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Behind the Badge: From Helmets to Body Protectors

Wednesday 1st May 2013

Charles Owen's goal has been "For a Safer World" for over 100 years and that is as true for body protectors as for helmets.

Body protectors were first seen in the equestrian world in the 1980s, Charles Owen always waits until standards are written and studies solidified so that the rider can truly rely on Charles Owen to design products that are providing the best protection possible. The first European standard for body protectors was written in 1996 based on the previous experience with a trade association standard. Charles Owen then felt confident that there was a clear understanding of what was required to protect the rider and started work on creating the best body protector possible. “The company never wants to promise protection when it doesn't know for sure the product will perform all the time every time,” explains Charles Owen Managing Director, Roy Burek.

A certified and correctly fitted body protector or safety vest helps lessen injuries to the rib cage and everything located underneath a person's rib cage. Winding, collapsed lungs, damage to the heart and aorta, bruising to the stomach, liver, kidney, and spleen, breakage of the spinal column wings and clavicle from frontal impact, as well as tearing and bruising of flesh are all injuries that the body protector can lessen. Many people mistakenly believe the body protector will prevent injury to the coccyx or spinal cord, but that is not the case, as it would make riding impossibly restrictive.

When Charles Owen set out to design its first body protector, the company had quite a few challenges to overcome. The earliest body protectors were created in a multi-block design, but that design was not able to pass the standard, as there was no guarantee that the blocks would not pull apart during use. Charles Owen recognised that most body protectors on the market weren't staying in place if the rider was dragged by their horse, and some people's shapes forced their body protector up around their ears before any accident even occurred.

The biggest hurdle of all was that Charles Owen wanted to create a piece of equipment that enhanced the protection the body naturally provides, not replace it. Tucking and rolling is a key mechanism of the body to deflect the energy of the fall. If the company made a body protector that stopped the rider from tucking and rolling, then it would stop the natural way of the body working, and cause more of hindrance then a help.

Alongside the design challenges, the materials posed a challenge as the foams available were very inconsistent in their manufacture. Charles Owen needed to be confident that the foams they were selecting would perform consistently.

Overheating in body protectors is a major concern especially for the young rider, so Charles Owen looked to develop a way to keep the rider as cool and dry as possible.

It took two and a half years for Charles Owen to develop a body protector that could carry the famous badge. As with all its products, the focus on the detail made it impossible to outsource the manufacture of the body protectors, which is quite common for many brands with the high sewing content.

Charles Owen released its first body protector in 1998, followed shortly by its Collarbone and Shoulder Protection System in 1999. With high injury rate to the shoulder and the low uptake of shoulder protection that meets the European standard, it was obvious that a new approach needed to be taken. Dropping a shoulder to break your fall is a very common reaction, but one that can put tremendous force onto the point of the shoulder resulting in a clavicle break, the most common injury for equestrians. Removing the connection between the body protector and the shoulder pad was a revolutionary step. It removed the hindrance to movement of the shoulder joint and allowed the shoulder protection in situations that the rider chose to not wear a body protector. Incorporating shoulder protection into a Coolmax® base layer was an unbelievable idea and is used by many outside of equestrian sports.

Since then the company has continued to innovate and develop the body protection technology and its own proprietary Gelfoam®. The current Charles Owen body protectors, the Kontakt 5 which meets the European standards and the jL9 which meets the American standards, incorporate the latest technology in order to create both a comfortable and safe body protector.

Tune in next time to learn about the technology utilised in Charles Owen body protectors, and how they protect you.