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