Take a look around at any horse trial and the vest you see the most in the US, by far, is the Tipperary Eventer. Sadly this is also no where near one of the safest vests on the market. Even the newer ones only meet ASTM and SEI requirements, not BETA, and the old ones only met BETA 7 standards – which hasn’t been relevant since the 90’s. They’re pretty lightweight and comfortable, but basically any vest with gaps between the foam or on the sides is not going to be very highly rated for safety, especially for cross country. There’s just not enough coverage and padding.
I wear a Tipperary and mine is pretty old… I’ve been seriously considering an upgrade lately and think it’s definitely well past time. As I’ve researched more and paid more attention to safety ratings, I’ve really come to like BETA’s system. BETA’s safety standards have three levels – 1 through 3.
- Level 1 (black label) provides the lowest level of protection that is only considered appropriate for licensed jockeys while racing.
- Level 2 (brown label) offers a lower than normal level of protection so is considered suitable for low risk situations – not including jumping, riding on the roads, riding young or excitable horses or riding while inexperienced.
- Level 3 (purple label) is considered appropriate for general riding, competitions including eventing and working with horses. Level 3 body protectors should prevent minor bruising that would have produced stiffness and pain, reduce soft tissue injuries and prevent a limited number of rib fractures.
Most vests manufactured to BETA standards are clearly labeled with which level BETA rating they meet, which makes it very easy to shop for.
British Eventing also requires that riders wear the higher rated vests:
From 1 January 2011, British Eventing has ruled that only BETA 2000 and 2009 Level 3 body protectors can be worn by competitors.
Why the Change?
The new ruling was introduced following concerns expressed by BETA about the number of very old body protectors being worn during competition. Although these might appear perfectly serviceable to the naked eye, they afford far less protection than garments made after 2000 and will also have become brittle with age. Additionally, BETA highlighted the point that only Level 3 body protectors were designed to be worn for activities such as cross-country riding.
Their entire page on body protectors is pretty interesting, if you’re in for a bit of a read about safety. They also have a handy dandy one page guide:
Not only does British Eventing require a Level 3 vest, they also require that the Level 3 rating label be clearly visible. Their rule:
Body Protector. A British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) approved and
appropriately labelled “Level 3 body protector”, with the year 2000 or 2009
shown on the label, manufactured in the year 2000 or after, is mandatory for
Cross Country and whenever else a body protector is worn.
Competitors are strongly recommended to check their body protectors on a
regular basis and to replace them if damaged.
It is strongly advised that the body protector should impede neither flexibility
nor balance. The up to date BETA list of body protectors may be obtained from
BETA – see http://www.beta-uk.org.
Compared to our USEF rule for vests:
2. PROTECTIVE VESTS. a. A body protecting vest must be worn warming-up for and in the cross-country EV EVENTING DIVISION © USEF 2015 16 test. Stable, team or club colors are permitted. The Federation recommends that the vest should pass or surpass the current ASTM standard F1937 or be certified by the Safety Equipment Institute. Inflatable vests are permitted only when worn over a body protecting vest.
Wow is our rule ever as unspecific and lax as possible. We “recommend” that it pass some kind of standard… a standard that is much lower than the BETA standard. Kind of surprising considering how much of an issue safety in eventing has been over the past several years. Why are we so far behind? I think if you took away all of the old, non-BETA level 3 vests from Americans, almost no one would have a vest left. Including me.
So I’ve been looking around at replacements, although granted haven’t made up my mind yet. Price is definitely a factor and navy is preferred, so that narrows my field a bit.
Perhaps the Harry Hall Zeus?
Or the Champion FlexAir
Or the USG Flexi
Or the Airowear Outlyne
There are actually a lot of options if I buy from the UK. And pretty affordable options at that, much more so than if I purchased one of the few BETA level 3 vests available here.
We shall see… it’ll be another month or two before I can afford an upgrade. What kind of vest is everyone else wearing, and why?