Together with British Riding Clubs we look at the main reasons why wearing a body protector is a good idea, when it might be time to replace yours, how to look after it and the importance of a well-fitting one.
Body protectors are designed to offer maximum protection to the rider’s trunk from injury, yet many riders do not wear them as standard, unlike helmets, which are widely worn at all times when mounted. Champion says: “Not as many people wear body protectors as helmets – we’re not quite sure why they haven’t been taken on-board as readily – but if you look at the stats and research, body protection is just as important as head protection.” A recent study that found the location of the largest percentage of injuries in riders was the chest region (54%), while head injuries were next at 48% and injuries to the abdomen were third most common at 22%. Another incredible fact states that if you break a rib, you’re 80% less likely to puncture a lung if you are wearing a body protector whilst one in three accidents happen whilst the rider is dismounted. The use of body protectors in competition is increasing, with the British Show Pony Society recently making them mandatory for all working hunter classes held under its rules, but should we be wearing them much more regularly, regardless of whether we are competing? “We believe body protectors should be the norm, not just in competition. They should be worn when handling horses on the ground, especially tricky youngsters, and just become commonplace, a bit like you find on racing yards,” say Champion. “We can’t pinpoint any other piece of rider safety equipment that you would just put on for a competition day. You should be training in it at home, so it doesn’t feel new or different when you’re competing. Even out hacking – we all know the dangers we face out riding on the road – it’s just as important, perhaps even more so, to ensure you are as protected as you can possibly be.”
WHEN TO REPLACE YOUR BODY PROTECTOR
Body Protectors should be replaced every three to five years, as the impact absorption properties of the foam may deteriorate over time. If you have a heavy fall from your horse, check your protector for dents – the foam should expand back to its original shape following an impact. If a dent is still showing, then it is likely that the foam has been compromised and the absorption capability will be less than it should be. In this case it is best not to take any chances and to replace it with a new one. As foam ages, it can become hard and rigid. This is another sign that it is time to replace your body protector as, not only will it be uncomfortable to wear, but such rigidity is also another indication that the foam is compromised and will not absorb impact as it is designed to do. Remember that good storage at room temperature will help to prolong the life of the foam and therefore of your body protector itself.
DON’T SHARE OR ‘HAND-DOWN’ SAFETY EQUIPMENT
Riding can be an expensive sport, but also a dangerous one, and you can’t put a price on your safety. Second hand equipment compromises safety and should be avoided. It’s best to ensure you have the correct, well-fitted equipment with peace of mind that it hasn’t been damaged in the past. Just like helmets, body protectors mould to your shape and your shape is unique, something that fits you won’t necessarily fit someone else.
GET FITTED BY A PROFESSIONAL
We recommend going to an expert retailer to be professionally fitted when buying a body protector, rather than simply ordering online. This gives you the chance to check if the item is comfortable to wear in the saddle and to have an expert adjust the fitting to suit your body shape. When you are going to make an outlay on a safety item, take the time to make sure it’s right in the beginning by trying it on,” says Champion.