Analysis of eventing falls has found that the use of an inflatable air jacket or vest was significantly associated with serious or fatal injuries by riders.
The findings were made during a retrospective analysis of FEI eventing data by Lyndsay Nylund as the basis of a thesis at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Nylund, a former international gymnast and coach who now runs clinics training riders to fall safely, related the severity of the injury resulting from a fall to whether the rider was wearing an air jacket at the time.
Inflatable vests for horse riders have been available for several years. A gas canister, connected by a cord to the horse’s saddle, is discharged when the cord is pulled during a fall, inflating the jacket in a fraction of a second.
Air jackets aim to disperse the force of impact in a fall and reduce compression of the chest.
Between 2015 and 2017, 1819 riders fell wearing an air jacket and 1486 riders fell while not wearing an air jacket. Nylund categorised the injuries as either ‘no/slight injury’ (3203 riders) or ‘serious/fatal injury’ (102 riders).
Statistical analysis of the data showed that the use of an air jacket was significantly associated with serious/fatal injuries in falls.
The research has been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
“Riders wearing an air jacket were over-represented in the percentage of serious or fatal injuries in falls compared to riders who only wore a standard body protector,” Nylund said.
He added that riders wearing an air jacket had 1.7 times increased odds of sustaining a serious or fatal injury in a fall compared to riders not wearing an air jacket.
The findings raise several questions, including the possibility that riders wearing air jackets feel better protected and so take more risks. Are air jackets being worn by more advanced riders on more challenging courses?
Nylund suggests that further work is needed to understand the reasons for these findings. He recommends that additional data on injury outcomes, rider characteristics and the biomechanics of falls be examined in future analyses, and that air jacket and body protector characteristics be further investigated.
Do riders who wear an air jacket in equestrian eventing have reduced injury risk in falls? A retrospective data analysis. Nylund LE, Sinclair PJ, Hitchens PL, Cobley S. J Sci Med Sport. 2019 May 25. pii: S1440-2440(18)30588-7. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2019.05.012