This week I’m wondering why half-chaps and air vests can’t be better designed and made? Why can’t the zippers on half-chaps zip all the way down, to fully cover the tops of my boots, and the snaps on the little straps work for more than a few weeks? And why does the activation of an air vest have to sound like a high-caliber gunshot?
I’ve never had a pair of half-chaps that zip all the way to the bottom of the zipper, completely covering the top of my boots. Never. Several people have suggested to me that it’s because the folks at Ariat (whose half-chaps I usually buy) design them to fit over Ariat boots, but I always wear Blundstone boots. That’s because I don’t like the way Ariat boots look or fit on me, perhaps because they only make two kinds of men’s boots, but about a 20 models of women’s boots—having decided, I suspect, that the men’s market isn’t worth their effort. (Yes, Blundstone’s boots are in ladies sizes but are unisex-looking and -fitting. Anyway, the lack of men’s riding-wear products is another sore subject with me, but I won’t go down that path now.)
I like the way Blundstone boots fit me and look, and I find them easy to put on, comfortable and durable. But when I ordered my latest pair of half-chaps, in December, I got Tredstep, because they were $10 cheaper than Ariat’s All-Around III half-chaps, the type I usually buy. Well, the Tredsteps didn’t zip down over my Blundstone boots either. Very annoying. And now it’s time for me to order another pair of half-chaps, and I guess I’m going to go back to Ariat, because they last longer.
Usually, because the zipper on my half-chaps doesn’t go all the way down, the strap at the bottom of the half-chaps won’t reach around my foot to snap closed. The straps on the Tredstep half-chaps did reach across, but the snap on my right half-chap gave out and quit fastening after about a month. The left one gave out after about six months. And now the zippers are separating from the leather at the top on both legs, a problem I’ve also had with Ariat, although not, as far as I can recall, after seven months of use.
My wife, Heather, likes Ariat boots, so she says that her Ariat half-chaps usually do zip to the bottom, but, in her experience, the snaps give out quickly, usually within a few weeks.
I can live the reason why my Ariat (or Tredstep) half-chaps don’t zip down to cover the tops of my Blundstone boots, but why can’t they have snaps that can pass the test of time? We’ve made telephones into miniature computers (and cameras), and cars can run on batteries, so why can’t our half-chap straps keep snapping closed?
Similarly, I’m still wondering why air vests have to function the way they do? Two weeks ago, my fellow competitor Tammy Smith suffered a compound fracture of her fibula during what should have been an innocuous (but disappointing) fall from her horse at a skinny jump in the middle of a water complex at the Rebecca Farm Three-Day Event and Horse Trials (Mont.). When her horse juked one way and she jived the other way, they became separated, causing the Point Two air vest she was wearing to activate. The explosive noise frightened the mare (an experienced CCI2* horse), who reacted by kicking out with both legs at and bolting in fright. But when she kicked out, she caught Tammy in her calf, causing a compound fracture that required surgery and, obviously, forcing her to withdraw all of her other horses, including the one with whom she was leading the CCI1*.
I’ve questioned several things about air vests, both in this blog (May 8 and July 3) and in the May issue of the Horse Journal, and Tammy’s injury causes me to ask one of those questions again: Why does the activation have to take place with such a loud, explosive sound? I shot CO2-powered air pistols for almost 20 years, and the noise when I pulled the trigger was just a “pop,” from the same type of canister. Perhaps the sound of the propulsive gas was somehow muffled, like the silencer on a real pistol. So why can’t that be done with air vests? I suspect the folks at Point Two and Hit-Air will say it’s because the activation has to be immediate and powerful. Does it need to be quicker and more powerful than a gunshot?
And, as I said in my July 3 blog, why can’t someone come up with a gauge or a switch that allows air vests to have two CO2 canisters, so you could just flip a switch after a fall that would deflate the vest and allow you to quickly continue riding, with the second canister ready to go?
So my suggestion for better half-chaps is to have zippers and snaps that work. And my suggestions for the next generation of air vests is to have CO2 canisters that don’t sound like a 45-caliber Magnum being shot at you (or your horse) when they inflate the vest, plus a switch that allows quick deflation and connection of the new canister.
OK, engineers, get busy.