Body protectors, also known as safety vests, play an important role in horse riding safety. If a rider falls, and even worse, is caught under the horse’s hooves, a body vest provides vital protection to the upper body, particularly the spine and vital organs. It also protects against soft tissue injuries.
The general rule for fitting a protector is that you’re looking for a snug but comfortable fit. But what does that mean in practical and safety terms?
We’re here to break it all down for you. We highlight the key measurement, fitting, and safety considerations for selecting a body protector.
More riders than ever are saddling up in this piece of super safety gear. Read on for guidance about finding that perfectly fitted body protector for yourself.
How To Measure For Your Body Protector
To find your perfectly fitted body protector you’ll need a soft measuring tape (in cm) to take a few upper body measurements.
The sizing charts for popular makes of body protectors require chest and waist measurements, as well as an indication of back length.
If possible have someone help you take your measurements for better accuracy. The first prize is to be sized professionally by an assistant in the store where you plan to buy your body protector. You can be measured and then shown the supplier’s body protector range and discuss the best option for your body type.
Wear light clothing when taking your measurements. You want to be wearing the same type of clothing you would when riding, such as your riding shirt.
Winter jackets, bulky jumpers, and other warmer wear are typically worn over the protector.
Measure around your natural waistline. This is the narrowest part of your torso, usually a little above the navel. Take the measurement while breathing normally. Make a note of your reading.
The body protector should fit securely around your waist without restricting movement or breathing.
Getting the waist measurements and size right will help ensure that the protector does not shift around on your body.
To take your chest measurement measure from the sternum in the middle of your chest. Measure the fullest part of your chest or bust, under the armpits and around to the back.
Ensure the measuring tape is level and straight all the way around your chest. Stand normally and don’t inflate your chest.
Back length measurement
Measure the length from the base of your neck (C7 vertebrae) to your lower spine. The body protector should cover your spine adequately, providing protection from the neck to the tailbone.
A tip is to take this measurement seated in a chair or, even better, on a saddle (perhaps set up on a stand).
You’re looking to protect the lower back but don’t want the protector interfering or bumping against the saddle. There should be 4 fingers or a hand between the bottom of the protector and the seat of the saddle. Measure your spinal length with this in mind.
Longer spinal protectors are often worn in eventing, cross-country, and other competitions. But even for competition protectors, there is typically a 2-inch gap between the protector and the saddle cantle.
Start measuring from your natural waist in front. Run the tape measure over your shoulder keeping it straight and close to the body. Measure down to your natural waistline at the back.
This is your waist-shoulder-waist measurement.
Find The Right Size And Body Fit
With your measurements in hand, you can now refer to the manufacturer’s sizing chart to find the right vest fit for your body.
You should be prepared to try on a few different options. If your measurements overlap or fall between two sizes it’s best to try on both fits.
Keep in mind that different body protector makes and models (eg. Racesafe Pro and Airowear body protectors) might have slightly different sizing guidelines. Plus different models have different cut and adjustment options. Not every model is perfectly suited to every body type even if the size range is approximately correct.
Popular types of adjustable body protectors include the following:
- Zip-front body protectors: These body protectors have a front zipper which allows you to easily put on and take off the protector. The zip is usually covered with a protective flap to prevent it from coming undone during riding.
- Lace-up body protectors: These protectors have laces or adjustable straps on the sides to allow for a customisable fit around the torso. They are typically used together with other types of fasteners for added security.
- Velcro body protectors: These models use Velcro fastening strips to secure the protector around your body. They are easy to adjust and provide a snug fit.
- Combination fastening protectors: Many modern body protectors have a combination of fastening methods for fit and security. For instance, a body protector might have a zip-front closure along with adjustable straps or laces on the sides.
- Elastic adjustment: Some protectors feature an elastic adjustment system on each side. The stretch of the elastic is designed to provide the right fit combined with ease of movement. It also lets you adjust the fastening based on what you are wearing.
How To Fit Your Body Protector Correctly
When trying on a body protector, make sure to wear the bottom layer of clothing (i.e. light clothing) you would usually ride in.
First, undo all zippers and other fasteners like velcro strips and lace straps. Once you’ve slipped on the protector, you can lever your thumbs into the armholes to bring the two panels together to zip in the front.
Adjust any straps or closures like side panels to achieve a fit that feels comfy. If the protector has lace closures on the side, the best practice is to tighten the laces starting at the top and working down.
Fitting Check List
The body protector should feel snug and comfortable when worn over your light top. You should be comfortable lifting your arms and bending your body in the normal way you would while riding.
You should be able to breathe naturally and normally.
Let’s walk through the checklist that tells you your body protector fits correctly:
- Waist: The vest must feel comfortably snug on the waist and shouldn’t move around easily from side to side. Check that you can take a deep breath without feeling constrained when fitting the waist straps. Adjust the waist straps if necessary to tighten the vest without causing restriction.
- Chest: It must not be too restrictive across the chest. If it’s hugging the chest tightly it may be too small. You can usually go up a chest measurement while keeping the other measurements unchanged.
- Front: The ribs are a vital area to cover. Your bottom rib must be covered by the foam panel at the bottom of the body protector. Feel for your lowest rib and feel secure that it is covered.The front should not be so low that it interferes with your movement and is uncomfortable when leaning forward. Check that you can bend forward naturally without the protector digging into your stomach awkwardly.The top of the protector in front shouldn’t be higher than the upper sternum/ breast bone. Check that the neckline lies flat.
- Back length: A properly fitted body protector will fit snugly into your spine. The protector should come up to the base of your neck.Ideally, you want to check the bottom length in a saddle. Move about as you would normally while riding and check that the spinal protector doesn’t knock into the saddle. When sitting upright look for a 4-finger to a hand width between the protector and the saddle seat.Competition riders are more likely to want this gap closer to 2 inches.
- Overall coverage: Check that the body protector adequately covers your rib cage, collarbones, and shoulder blades.Your shoulder straps should sit comfortably between your shoulder’s edge and the base of the neck.Velcro closings should fasten securely. If you have to tug and pull the straps to secure hook-and-loop fasteners they are liable to burst open under pressure.
Tips For Caring For Your Body Protector
- Store your body protector carefully in a space that doesn’t suffer from extreme temperature swings. A temperature range between 5 and 25°C is a happy ideal. Don’t leave your vest lying in your car.
- If you fall, be sure to check your body protector for damage.
- As part of good maintenance, you should clean your body protector periodically. A basic clean may simply involve brushing off dirt and debris and wiping it down with a damp cloth using some water and light shampoo. For a more thorough clean it’s always advisable to follow the washing instructions on the label.
- Regularly check your protector for signs of deterioration including tears, broken fasteners, collapsed padding, and other distressed conditions.
- It’s recommended that you replace your protector every four or five years even if it hasn’t suffered many tumbles. Ageing, wear and tear, and a deterioration in the cushioning properties of the foam parts make it sensible to consider an update every few years.
- Safety gear like body and back protectors and riding helmets help keep the rider safe but they aren’t substitutes for a sensible approach to riding such as adequate training and knowledge, understanding the risks, and knowing the horses you’re likely to ride.
What safety standards do body protectors need to meet?
Most body protectors from reputable manufacturers are designed to comply with EN13158 (European Test Standard) and a recognised BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) level standard.
Should a body protector be tight?
A body protector should be tight enough so that it doesn’t shift around on the upper body. However, it shouldn’t hug the torso so closely that it restricts natural movement and normal breathing. The rider should be able to move comfortably and unrestricted through their normal range of riding movements.
What is the right size body protector for a child?
It is always advisable to consult the manufacturer’s size chart to find the right size horse riding body protector for a child. It is important that the body protector fits correctly to ensure proper safety. A body protector that is too big for a child may not provide adequate protection in the event of a fall and can also potentially get caught in the saddle at the back.
What is an airbag body protector vest?
Horse riding air vests or airbagsare a kind of protective vest that offers an added layer of protection. If the rider falls, the airbag should inflate before they hit the ground. An air vest is not the same as a body protector.