Body protectors for the season ahead

From 1 January 2011, British Eventing has ruled that only BETA 2000 and 2009 Level 3 body protectors can be worn by competitors. Read on for more information and bring you up to speed on the appropriate standards and provides some helpful advice.

Why the Change?
The new ruling was introduced following concerns expressed by BETA about the number of very old body protectors being worn during competition. Although these might appear perfectly serviceable to the naked eye, they afford far less protection than garments made after 2000 and will also have become brittle with age. Additionally, BETA highlighted the point that only Level 3 body protectors were designed to be worn for activities such as cross-country riding.

Why BETA 2000 and 2009?
These standards provide riders with the best impact absorption and coverage available, and supersede all previous BETA standards.

Although there is little difference in the safety aspects between the two with both offering the same degree of protection from impacts – BETA 2009 is the result of a revision to the European standard and, therefore the BETA body protector standard – small changes have been made that mainly effect the testing process. These include the repositioning of shoulder fastenings, a restriction on removable pieces and the introduction of impact testing to all identified weak areas on a garment, which has resulted in most zip fronted garments now having covers over their zips.

Garments meeting 2000 are not about to become obsolete but will be phased out over time, as people replace their older body protectors with the 2009 version.

To carry the 2000 and 2009 BETA label, body protectors must meet the performance standard EN 13158 and be certified to the PPE directive shown by the CE Mark on labels. BETA acts as a quality-assurance standard, requiring all manufacturers to re-test their approved garments each year to ensure consistency in the quality of manufacture and the shock-absorbing foam.

Body protectors are designed to protect riders by absorbing high levels of energy created by falling off, being kicked or being stood on by a horse. Most are made from layers of PVC Nitrile foam, which softens and moulds to the contours of the body when exposed to body heat.

Developing standards
The body protector standard was originally developed by BETA in conjunction with riding organisations, doctors, riders, manufacturers and retailers, and it sets criteria for shock absorption, controls the area of the body that must be covered and ensures that there are minimal gaps between the protective foam panels.

Garments made in the 1990s to BETA Levels 5 and 7, and the subsequent Classes1 to 3 were usually made with thinner foams, which offered far less protection than those used today.

These types of foam have a tendency to age and become brittle over time, compromising the body protector’s ability to absorb impact. They will, of course, have suffered significant amounts of wear and tear over the years including damage caused by falls.

The introduction of PPE legislation and the development of the standard since 2000 has also served to open up a widening gap between Levels 1 and 3.

Level 1 was originally developed to meet the weight restrictions for professional jockeys while racing and was never intended for general riding. Level 2 garments are a carry-over from the pre-2000 standard and suitable only in low-risk situations. Level 3 provides protection appropriate for normal horse riding, competitions and those working with horses.

Air vests
Air vests are not body protectors and should never be regarded as such. They do not meet any level of the BETA Body Protector Standard and British Eventing stipulates that competitors who choose to wear one should only do so in addition to a BETA Level 3 body protector.

A key difference between the two is the type of protection provided. A body protector offers permanent, static protection both on an off a horse. An air vest, meanwhile, provides only temporary, dynamic protection once the garment is inflated. Research has shown that air vests are most suited to flat falls on wider, load-bearing surfaces but offer little protection on impact from sharp or blunt smaller objects such as hooves, poles and edges.

It should be noted that some brands of air vest carry a CE mark, but this is neither a safety standard nor quality mark – it is simply a mandatory declaration required under European legislation to show that a manufacturer has complied with all relevant EU directives. Others carry prEN1621/4 which is the draft safety standard for motor cycle garments and these are tested specifically for that use.

BETA is currently leading a committee to develop an add on to the BETA Body Protector standard that will certify air vests to a set of criteria set down by the committee. The airvest will only be valid to the standard if worn with a current body protector.

Getting the most out of your body protector
BETA recommends that body protectors are replaced at least every three to five years. Always check your garment for dents immediately after a fall or kick, because the foam will expand back into shape after 30 minutes.

Ensure that the fabric cover is also in good condition as damage to the cover could be detrimental to the performance of the garment in a fall.

Once a dent has been suffered, that part of the garment will probably have lost some of its absorption properties and should be replaced. Some manufacturers will be able to replace an individual panel rather than the entire body protector. Hidden damage to the garment is also a very good reason for avoiding secondhand purchases, no matter how tempting they might be.

Old garments such as those with an old red Level 5 and blue Level 7, along with green Class 1, orange Class 2 or purple Class 3, should all be replaced as they will no longer be permitted for British Eventing competitions.

When not in use, body protectors should be hung on a clothes hanger, with zips done up to help keep their shape. Velcro fastenings should also be closed to prevent their becoming clogged with horse hair and hay particles.

A proper fit

Many BETA retailers have been trained to carry out a body protector fitting service and will be able to offer you guidance and advice. Just look out for a BETA certificate displayed in-store and ask for the member of staff named on it. They will be only too pleased to help and not charge you a penny more than the price of the garment for this service.
With the wide variety of styles and shapes available there is no longer a reason for anyone to have to purchase an ill fitting garment. There are gender specific garments as well as differing lengths and widths available in a choice of styles.

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