I enjoy reading posts from my horse folk friends, new and old, on Facebook. Images abound of people enjoying their horses: trail riding, showing, driving and caring for their equine partners. But, it worries me to see many of them riding without a helmet. Safety helmets are not just for kids – although I’ve seen pictures and videos of children riding without helmets, too.
The American Medical Equestrian Association (AMEA) and the Safe Riders Foundation reports that sixty percent of deaths due to riding accidents are a result of head injury. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) has set the standard for the modern riding helmet. It is well documented that wearing an ASTM/SEI approved riding helmet saves lives and protects riders from brain damage in falls from a horse. But sometimes it’s not until a loved one is left paralyzed, or loses their life, that we are really struck by the reality that horseback riding is a high-risk activity. The risk can be minimized by the simple act of putting on a helmet every time we ride and keeping it on even while dismounted, but handling the horse.
The US Pony Club reports their head injury rate has been reduced by 29% since they have made wearing helmets mandatory, and head injuries are fewer among jockeys than recreational riders since the American Jockey Club began requiring they wear safety-approved helmets. In Great Britain the hospital admission rate for riders dropped 46% after helmets became routine gear for English equestrians.
Most equestrian associations now have rules requiring safety helmets be worn. In Ontario, Canada it’s the law that individuals under 18 years old must wear helmets while riding. Parents, trainers or instructors can be fined up to $5000 if a minor is found not complying with this law.
In the United States is the use of helmets is self-regulated. The USA Equestrian Federation requires that all junior competitors in hunter, jumper and hunt seat equitation must wear ASTM-SEI approved helmets while mounted anywhere on the show grounds. USEF added a rule in article 1713 for eventing that requires protective headgear at all levels of competition. The rule states a hardhat must be worn when riding on the flat. When jumping an ASTM/SEI approved helmet with harness secure and properly fitted must be worn.
4-H rules vary from state to state. In Kentucky, all 4-Hers when at a 4-H event are required to wear ASTM-SEI approved helmets that are secure and properly fitted anytime they are riding or driving horses. In North Carolina ASTM/SEI helmets are required in hunt seat, short stirrup, and games when mounted on the show grounds. In all other divisions approved helmets are strongly encouraged and approved as optional use.
A helmet should be examined by x-ray after a fall to be sure the integrity of the helmet is intact. Many helmet companies will examine a helmet and replace it for a small fee. Dropping a helmet on a hard surface can also damage it. Any signs of damage like cracks, dents or holes inside or outside the helmet are reasons enough to replace it with a new one. Even without obvious bumps and bangs the lifespan of a helmet is a maximum of five years. A manufacturer’s date is printed inside the helmet. It is not advisable to buy used helmets since the integrity of the helmet cannot be guaranteed.
This brings us to the questions: should we require riders wear helmets when riding on our property? Are we liable if a rider falls and is hurt or killed while riding at our facility? Should instructors require their students to wear helmets?
|Helmets Come in a Variety of styles and Colors|
The dangers of riding without a helmet is well known, yet people are not using them. The most commonly heard excuse — especially among young people— for not wearing a helmet is that they look funny. But equestrian safety helmets have come a long way since the mushroom styles of the early models. Today they are safer, lighter, cooler, and more fashionable. By using improved technology manufacturers can produce helmets with a lower profile and improved fit, thus making them more attractive as well as more efficient. Helmets also come in a wide range of colors and styles for every riding discipline.
When all is said and done the price, around forty dollars, of an ASTM/SEI helmet is cheap insurance when you weigh it against the consequences of riding without one.