Body protectors are almost as commonplace in the equestrian industry as riding hats as a vital piece of safety equipment. Body protectors are designed to offer protection to the rider when they are falling off and to minimise injury caused by the fall itself or by being kicked or trodden on.
Body protectors are sometimes also called back protectors but the industry markets them under the description ‘body protector’ because they are actually primarily designed to protect the internal organs from crush injuries or damage and they are not intending or designed to offer direct spinal protection.
Body protectors are made from impact-absorbing foam designed to absorb and disperse the impact of a fall protecting the chest and ribs, the abdomen and the internal organs. They also prevent soft tissue injuries including laceration, bruising, contact burns and abrasions. One of the biggest names in the equestrian industry is Airowear and the Airowear Airmesh body protector. Airowear has been at the forefront of body protector design and innovation and keeping riders safe for decades.
When do riders wear body protectors?
There are many situations or reasons when a rider will reach for their body protector including:-
- Novice riders or beginners in the riding school
- Riders who are going to show jump or go cross country
- Riding young or green horses
- Riding unpredictable or problem horses
- Hacking out
- Hacking out youngsters
- Riding on the road
- In affiliated and unaffiliated eventing for the cross country phase
- Some Health and Safety policies in the workplace may require body protectors to be worn in addition to a riding hat and gloves when handling young or difficult horses on the ground
There are many occasions when a rider can choose to wear a body protector but there are certain scenarios where they are compulsory and most of these centre around the sport of eventing.
If you attend any affiliated horse trials run by British Eventing then a correctly fitting body protector to the latest standard (as detailed in the rulebook) is obligatory. This will also apply to unaffiliated eventing who borrow the BE rulebook, Riding Club events and Pony Club competitions. If you go cross-country schooling at a venue centre or attend a training clinic, then they will probably ask you to wear a body protector as part of your hire agreement and the same will apply if you have a lesson on a cross-country course with a coach or trainer. Cross country is the time when people wear body protectors almost universally but there are plenty of other occasions to use them if you want to.
What are the different component parts of a body protector?
- Shoulder Protectors – these aim to protect the end of the collar bone and research into eventing accidents has shown that BETA Level 3 shoulder protectors can reduce the risk of breaking the collar bone by up to 80%
- Outer Material – the foam usually has a fabric outer layer in a dark colour often blue or black
- Inner Material – body protectors have two levels of PVC Nitrile foam both of which are heat sensitive and which soften and mould to the rider’s body. This foam is often perforated to reduce the weight and help increase flexibility and improve airflow
- Weight – the lighter the foam the harder it is when not in use, the heavier the foam the softer it will feel
- Fastening – body protectors have a range of fastenings – zip, sliding buckle, clip or Velcro
- Lining – this is usually a breathable mesh
Airowear has been at the forefront of innovation and design in equestrian safety wear since 1985. Using the latest technology and materials, Airowear develops products which major on rider safety, fit and comfort and style. Part of Airowear’s unique commitment to riders is to recognise the different fitting requirements for men and women and fortunately, their leading brand body protector, Airowear Airmesh, is specifically and uniquely produced for both genders.
What makes Airowear Airmesh so unique?
Airowear is constantly working with suppliers around the world to develop materials that are stiff enough to withstand and dissipate precise impacts from fence posts, rails or a hoof yet soft enough to work with the body’s own protective mechanisms allowing the rider to be able to perform. All of these materials must tick the box when it comes to elasticity, flexibility and breathability too. Years of experience within the riding safety industry have informed Airowear’s research both in terms of rider comfort and performance, design and styling, data on falls and injuries and the development of the next generation of protective materials.
Women’s Airowear Airmesh
A Level 3 body protector so offering the highest standards of protection for daily riding and compliance for the sporting disciplines, the Airowear Airmesh is a high-performance model from the Airowear stable. The Airowear Airmesh features Ultraflex technology foam that moulds closer than ever to the rider’s body promoting movement and flexibility and ultimate comfort with the reassurance of the highest safety standards. A mesh with chevron style lines allows for enhanced airflow across the rider’s torso. The women’s Airowear Airmesh is available in black or grey with options of gender-specific sizing in slim and regular which allows for the best and most comfortable fit.
Men’s Airowear Airmesh
Offering the most highly ventilated BETA 2018 Level 3 body protector with Ultraflex technology that moulds and contours to the body complemented by gender-specific styling and sizes. This includes a generous cut across the chest and a variety of back lengths to provide the ultimate in rider comfort and safety. The Men’s Airowear Airmesh features the same sporty chevron lines to promote airflow across the torso. Available in black and grey.
Shoulder protectors can be added to the Airowear Airmesh range for both genders to help prevent the risk of collarbone injuries. Made of high-performance impact-absorbing foam, these are designed to simply attach to the Airmesh body protector and sit on the ball of the shoulder and move with the body allowing the rider complete freedom of movement. They are covered in a breathable mesh and feature an integrated PVC medical cardholder for your First Aid details in the event of a fall or accident.
What are the different levels of safety and the European standard?
The British Equestrian Trade Association sets the Body Protector Standard and this is endorsed by all the leading riding organisations and the sporting disciplines.
For a long time, body protectors have been sold at three different levels, standards recognised by BETA, the British Equestrian Trade Association and these are called Levels One, Two and Three with Level Three offering the greatest degree of protection. A Level Three body protector will meet the requirements of any of the sporting disciplines.
There is also an applicable European Standard which can be recognised by the prefix, EN, in this case, EN13158. This provides the technical specification for equestrian body protectors and dictates the area of the body that must be covered, ensures closures are safe and sets the level of shock absorption for the garment.
How to ensure your body protector fits correctly
Rather like a riding hat, the correct fit of a body protector is absolutely crucial if it is to do its job in the event of a rider fall or accident. Local saddlery outlets can send their staff on a BETA approved body protector fitting training session which is similar to the training offered to those fitting riding hats. Buying at a saddlery with trained staff will help you make the right purchase and ensure that your body protector fits. There is some scope with body protectors to alter the fit which is why it is good to have experienced and trained help to guide you when you purchase. A fitter will be paying attention to the gender difference, the importance of optimum coverage, lumbar support and shoulder protection. The fitter will take different measurements including chest, waist, shoulder and the length of your back.
Airowear also offers discipline-specific body protectors with a range of sizing so it is straightforward to find a body protective for designed both for your gender and riding programme.
Caring for your Airowear Airmesh body protector
The covering on the Airowear Airmesh and also the Flexion and Outlyne body protectors cannot be removed for washing but you can gently hand wash the outer surface with warm water and a very mild detergent. To dry the body protector (and this also applies if you have been riding in wet weather), lie it down flat in a warm room, never put it on or near direct sources of heat but let it air dry naturally.
Some of the Airowear range, have removable foam panels which allow the outer cover to be taken off and machine washed. Just undo the Velcro panel at the base of the front and halfway down the inside of the back. Gently ease the layers of foam which are centrally joined out together as one unit – don’t attempt to separate them. Fasten up the Velcro straps before you wash the body protector to avoid damaging the fabric and follow the washing instructions on the label. When you are ready, replace the foam panels ensuring the labels face towards the body. You can also wipe the foam with warm water and a cloth but avoid using any chemicals as this could alter the performance of the foam in a fall by interfering or impairing with it.
Velcro fastenings and straps often accumulate dirt and detritus – horsehair, straw etc – and these can be cleaned with a stiff brush to ensure secure closure.
What is Airowear’s warranty policy?
Airowear Airmesh body protectors carry a 12-month warranty from the date of purchase if you have bought through an authorised Airowear retailer; purchases from online platforms like eBay are not recognised by the warranty scheme. The warranty does not cover damage caused by a fall or accident or by improper care or lack of care but Airowear will repair or replace any item which is found to be defective. Airowear is also happy to repair older body protectors but do recommend as standard practice that the body protector is replaced every five years due to natural wear and tear and advancing safety standards which may mean that materials and testing have moved forward and there is the next generation of body protectors which offer better protection.
Airowear have a report facility on their website which allows you to email in details of a rider fall, incident or accident. The data is used by the British Horse Society and the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham to better inform all the stakeholders within the equestrian safety industry.
- When you are trying on body protectors, consider when you will be wearing it and what type of kit will go underneath it. Most cross country riders will wear a thin fitted polo neck top which is close fitting and snug so don’t go to a fitting with a bulky sweatshirt or rugby shirt as this could alter the fit of the body protector and is not what you will be wearing when you ride in it. If you do want to wear a bulky garment when you ride then this can fit over the top of the body protector
- Always check the body protector for dents after a fall; the foam should expand back to its original size around 30 minutes after the impact
- Store your body protector flat in a clean, dry place which is away from direct sunlight and extreme heat or cold. Don’t store things on top of your body protector as sharp or heavy objects could permanently indent the foam panels and affect the performance of the garment
- Depending on use, BETA recommends that body protectors are changed every 3-5 years as impacts will affect the absorption abilities of the foam over time and materials and safety standards may have moved forward since you made your purchase