We have gotten several questions about the newest safety device in Eventing, called the Point-Two Air Jackets. Basically, it’s a vest that protects the rider much like an airbag in a car. The vest uses a gas canister to inflate in 0.1 seconds (it used to be 0.2, thus the name). The vest inflates when a rip-cord that is attached to the saddle pulls free from the vest, presumably during a fall. Point-Two vests were originally developed by a Frenchman for motorcycle racing. The vests had their US retail debut at Fair Hill International 2009, but had been tested by top US riders such as Karen and Phillip at previous competitions. Point-Two Air Jackets are already quite popular in Europe. 7/8 of the top riders at Burghley wore the vests, and all the major European teams wear them.
When that rip-cord is pulled away and the gas is released, the Point-Two vest inflates very suddenly and presses very tightly around the body, enough to knock your breath out for few moments before it starts to deflate. The cord is set to supposedly only pull out with the force of a rider fall. This avoids an accidental inflation when the rider’s body position opens, such as over a drop. I heard that Karen was really opening her body up over a few warmup fences at FHI, just to make sure the vest wouldn’t prematurely inflate. One rider forgot to unhook the rip-cord before dismounting and you can imagine what happened, but we will be kind and not mention names.
The word is that these jackets dramatically improve safety, but that word is only coming thus far from the company and from sponsored riders. I do not see how wearing the vest can hurt anything, other than your wallet, but the risk of serious injury is far from eliminated. At $750 US for the vest (rip-cord sold separately of course), and $22.5 for replacement air canisters, the added safety comes at a hefty price. As prices come down, and if independent studies show that inflatable vests significantly improve safety, I could see the vests becoming required safety equipment in the distant future.