Air Vest vs. Body Protector - Which Is Safer?
Let's talk about body protectors. There are lots of things body protectors can do that air vests can't, and vice versa.
A body protector is designed to protect many of your vital organs, part of your skeleton and the soft tissue around your torso. The high density foam is designed for energy absorption.
Unlike air vests, body protectors are not mechanical, and are therefore failsafe. For example, an air vest has a mechanical component in the form of a trigger and piston that pierces an air canister to deploy the vest. You are attached to your saddle and in order for the vest to function, you must separate from your horse. In some scenarios, the vest will deploy when you're not truly separating (getting jumped REALLY loose or getting left WAY behind). It's important to ensure that the lanyard length is set correctly to minimize the possibility of unintentional deployment. In addition, there are some types of falls in which you don't separate from your horse, especially when the horse is falling with you. An air vest would not provide protection in such a situation.
With a body protector, there is no mechanical component. It needs to be sized correctly, but once sizing is confirmed, you put it on and nothing further is required for functionality. Body protectors are more effective than air vests in the case of a horse kicking you or stepping on you, if you fall on a fence, or if you fall on a rock, for example. The foam in the body protector will dissipate the shock from those types of impacts.
What a body protector lacks is neck protection, and this is what drives many riders to consider an air vest instead. A body protector also does not cushion a fall like an air vest does. The safest thing: wear both.
With each client, we spend time talking about safety priorities to determine if a body protector or air vest would best suit their needs. The key is providing education so that clients can make the most informed decision. Unfortunately, we participate in a dangerous sport, and nothing will provide 100% guaranteed protection. But the best thing we can do is protect ourselves with comprehensive and factual information.