vests are larger and thicker, and not quite so popular in the US, where riders seem to prefer the lower- profile options such as those made by Tipperary and Caldene.

There are other brands -- Ransome is popular with the racing crowd -- and in the UK, where body protectors are much more common, there are MANY brands, and most of the prices are significantly less than prices in the US.

*According to the BHS, three new classes of body protectors have been released, and BETA classes 2 and 3 are already available from retailers in the UK. Each class is represented by a colour: BETA Class 1 (green) is equivalent to the old level 7, and is suggested for low-risk riding. BETA Class 2 (orange) is suitable for normal risk; BETA class 3 (purple) is suggested for high-risk riding and for older riders.

- Jessica

P.S. I hope this helps -- and thank you for the kind words about horse- sense!

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