Equestrian Medical Safety Association

Equipment & Structures

Horse Competition Equipment, Transportation and Boarding



Body Protectors (Vest)

Can Body Protectors keep me from having a back injury? Internal injuries? Shoulder/collarbone injuries? Rib fractures?
Short answer: a body protector is mainly useful to prevent minor penetrating injuries, bruises, abrasions, possibly some rib fractures, and probably some shoulder injuries.

Body ProtectorWhen a rider falls there are different forces at work. Falling backward and hitting a jump rail, falling forward and hitting on the shoulder or an outstretched hand/arm, falling with the horse and being rolled upon, landing flat or landing with a twisted body; all of these can result in injuries.

Different models of body protectors cover different parts of the body, and some have laced fitting sections which have little to no energy absorbing material. Separate shoulder/collarbone protection exists from some manufacturers.

Manufacturer labeling can give a rider an idea as to the protective qualities claimed, and no manufacturer claims that a body protector can protect against all injury. Certainly an area not covered by the garment (such as the lower abdomen in most cases) will not be protected. Nor can injuries to the back which involve torque be avoided.

A few studies done in the United Kingdom indicated that body protectors made to modern standards may help protect against some rib fractures. However, when a horse rolls over a rider, rib injury may be inevitable.

Shoulder protection devices appear to give some protection of both the collarbone and the shoulder. Past thinking was that the outstretched arm/hand impacting the ground was responsible for collarbone fractures, but now it is felt that more of those fractures are caused by a direct blow to the shoulder.

The original body protectors were developed for steeplechasing, with its special hazards inherent in a group of horses moving at speed over large fences. Since chase jockeys may be run over by following horses when they fall, the appeal of padding which might prevent caulks or studs on shoes from contacting the rider’s body is obvious. Over the years British vests have been made to three different levels of protection, the smallest and lightest of these geared toward flat racing, the second level toward recreational riders in activities deemed of average risk, and the third toward steeplechasing and eventing.

In the U.S. the American Society for Testing and Materials developed F1937 which is considered to be somewhere between the British levels 2 and 3. In 2008 a separate ASTM standard F2681 was developed for the use of racing jockeys who have sizing issues with the normal range of F1937 body protectors. The difference in protective level between the two is minimal.

To read more, go to the EMSA past newsletters and look in the index for the issues with body protector articles. The Fall 2014 Newsletter there is a Practical Horseman article that has good information about air vests and regular body protector vests.

How effective are Body Protectors compared to Air Vests?

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Is there any evidence or test results which suggest that the highest price ASTM/SEI helmets are more protective than those which are less expensive?
Equestrian Jumping CompetitionThere is no evidence that higher priced helmets or those which use exotic materials test better than the other certified models. We don’t do comparison testing in the U.S. because one model will absorb more impact better than another on one impact site and then it may absorb less at another site. Without knowing where an individual head is going to be impacted, there is no fair way to say that any one model is superior. The Safety Equipment Institute and the manufacturer receive test result numbers, and unless the manufacturer releases them to someone, they are considered to be proprietary information.

Over the years some manufacturers have shared their information and from that limited data it appears that the least expensive sports helmets test the best; but all of the helmets on the certified product list exceed the minimum standards. The ultra-light helmets with soft shells on the outside must add extra liner material in order to pass the equestrian hazard anvil test. This test approximates the edge of a horseshoe or the sharp edge of a jump standard. A larger liner means a larger helmet, which not only absorbs energy but which also works to deflect blows toward the face, an uncovered area which is a frequent recipient of an impact.

In general, for the small percentage of riders who have a difficulty getting a good fit in a less expensive helmet which is made made in the range of XS-S-M-L-XL; the more expensive helmets which come in the old style size increments of 1/8 inch may be a more comfortable alternative. There are safety implications in a helmet which really doesn’t fit well. The various available fitting systems (dial-a-fit, extra sizer pads, etc.) have all made it easier to get a better fit in a less expensive model.

Do any companies test beyond the ASTM standard and make those results available to the public?
Most if not all companies test beyond the minimum standard, and most of them test other companies’ products for comparison, but this information is not shared with the public.

However, the very respected Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund in the U.K. has funded comparison testing by the Transportation Research Laboratory which has chosen its own series of tests (loosely based on the strictest UK standard, PAS015 and ASTM F1163 ) and gives star ratings, much like what the Consumers’ Union does here in the US. There is a difference in what can be called “style” in how these two standards evolved. The PAS was the work of a small number of interested parties in the UK; ASTM F1163 took four years to write and had input from a huge range of volunteer specialists, with hundreds of people finally arriving at consensus as to its provisions. TRL chose what it preferred from each standard ( again, the opinion of some highly trained engineers). To see their conclusions, have a look at www.mdirf.co.uk and select ENHAP TESTING RESULTS. Unfortunately only one US manufacturer’s products were tested, but some of the products with high star ratings are dual certified in both countries and were ranked near the top of their style divisions.

Several years ago the Canadian Equestrian Federation funded a comparison study carried out by Biokinetics Inc. The result was that the two standards used by TRL were felt to be the best available.

Is there any guidance on the types of impact that damage helmets? For example, a helmet falling off a tack trunk and hitting the floor, a minor impact to the head, a horse banging his head on top of the helmet? Would all of these helmets need to be replaced?
Counter to conventional wisdom, the forward speed of the fall is less important than the height from which we fall; gravity is consistent and it doesn’t matter in which sport or non-sport we fall and hit our heads, the damage from the same height will be the same for a particular individual. New research in other sports shows that there are major differences in vulnerability between different people, probably based on genetics, age, and previous impacts suffered.

The helmet, with no head inside, that falls off the tack trunk, or out of the back seat of the car is unlikely to show any liner crush, and the liner is the most important part of the helmet as far as absorbing energy is concerned. The horse who whacks you with his big bony head enough for you to feel pain is another story, and there are plenty of concussions which happen that way. Those helmets should be replaced, unless the blow was to your face and didn’t impact the helmet. We have also seen reports of riders who fell on their buttocks with no impact to the head on any surface and have suffered concussion; that helmet would also be unlikely to suffer damage. Since liner crush is most frequent between the helmet shell where it touches the liner, it is invisible unless the helmet is taken apart. A test lab or manufacturer can do this, but it is destructive to the helmet. In the test lab we have taken impacted helmets and sawed them in half to see how much crush has occurred and where. Unfortunately X-rays are not definitive; an MRI might be, but obviously the expense is hugely greater than replacing the impacted helmet, and considering how busy imaging facilities are these days getting approval for such a test would be quite a feat!

Do you have a listing of companies that either replace or provide discounts for damaged helmets? What are their requirements? I think this is useful information when purchasing a new helmet.
If you go to www.seinet.org and select Certified Products, Equestrian Helmets, you will see that there are many companies listed. Some of these have no US sales at this time, and the list is constantly being updated. To find out about a particular model’s replacement policy, if any, read the fitting instructions/owners manual which comes with most helmets. In general, there may be a time limit for replacement, a requirement that a copy of the original sales slip be produced, or you may have been required to register your helmet with the manufacturer within a short period after purchase. In some cases you must work through a distributor, not a manufacturer or retailer to find out if they will replace the helmet. The wise purchaser will ALWAYS read the manual, because a discount on replacement of a higher priced model is a good investment.

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Helmet Fit

EMSA recommends the use of a properly fitted ASTM/SEI helmet with harness during all horse activities. Here are some reasons why.

The Fall 2014 Newsletter there is a Practical Horseman article that has good information about helmets and their fit.

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There are several excellent resources fir fitting helmets. This poster is  available through UVThelmetpostersmall-190x300

Helmet manufacturers Chas Owen, and Troxrel (in this site’s video library) as well as  Dover Saddlery, Horse Chanel and Riders4helmets have have videos information and measurement information.

The U Guelph has a fitting sheet and counters to common excuses riders give for not wanting to wear helmets .

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Horse Equipment

What resources are available for horse and rider equipment?
Horse EquipmentA lot of the available online information concerning this topic is advertisement. Dress preferences vary across disciplines and geography. Universal to all riders and competitors it the importance of wearing an approved safety helmet secured with a harness. Hard soled shoes or boots that will not slip through the stirrup or catch in such a way as to impede the foot coming out of the stirrup easily.

For any type of trail riding or riding along road a reflective clothing or tape on the horse’s boots are the cheapest and most effective first step for being seen by the driver.

The www.onlinehorsecollege.com has an excellent checklist for equipment which is directed at instructors but useful for anyone.

Our website has a lot of information on the current status of helmets and their care. It is little known but important to keep helmet liners away from insect repellant and sunscreen.

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Horses were never designed to be transported down the road at highway speeds. Information concerning how to think about and safely transport your horse to be displayed here.

Trailers and Equipment

There are several checklists and planning tools to help get acquainted with the process for hauling horses. There are articles to help you drive safely carrying live weight. And we will have tips to help your horse travel safely. Tufts University Veterinary School and Kentucky Equine Research have good information. Trailer safety inspection and travel checklists for youth come from USPC.

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Driving a trailer forward is quite a bit like driving a car. Backing a trailer is another exercise entirely. Here’s a helpful and practical video on the topic.

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Here is some basic information concerning horse barn structures. Consult our Resource section should you need barn information.

Barn safety which involves some generalities and fire-specific recommendations. Checklists are available on:

Other viable information sources include the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, the ThinkFirst Foundation, the United States Pony Clubs, the University of Kentucky Saddle Up Safely Program. As mentioned above, ongoing research concerns those issues related mainly to the rider. Other topics are of interest, but not necessarily of ongoing research.

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Information concerning structure containments to be displayed here. Be sure to follow all safety guidelines for equine safety and consult our Resource section should you need containment information.

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Paddock Fencing

Good information can be obtained on a number of websites including:

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Paddock Gates

Good information is contained in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Publications website as above. Other good reference guides are:

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Leading Horses

There are safety tips which should be adhered to while leading a horse. These are summarized at the University of Kentucky Department of Animal & Food Sciences website.


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