Anyone eventing at the moment will undoubtably have heard of Point Two air jackets or perhaps an exo bodycage. So lets have a look at the general stance on these but first lets start with normal body protectors.
There's a huge range of body protectors avaliable but all of them are constructed from 'impact foam'. The general advice at the moment is to replace body protectors every 3 years as the foam losses it's shock absorbent properties (yup, that's me overdue..). That said, there are models that don't need replacing such as the Kan.
The vast majority have a zip up the front and thankfully the days of leg straps are virtually gone. The distinguishing factors tend to be in the foam. All body protectors for eventing have to satisfy the BETA level 3 criteria so the protection will be of a uniform minimum. However, more expensive brands use more flexible foam or 'moulding foam' that greatly increase comfort. Plus, some of the more expensive brands have put huge amounts of research into improving performance without producing a bulky monster of a body protector. The other way of improving flexibility is to use small squares such as Racesafe's (british junior team sponsor) RS 2000. Apart from that, it's a matter of personal preference so check out the whole of equishopping range of body protectors.
Before we move on to the likes of point2's there is one addition to a standard body protector that will make the world of difference if you hit the deck - the hardest thing about learning to ride (and we're all learning) - is the ground....
Shoulder pads. Imagine how a lot of falls happen - being thrown forwards and landing on the shoulder region. Wearing shoulder pads significantly reduces the risk of a broken collar bone if you land in this way. What's more you'll barely notice you're wearing them.
Now for the latest phenomenon to hit the eventing world. Point Two air jackets. The jacket is just like a waistcoat but with a lanyard attached to the saddle. When you fall the lanyard breaks and inflates the jacket in 0.1 seconds which then provides protection to all major thoracic upper dominal organs and the collar area of the neck. Studies have shown that these are the most likely body parts to be hurt so you can't go far wrong. Studies also showed that they wouldn't worsen a fall so any previous claims of this have a challenge now.
However, the Point Two does have to be worn over a conventional body protector as it won't inflate until you're well out of the saddle. This means that if the horse where to fall with you or say, ran into a tree the jacket wouldn't be activated. Of course there's also the claims against it as with all new products. Some argue that the force required to break the lanyard means the trajectory of your fall is altered meaning you land closer to your horse (the danger zone) although this is purely people's idea. I don't think anyone's sat down with formulas and calculator to work that critique out. Critics also say the sound when the CO2 canister inflates the jacket would terrify a horse. Having seen several canisters go off (including accidental ones when people didn't unclip before getting off!) I haven't seen any horses bothered by it although all horses are different...
Forum's usually have a lot to say about Point Twos and the Horse and Hound forum is no exception. It raised concerns that if under normal circumstances you could have rescued yourself when thrown out of balance a long way that a Point Two would have activated by this point causing you to fall - mixed thoughts. How many times do you manage to pull yourself back if you've been thrown that far off. Considering the length of the lanyard is really quite long it would be a very impressive recovery.
On a more supportive note by all accounts Point Two gave out a small number of jackets for free to top professionals when they launched to get the jacket seen in action. Now if you go to any BE event a huge proportion of competitors are wearing them - the uptake has been very encouraging and includes a large percentage of professionals who weren't given them for free.
The last but by no means least, is the Woof Wear exo cage. It is what it says on the packet - a body protector with an aluminium exo skeleton inside. However, they never really took off despite being researched heavily. Few riders took them up and current rumors suggest that they have been taken out of production. They have different aims to a point two: an air jacket won't protect against crushing injuries whereas an actual metal frame work will. On the other hand a metal frame work provides far less protection from the bog standard bruising. Before you ask, no you can't wear both together. People have attempted it but it doesn't quite work out as the cage moves the jacket too far away from the body.
So that's it. There's such a wide choice of body protection available and thanks to BETA's standards we know that it all meets an appropriate standard. Recent developments also mean we're safer than ever but at the end of the day if it's comfy you'll wear it so look in the place where's there a huge choice - equishopping!