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2015-12-15: Hi! You're probably here because you did a Google search for 'plus sized horseback riders' or you saw my content quoted elsewhere. There are a couple of things I'd like you to know.

I am still here! But I am living away from my horses and not riding often. I could tell you a lie and say that I am, but I have always endeavored to give you the truth here. As a result, I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write blog posts and I feel out of touch with the community.

I'd love for you to stay a while and look back through the archives. Visit the links listed below. We still have an active forum community and I post on the Facebook page from time to time.

I have tentative plans to try to get more involved in the horse world in 2016, and I will absolutely share whatever that adventure becomes with you, so keep checking back!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Guest Blog: Safety Vests For The Plus Sized Rider

Writer, Vickie Tatum, is one of our "family" at the AFG&AFH forum and when she shared her experience on the forum, we knew she had to write us a blog. Enjoy her articulate, thorough approach to her experience with riding vests!

Last year, I fell off a horse and broke 4 ribs. I’ve always heard that broken ribs are painful, but until I actually experienced it, I had no idea what that meant. I don’t ever want to go through that again, so I spent some of my recovery time shopping for protective vests.

Once I decided to purchase a protective vest, the first thing to decide was whether I wanted a traditional vest or one of the new air vests. When I watched the Olympic equestrian events on TV last summer, I saw one of the air vests deploy in a fall on the cross country course. It looked pretty cool, but they are also quite expensive and somewhat controversial, with some experts suggesting that, in some circumstances, they could actually be harmful. Plus, they seem like more than I need as a recreational rider, so I crossed air vests off my list.

The next thing to decide was whether I wanted an approved vest. There are three different certification systems for protective vests. These systems set standards that must be met for things like impact and puncture resistance. In the US the certification system is ASTM, in Europe it’s EN, and in the UK it’s BETA. In addition, within each certification system, there are different levels or standards for different types of equestrian activity. The approved vs. non-approved decision is one everyone has to make for themselves.

In the end, I decided an approved vest would be nice, but if the vest that best met my needs was not approved, I wouldn’t pass on it only for that reason. I don’t ride at high speeds or jump large fences or ride lots of green horses, so, recent fall aside, I’m not really a high risk rider. Plus, the Tipperary Eventer vest, which has long been popular among eventers, isn’t certified and plenty of people will testify as to its protectiveness during a fall.

Once those decisions are made, I was still faced with what turned out to be the biggest obstacle in purchasing a protective vest: my size. When you are plus sized, some vests simply don’t come in your size. And, even when they do, your local retailer or the familiar big catalog/online retailers like SmartPak and Dover, may not carry the larger sizes. But, with the help of the internet and my mad googling skills, I was able to find several vests that are available in my size. Tipperary, Charles Owen, Rodney Powell, and Airowear all make vests in larger sizes.

When I went to the web site of the manufacturer of Tipperary vests, I found that some of their vests are available in chest sizes up to 52 inches (132 cm). I also found that the size charts on the web site show sizes much larger than those available for order. I contacted the manufacturer and was told that I could special order those larger sizes. The Competitor model can be ordered in chest sizes up to 56 inches (142 cm) and the Racer style in chest sizes up to 60 inches (152 cm).

The Charles Owen Kontact5 is available up to size XL, which fits chest sizes 38-46 inches (96-117 cm). I also found the Charles Owen jL9 in size XL at a couple of online tack shops, although most stopped at size L. However, I noticed that the size charts seemed to vary between retailers. For example, one online retailer’s size chart for the jL9 showed size L fitting up to a chest measurement of 40 inches (101 cm) while another retailer’s size chart showed it fitting up to a chest measurement of 43 inches (109 cm). So, Charles Owen vests may be something better purchased through a local tack shop where they can measure you and provide size advice.

Rodney Powell vests come in a staggering array of sizes, custom made to fit your measurements. The most common sizes are available ready made from a variety of online retailers, but if you want larger sizes you need to order a custom fit vest, which can be done through any tack shop that carries the vests or through a number of online retailers. The manufacturer’s web site provides detailed instructions on how to measure and also has some nifty features like an “interactive designer” and a size calculator.

The Airowear Women’s Outlyne vest is available off the shelf in sizes to fit chest measurements up to 49 inches (124 cm).

I now own two different protective vests. The first vest I purchased was the Airowear Outlyne. It is certified to the highest BETA level, which is Beta 3. I chose this vest because it was recommended by one of the A Fat Girl and a Fat Horse Forum members and because it is advertised as being “specifically designed to fit the female body shape.” I ordered it from an online retailer in the UK, Amira Equi. Even with the shipping, the price was competitive with US sources (cheaper than most) and it arrived amazingly quickly. I got my Mom to help me measure myself according to the instructions on the web site, ordered the size indicated, and it fit perfectly.

I love this vest. It’s soft and flexible and after you’ve had it on for a while, it molds to your body shape. I swear it fits me better every time I wear it. Once I’ve had it on for a few minutes, I forget about it. It does not interfere with my riding on the flat or over fences in an English all purpose or jumping saddle. I feel much more confident wearing it.

However, nothing is ever perfect, and that is true of my Outlyne vest, as well. While it is great for riding in my English saddle, it’s not so great when I want to go western. When I ride in my western saddle, the back of the vest often bumps against the cantle and when I lean forward or lean down, like to open a gate, I tend to bump the front of the vest against the saddle horn. Also, I live in Florida and now that the temperature is starting to rise, wearing the vest is hot. It’s not so noticeable when I’m just trail riding or riding for fun, but in a riding lesson, where I’m steadily working without much of a break, I really get hot.

My second protective vest purchase was an impulse buy right after I had one of those hot riding lessons. I spotted a Tipperary Ride-Lite vest in my size and on sale. The Ride-Lite is from the opposite end of the spectrum of protective vests. It is not certified, is much lighter weight than the Outlyne, and is marketed to the beginner or recreational rider. It’s shorter so it doesn’t offer as much tailbone protection as the Outlyne, but it doesn’t bump against the cantle of my western saddle nearly as much, either. It also seems, if not a lot cooler, at least somewhat less hot than the Outlyne vest, although the final verdict won’t be in until we hit mid-July or August.

How do I feel about the Ride-Lite? Well, to borrow an already overused phrase, it is what it is. On the one hand, it doesn’t mold to my shape like the Outlyne does, but on the other hand, it’s so much lighter that its overall stiffness isn’t really an issue with respect to fit and comfort. Indeed, it fits me well and is comfortable to wear. If I hadn’t already been wearing the Outlyne, I would probably feel better about the level of protectiveness offered by the Ride-Lite. I feel confident that the Ride-Lite is likely to provide some degree of increased protection in a fall, but it certainly doesn’t inspire the level of confidence I feel when wearing my Outlyne. I can’t criticize the Ride-Lite on that account, though, since it wasn’t designed to provide the same level of protectiveness.

Overall, I’m sold on the idea of wearing a protective vest for riding. I joke that I wish I had an exciting story to tell about how I broke my ribs. You know, one that starts with something like, “My horse and I were galloping toward a 6 foot wall…” But, the truth is, I wasn’t doing anything but trotting along in a familiar field on a well-broke horse that I’ve ridden dozens of times. I came off over her shoulder in a spook-and-spin, in the same kind of fall I’ve had many times over the course of my riding life. So, I’ve put my vest in the same category as my helmet: wear it every time. I figure that if I got used to wearing a helmet, I can get used to wearing a protective vest, too.

Vicki wearing her Airowear Outlyne vest


UPDATE: Several weeks after I finished writing this blog post, I had another fall. I was wearing my Outlyne vest and I am happy to report that it performed perfectly. On the part of my body covered by my vest I had no broken bones, no bruises, not even a sore spot. Now, if someone would just start making some protective pants…

10 comments:

  1. You can break bones quite easily in a shamefully minor accident. A couple of years ago I decided to go western ( my old pony had to too ). I can't dismount by swinging over & placing my foot on the floor as am too short & too stiff so was told to lie across the saddle & kick my foot free. I got as far as swinging my leg across & my foot slipped out of the stirrup propelling me forwards onto the horn & I broke two ribs .

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  2. Good for you!!! Glad to hear of another rider who's actually taking steps to protect themselves. I'm a plus rider (must check out the forum sometime) and ride in an outlyne. I'm in the UK so no problem with the western saddle here (I do have one I just don't ride in it much) just a happy hacker but I like to do fast rides sometimes and I also exercise a 17hh+ spooky mare as well as my warmblood gelding, I've had several funny looks for being plus sized AND in a body protector, and the vast majority of younger riders I know consider them 'just for cross country and stuff' sheesh. Anyway, great blog entry thank you.

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  3. I ride in a Casel-Equi vest myself that I bought at the Maryland Horse Expo last year. I didn't start regularly riding in it until earlier this year though when I basically promised my mother I would ride in it regularly. I am already (and was) in the habit of wearing a helmet, but I was having some medical issues at the time and my mother was convinced I was going to fall off my horse and seriously maim myself or something. I told her point blank that I'm not going to stop riding but I'd start wearing a protective vest every time I rode, too.

    So you know, in the ring, out in the open, whatever. I've gotten used to wearing it now and don't notice being too significantly hotter in it even in the Georgia afternoons than I would be otherwise. Also I've noticed it seems to encourage me to not hunch as much as I'd been doing before, so there's that too. :)

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    1. Do you know the contact information for Casel-equi or who carries them... bought one from someone but it was the wrong size... Looking for a size small in Black... any ideas/??

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  4. That's great to know that it work perfectly what it was expected. I hope you have now fully recovered from your broken bones, Amanda. It is really very important that we observe proper precaution and measures before riding a horse as this can cause you fractures if you fall. Thank you for sharing your experiences. This can be a good lesson or guidelines to those who are into this sport. -www.tridentsupplyllc.com

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  5. My balance is my fear in riding a horse. Accident can happen all the time. By wearing Horse Riding Gear can save you from any possible injuries. Your knowledge and experience can give you a smooth ride. Nothing to be wrong if you always listen to your trainer during your lessons and protecting your self from injuries.

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  7. Sadly, the first vest I wore habitually was not comfortable and inhibited my movement. Not only that, but the fall I took wearing it was the first time in my life I've broken bones - three ribs (and a concussion in spite of a good helmet). I had an almost identical fall last week, and got up and got back on no problem (no vest). I'd snatch up an Airowear based on this and some other reading, but it doesn't come *quite* big enough. So it's knock-off Tipp for me. Better to have something I will wear than nothing or a bulky one that sits in the tack room. If anyone knows of anything else that will go to a 52" chest, please holler... Thanks!

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    1. Hello may I ask what brand /style you were wearing when you were injured? I'm very sorry you broke bones, very painful! 😟

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  8. Late to the party, I follow the blog but found this entry via googling for plus size safety vests. Thanks for the Aerowear recommendation and the Amira Equi site suggestion! I've just purchased a safety vest. Now I don't have to delay Xcountry schooling until I fit into a vest!

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