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!