Equestrian Air Vest | Complete Guide!

Posted by Peyton Roeder on

Helmets are easily recognizable as a quintessential piece of safety equipment for equestrians. But what about the rest of the body? Many parts of the torso are just as important to protect as the brain. Air vests provide protection to multiple internal organs, as well as the head, neck, and spinal cord. These vests function as an air bag that rapidly inflates in the event of a fall, providing a cushion and spinal stabilization.

person falling off horse into water with air vest on

How do air vests work?

Air vests include a lanyard that attaches to the saddle. The length of the lanyard should be adjusted so the rider can post and two-point without triggering inflation of the vest. Be mindful of the amount of slack in the lanyard, as too much slack could prevent the air vest from inflating at the optimal time, should you be ejected.. In the event of a fall, the lanyard pulls free from the vest, triggering it to inflate via its single-use carbon dioxide cartridge within milliseconds. This results in the protection of varying parts of the torso, based on the shape of the air vest, and stiffening of the trunk which helps protect the spine and internal organs. Air vests with a greater protection volume absorb more impact in the event of a fall. The vest will maintain optimal inflation for a short period of time and will completely deflate within several minutes. Deflation can be accelerated by unscrewing the air cartridge once you are in a safe location.


After a fall, the carbon dioxide cartridge must be replaced. The vest should be inspected for tears and, if any are found, it should be replaced or sent to the manufacturer for servicing. Additionally, it is a good idea to have the vest serviced by the manufacturer once yearly or every six inflations and after any major fall. Proper maintenance of your air vest should be cleaning the components of the activation system with a cloth periodically while checking for abnormal deterioration and rust. The outer portions of the air vest can be cleaned with a soapy, damp cloth – do not immerse the vest in water or put it in the washing machine.


Some air vests can be combined with an outer layer for style and prevention of damage to the air vest during a fall. This can only be done with a manufacturer-specified compatible outer layer. As an example, you cannot use a Horse Pilot “compatible” jacket with a Helite air vest.  If an air vest is worn under a non compatible outer layer, it will not be positioned properly and it will not inflate optimally.


Air vests must be stored and hung in a dry, temperature-controlled environment.


Are Equestrian Air Vests Effective?

Many riders will tell you that the use of air vests has improved their safety. Additionally, a limited 2015 study showed that air vests reduce the compressive forces of a horse landing on a rider. Unfortunately, there is not much data outside of this study on the efficacy of air vests. However, there is a large body of data showing they are effective in reducing injuries from motorcycle accidents.


What is the best equestrian air vest?

helite air vest on model next to horse

Helite Equestrian Air Vest!

Helite was the first brand to make equestrian air vests. The expansive coverage area protects the spinal column, thorax, kidneys, and hips. Additionally, the trunk stiffening protects internal organs such as the lungs, pancreas, abdomen, stomach, and liver in addition to providing stabilization to the head, the neck, and the spine all the way from the seventh cervical vertebra (the most prominent vertebra of the neck) to the tailbone.


Helite makes many styles of air vests. The AirJacket is intended for cross-country and eventing and can be worn over a body protector. This vest features three adjustable straps across the front. It comes in multiple colors and is available in both unisex adult and child sizes. The Zip’In 2 Airbag is intended for other disciplines. It zips in the front and is able to be combined with compatible outer layers, including a vest, jacket, and show coat, via side zippers. This air vest comes in black and is also available in both unisex adult and child sizes. The two styles of vests offer the same high-level protection.


What is the difference between an air vest and a body protector?

Both air vests and body protectors are vests that provide protection to the torso. However, body protectors do not inflate. Instead, the lightweight foam helps dissipate the impact of a fall. Research has shown that they reduce the risk of rib fractures, especially in cross-country. They are also able to protect the rider from penetrating injuries. Additionally, contrary to air vests, they do not need to be triggered, meaning that there is no risk of mechanical failure and they can still protect the rider in the event that the horse falls with them and there is no separation from the saddle. However, they do not stiffen the trunk the way air vests do, meaning they do not directly protect the spine or provide protection from crushing. Body protectors are required in the cross-country phase of eventing, even if the rider chooses to also wear an air vest. Some air vests and body protectors can be worn together to maximize the safety benefits they provide.


Should you get an equestrian air vest?

Air vests can be beneficial to the safety of all riders, especially when worn together with a body protector. They protect many internal organs as well as the spine, which can prevent a variety of serious injuries. Additionally, the reusability makes them an even better investment. Finally, the option to wear outer layers over some vests makes it so they will not compromise your style, whether you are using them at home or in the show arena.


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