Do event riders who wear an air jacket have reduced injury risk if they fall?

Inflatable air jackets 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. They do not of course provide protection against head injuries and other serious types of injury.

But do they reduce the risk of injury in falls? Recent research suggests otherwise.

 

Lyndsay Nylund conducted a study into the riders’ use of air jackets and the severity of injury in fqlls occurring during eventing competitions. Nylund, a former international gymnast and coach, now runs clinics training riders to fall safely*. 

The work formed the basis of a thesis at Faculty of Health Sciences, Discipline of Exercise and Sports Science, The University of Sydney, Australia. In a retrospective analysis of FEI eventing competition data, Nylund related the severity of the injury resulting from a fall to whether the rider was wearing an air jacket at the time.

Between 2015 and 2017, 1819 riders fell wearing an air jacket and 1486 riders fell while not wearing an air jacket. He 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. Nylund writes: “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.”

He adds 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.

What is the explanation for this finding? Could it be that riders wearing air jackets feel better protected and so take more risks? Are air jackets worn by more advanced riders on more challenging courses? 

Nylund suggests that further work is needed to understand the reason(s) for the identified association.

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