Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023

Fundraising Efforts For Safety Vest Research Off To Slow Start



A month after the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association announced the launch of a $825,000 project to test equestrian protective vests, fundraising efforts have stalled. In order for the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab to begin the two-year project to research and test current body protectors and air vests on the market, $450,000—half of the funds—must be raised.

USHJA got the campaign started with a $100,000 pledge, and fundraising efforts were opened on the USHJA Foundation’s website. However, as of press time, that page has only received $2,755 in donations.

Joe Dotoli, chair of the USHJA Safety Committee, said that promotion of the proposed research has only recently begun, and that it was slowed down in part due to the Fédération Equestre Internationale expressing its interest in also getting involved. 

Laura Kraut, shown here with Balotinue in the 2023 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen, is among a growing number of jumper riders who choose to wear vests. Lisa Slade Photo

“It was slower going than we wanted, but we sure don’t want to cut out any group that wants to be part of it, especially the FEI,” he said. “That would be a huge plus if they were involved.”

The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab recently finished a two-year study into equestrian helmets, a project that was funded due to efforts spearhead by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, USHJA and U.S. Eventing Association. While both the USEF and USEA have expressed interest in research related to safety vests, neither organization has made a monetary contribution so far.

“We can confirm that USEF is in discussions with the Virginia Tech Lab regarding safety vest testing guidelines and testing of products,” USEF’s chief marketing and content officer Vicki Lowell said.

“We are big supporters of this effort,” USEA CEO Rob Burk said. “We have not allocated funds to the vest project as of yet. But our board will discuss it this summer.”


Dotoli noted that the vest research project is a larger monetary commitment than the helmet study—which only required $450,000 total—in part due to the lack of a standard governing the testing and performance of air vests, which are popular in the hunter/jumper circles and are often used in conjunction with the required approved body protector in eventing. 

“With the helmets we had the ASTM F1163 to start, to use for a comparison, and we don’t have that with the vests,” he said. “That’s the whole point; we just don’t know enough about it. … We really need to do the science to find out: Do they help? In what ways do they help? And which ones do a better job? Kind of all those things have to be looked at. Can we do anything to eliminate some of the issues with them?”

Putting the project in the hands of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and its founder, Dr. Stefan Duma, is a perfect match—despite the helmet focus in the lab’s name, he added. 

“Dr. Duma is world famous and is mostly world famous because of all the work that he did for the auto industry and airbags,” Dotoli said. “These are portable airbags, so that’s the one we want doing it. But we need to know how they protect the torso, and we need to investigate a little bit more. Some people say they should go up around the neck. Others say that wouldn’t be good. We need to find out all those things, and the only way to do that is real science.”

Dotoli said the USHJA has released a public service announcement regarding the fundraising campaign and that a letter has been sent to all of the show managers about hanging banners with a QR code that links to the donation page. 

“The fundraising part is always the hardest, and we hope we have a few fairy godmothers out there like we did for the helmets,” he said. “Mrs. [Jacqueline] Mars really came through for us with the helmets and the Mars Foundation and did matching funds, so we really only had to get halfway, and we were there. So if we can get a couple of those foundations to help us with it, it will move along faster. I expect it to pick up speed now that we’re up and running.”

Dotoli pointed out that USHJA has 45,000 members and that if each contributed $20, the fundraising goal would be met.

“What I always say is, safety in this sport is everybody’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s not just the safety committee. It’s everybody that rides; it’s everybody that trains. Everybody that has a horse should be interested in making the sport as safe as we can make it. It’s a dangerous sport. We all accept that. But if we don’t use the technology that’s available to make it safer, then we’re not very smart.”



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