Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Charles Owen Kontakt 5 Body Protector

I made the switch from hunters to eventing almost two years ago. I wanted to get out of the arena and had these grand visions of galloping through green grass fields, through ponds, and leaping over fallen logs. I also realized that falling hurts more now than it did years ago so I needed to do some research on protecting myself in the inevitable event that I'd experience a fall on a cross country course. What I discovered is body protectors in the US may or may not have an ASTM safety rating and popular European brands have an entire BETA ranking system. 

The first hurdle in choosing a vest was to put ASTM certification up against BETA.  There was almost no question as there's an amazing amount information provided by the British Eventing Trade Association.  They give you a list of body protectors that passed each level of testing.  I was considering a wide variety of vests and manufactures but when I found this list I decided that the Charles Owen Kontakt 5 was the safest vest in my budget that had the fit I needed.  It also didn't hurt that ordering it in green from SmartPak would be extremely easy.  There are much cheaper vest options out there but if you can prove your product to be safer than a competitor I'll make room in my budget to buy the best piece of equipment possible.  (I wish helmet companies would do this rather than give the same line about every helmet passes the same test.  I want to buy the helmet that got an A on the test, not a C. I'm not alone there either.) 

The Kontakt 5 by Charles Owen is a Beta Level 3 vest comprised of a vented gel foam padding with a coolmax fabric lining and mesh back panel.  This is a pretty substantial body protector and I absolutely hated it. When I first tried schooling in this vest it was so heavy, and bulky. I felt completely restricted in my movement over fences and was absolutely convinced that I purchased a torture device.  However, my trainer helped me out with the adjustments of the side velcro panels and the shoulder fasteners and then I was able to appreciate how flexible this body protector became.  The foam really did mold to fit your body shape after a few minutes. There is quite a bit of padding on this vest so the bulk is still a factor but because it moves with you it really does end up staying out of the way. While the Kontakt 5 earns high marks for safety and innovative materials, it is not particularly flattering. I've decided to give it a pass though as the whole purpose of a body protector is to keep you from being flattened in the first place. 
I've had this vest for about a year and a half and it's holding up well. I don't wear it for every lesson, but will bring it out for cross country schooling and jump lessons leading up to a horse trial. I actually had my first fall in it over the weekend. It was a simple parting of ways where I went left over the shoulder as the horse went right.  I took a textbook tuck and roll and was able to hop right back up. It was a pretty minor fall but I didn't experience any bruising, soreness, or injury and I attribute that to my Kontakt 5. Clean up was extremely easy with just a damp cloth and a bit of dish soap.  You can also remove the cover of this vest and put it though the washing machine but I'd suggest washing by hand just in case. 

You can see through the grey mesh panel how the foam has a grid of ventilation holes that give this vest great air flow. 

While I was unhappy with this purchase in the beginning I've turned the corner and really do like riding in this vest.  Wearing a body protector is an adjustment no matter which model you choose so do your research, check the safety ratings, and make sure it fits you well.  I paid around $300.00 for this vest from SmartPak.  Many of the vests in this price range do not have the BETA 3 or even ASTM certifications so make sure to check the labels.  Of course, horses are dangerous and things can happen no matter how much safety gear you have on but that doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt to give yourself the best possible chance. 

Next week I'll be putting together a list of things that will help keep you cool and comfortable while riding and hanging around the barn in the summer. There are also a few changes coming to the look of Suitable Turnout. You probably noticed that I have a fancy new logo but there's more to come so please let me know what you think.  If you have a product you'd like reviewed or if you want my opinion on an item leave me a comment below and let's talk horse stuff.  Until next week, happy riding! 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tredstep Summer Cool Gloves

Nearly every time I place an order for horsey stuff I buy a pair of gloves. My ring fingers blister really easily so I always make sure to have plenty of options for protecting my hands. My brand of choice over the years has been SSG because they're inexpensive, hold up pretty well, fit nicely, and they aren't a huge loss if I have to toss them.  I was going to pick up another pair of candy colored, crochet back SSGs with my latest SmartPak order but they didn't carry the color I had my eye on so I decided to try something else.

I picked up the Tredstep Ireland Summer Cool Gloves for $24.95.  This is a bit more than I'd typically spend on a pair of summer gloves because I'm pretty tough on them but since I'm really enjoying my Tredstep boots, why not explore their other lines?

Tredstep Ireland Summer Cool Gloves
The first thing I noticed about these gloves was how light and stretchy they were.  I was nervous that they wouldn't fit because they seemed so much smaller than what I've worn before. They went on very easily and had a snug, streamline, and very comfortable fit.  The back of the glove feels like a silky spandex that does a great job of allowing air to circulate and the palm side is a flexible synthetic suede with a really nice non-slip grip.

The cuffs have a ventilated padding that keeps them from twisting and sliding without feeling too restrictive and the closure at the wrist has hook and loop material that won me over the instant I discovered that it doesn't catch on the mesh sleeve of my EIS shirt. 

My absolute favorite feature on these gloves is the terrycloth like material on the back of the thumbs. I know that some other manufactures do this too but having a piece of washcloth to blot the sweat from your face with is such a great little bonus. 

I've ridden in these gloves three times so far and while I don't expect them to be the toughest farm glove on the market I don't think they will disintegrate on me either. My gloves have already been throughly drenched in sweat from after lesson "good boy" pats and multiple trips to the wash rack. The black dye hasn't bled onto my skin, and they've remained soft, avoiding that crunchy, dried out leather feel. They're virtually weightless and offer great grip and ventilation. I'd have no problem recommending these if you're looking for a sleek, simple glove that will keep you comfortable during your summer rides. 

I'll be going cross country schooling for the first time in 2015 on Friday of this week so I thought it would be fitting for my next review to be about my Charles Owen Kontakt 5 Body Protector.  Until then, happy riding!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Items You Didn't Know You Needed For Your Horse Show Check List

You probably spent the winter doing your flatwork on a wooly beast with your eye on the prize of rocking it this show season. That is unless, you and your horse traveled to somewhere warmer to get a few more miles in the ring.  No matter which path you took if you're showing this summer you've got to get your check list together with all of the necessities to prepare you to preform.  There's plenty of great lists out there that will remind you to bring your saddle, buckets, and carrots but I wanted to put together a list of items that you didn't realize you need but will be glad to have. Bonus, they're all very easy to pack.

1. Black duct or electrical tape - I hope this stuff is already in the trailer so you don't really have to put it on your check list but if it isn't, grab a roll.  Duct tape and electrical tape are great for broken boot zippers, to secure xc horse boots, fix a ripped blanket, and hundreds of other uses. You'll be glad to have it when the need arises.

2. Sewing kit - Be prepared for wardrobe malfunctions. Buttons will leap off your coat or shirt, you'll catch your breeches on the in-gate and rip them, or the stitching on your bridle may start to unravel. Teach yourself how to thread a needle, tie a knot, and you're on your way to self preservation. If the sewing kit can't fix it, see Duct Tape.

3. Black sharpie type marker - Horse ate your show number? No problem, make another. Need to write the jump off course on your arm, this won't smudge. These will come in handy for filling in scratches on your boots, filling out show forms, writing your name on equipment, and leaving notes at the trailer or stall doors.

4. Garbage bags - Did you take a swim in the water jump? Wet clothes go in the bag for the trip home.  Need to transport water back the the trailer? Line buckets with garbage bags, arrange buckets in wheel barrow, fill with water, tie closed and wheel it back with less splashing.  Did the skies open up and start to pour before your round and you forgot your rain gear? Trash bag poncho it is. And just think of how grateful the show venue will be to see that your group cleaned up after yourselves when you left.

5. Waterproof medical tape - This is essential for preventing blisters and rubs from boots and clothing on sweaty skin.  Bandaids lose their stick when wet but this stuff will go the distance. It's a great extra layer around your ring fingers to prevent blisters from reins. Pair it with gauze for a super tough adhesive bandage that is barn worthy. You can find it at drugstores like CVS and Walgreens.

6. Microfiber cloths - These take lint off of you and dust off your horse's coat. They're great for wiping off saddles and boots, and they soak up liquid very fast. You're going to need rags anyway so grab a few of these on your next trip to Target or Walmart.

7. Baby wipes - You're around a bunch of dirt already so these come in handy for freshening up when you're working out of a trailer. They also clean green goo from your horses nostrils, work as a last minute stirrup polish, wipe dust and dirt from your horse's legs, and can give scrapes and cuts a quick cleaning before treatment.
8. Tide pen - Did you get boot polish on your breeches? Green snot on your show shirt? Dribble coffee on your pristine white saddle pad?  I've used my Tide pen for each of the mentioned scenarios and had pretty great results. When I was showing as a kid there was a mom who would walk around with a blue gel laundry stick and a bottle of water trying to help kids scrub stains out of their clothes before heading into the ring. I wonder if her head would explode from the magic that is the Tide pen? Now that I know the cost of a nice pair of show breeches I'd like to thank that horse show mom for being ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping that stuff clean for next time.

9. Leather hole punch - Even those that take excellent care of their tack will have a piece fail on them. Sometimes that will happen at a horse show.  That's why we bring a spare stirrup leather, halter, etc, right?  Well sometimes that spare is too big or too small and needs to be adjusted.  You could gouge out a hole with a pocket knife or pair of scissors and almost ruin your spare or just bring your hole punch and turn a crisis into a minor setback.  It may be a unitasker, but it is the right tool for the job. Don't leave it at home.

10. Sunglasses - The sandy footing in outdoor show arenas can really do a number on your eyes. The reflection of the sun off of the ring surface will make you squint and squinting for hours on end can give you a pretty bad headache. Keep a pair of sunglasses near by to give your eyes a little protection in between rounds. I wouldn't recommend wearing them while showing if you're doing Dressage, Hunters, or Equitation, but if you're comfortable in them for Show Jumping or Cross Country, go for it.

11. Advil, Tylenol, or pain reliever of choice - Some days you just feel a little crummy. You forgot your sunglasses and now have a headache, you've been pushing too hard in your lessons at home and are a bit stiff and achy, or you had a great round until the tractor drove by and you parted ways with your horse. An aspirin or ibuprofen is always good to have on hand just in case. If you need more than an aspirin you probably should skip the show and go home. If you don't need it offer it up to your horse show mom or trainer because you're probably the one giving them the headache. 

12. Complete change of show clothes and sweats & sneakers for the ride home - Yes, I mean undies, socks and everything else. Stuff happens at shows.  The Tide Pen and Duct Tape might not get the job done in time so bring a backup show outfit or arrange with a barn mate to borrow or swap if the unthinkable happens. If your home or hotel is less than 30 minutes from the horse show I'll give you a pass on the sweats and sneakers. If you're going to be sitting in a car or truck for more than that you need to be in clean clothes.  Thumbs up to Aztec Diamond for having you covered with their essential line of sweats and leggings.

Sweat and bacteria will wreck havoc on your skin if you spend the rest of your day in show clothes. Think about all the barn friends you'll lose if they have to sniff your swampy bum for the whole ride home.  Grab the baby wipes, clean up, and change into comfy, dry, clean clothes.  Every "Body" will thank you.

Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment below.

Next week I'll tell you about the new Tredstep Summer Cool Gloves I just picked up. Until then, happy riding!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Higher Standards Leather Care - Part 2

Last week we talked about how nicely the Higher Standards saddle soap cleaned up the Stubben lesson saddle and this week we'll talk about the results of their leather balm.

After the saddle was dry from cleaning I brought out the leather balm to see how much of a difference it could make in rehydrating.  The balm, pictured on the right, has a yellow tint and a creamy, lightly waxy texture that smells amazing. I polled a few people at the barn on the mild but yummy scent and was told more than once,"it smells like chocolate."  That's probably due to the mix of cocoa butter, safflower oil, and beeswax.  

I first tried using a rag to spread the balm over the clean saddle but quickly realized that just using my hands did a better job of evenly coating the leather. Because this saddle hasn't been oiled in a while I used a very liberal amount and made sure to work it in by rolling the flaps, billets, and stirrup leathers.  What I really liked was the formula was so light but it was doing a great job of restoring moisture and flexibility.  I also liked that there wasn't much residue left behind after application. There was a nice sheen to the leather but it didn't feel dripping wet and oily like a treatment with neatsfoot or other liquid conditioners. This saddle got so soft compared to what I started with that I almost couldn't believe it was the same piece of tack. Take a look at the after leather balm photos below to see just how nice it cleaned up.

What a huge difference, right? I remained a bit of a skeptic though as leather does feel nice and supple when it's still damp so I thought the best test would be to put this saddle back to work and see how my results held up after a week of lessons. Well, let's have those photos speak for themselves.

One Week Later
One Week Later


One Week Later
The saddle could use another round or two of the leather balm to keep up with the moisturizing and softening but I'm convinced that it's totally up to the job. I don't think there's much more praise I can give Higher Standards in this case. Their products did a fantastic job, the results are pretty evident and the scents and textures of the products made them a pleasure to use.  You can purchase the line of Higher Standards soaps and leather balm direct from their website or through their retailers.  The scented soaps will run about $15.00 for an 8oz. jar that from my experience will last quite a long time and the leather balm is just under $20.00 for an 8oz. jar. 

Next week I'll be doing a list of items you didn't know you'd need for your horse show check list but are going to be glad to have just in case. 

If you have any questions about what you've seen on the blog or would like to know what my opinion of a certain product is leave me a comment, email, tweet or Facebook message and I'd be happy to share what I know.  Until next week, happy riding!