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Why NOT To Put A Small Child In An Air Vest

Child's Equestrian Air Vest from Ride EquiSafe

More and more people are taking advantage of the new offerings for equestrian safety, which is a fantastic thing. This includes parents looking to purchase safety equipment for their kids, and a very common question we get is, "What's the best option for a small child?"

As the interest in safety has increased, we've seen a lot of new entrants to the market, specifically in air vests. All air vests have a minimum weight requirement that's required to be able to exert the force necessary on the trigger mechanism to deploy the vest. In most cases it's 70-77 lbs. There are a few vests on the market specifically designed for kids that have a 50 lb weight minimum.

But as the quest continues to gain more market share and get more people into vests, we are seeing two things:

  1. Smaller air vests
  2. Lighter trigger weights

Smaller air vests have pros and cons. The pros are that we definitely see very petite clients where the current offerings aren't available in a size appropriate for the client, thus introducing a safety risk rather than alleviating it. However, at a certain point, if vests keep getting smaller, then it also means that the trigger weight needs to be lighter, and this leads us into some areas where I believe we are venturing down the wrong road.

Trigger weights are designed to ensure that a rider can make a mistake in the saddle and not have the vest deploy, but when abrupt pressure is exerted on the lanyard (i.e. bodyweight in the event of a fall), that the vest will deploy. If the minimum force is not applied, the vest doesn't deploy. We frequently have parents of small children say that the child's weight is close enough. Close enough isn't good enough and in fact creates a very real danger: that the child will fall and remain connected to their saddle, resulting in them being drug.

There are now new vests available being marketed towards the parents of very small children - even 5 and 6 year olds. There are a myriad of reasons why we discourage small children of this age to be put into an air vest. As a general rule of thumb, air vests for children this young are a BAD IDEA.

  1. The trigger weight will be so low that it could deploy when not intended.
  2. If the trigger weight isn't exactly calibrated, the child stays connected and gets drug.
  3. Small children are usually riding ponies and the smaller the pony, the less time it takes the child to reach the ground and therefore, the less time the vest has to trigger and fully inflate.
  4. The maturity of the child in question should be a consideration. Most young children won't always remember to unclip their vest before dismounting and unless a parent, trainer, or other person reminds the child to unclip, there will be a significant investment in replacement canisters.

The reality is that because children are usually falling a shorter distance and they are also much more resilient when it comes to injury, we typically recommend that small children use foam-based body protectors rather than an air vest. Body protectors don't require a trigger and don't have weight minimums. Provided that they're fitted properly, they will do the job they were designed to do.

The decision about which type of equipment to put a child into should be based on a thorough understanding of the capabilities and limitations, as well as risks, of each type of safety product. Ride EquiSafe is here to guide you through that process to make the most informed decision for your child.

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