Many disciplines are instituting new helmet rules as research highlights the benefit of safety headgear.
As more and more research is showing, safety helmets, certified to modern standards, have proven to protect riders from severe impact and traumatic brain injury. And many equine associations are taking note and requiring their use.
But not all helmets are created equal. As more competitions require “approved helmets” that meet the standard of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), make sure the helmets you and your clients are purchasing are the real deal.
Look inside a helmet to verify it’s approved—the label should show the helmet was certified by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). And safety doesn’t have to be expensive—a $40 helmet or a $500 designer model meets the same safety standard.
Show Rules Changing
In recent years, the issue of helmet use has taken center stage among many disciplines and those that typically don’t use helmets are taking a second look. Helmets are becoming mandatory on many show grounds, especially for junior riders, so here’s a quick look at where the major players stand.
One of the most prominent associations, The U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), has been toughening its helmet rules since approved helmets arrived on the scene in 1990.
In 2012, the USEF instituted a rule that affects all riders at hunter/jumper shows. During the winter shows, the new GR801.2 made it compulsory for anyone on a horse to wear an approved helmet, “properly fitted” and with the chin strap secured. The rule is targeted to trainers and grooms who ride at the show.
The 2011 change in Dressage rules (DR120.5) requires all riders in national tests to wear protective headgear while mounted at a show. The rule also requires riders under age 18, those competing in Para-Equestrian tests, and riders on horses that aren’t competing, to have appropriate headgear.
Since 2011, Eventing (EV114.1b) also requires everyone at a competition to wear protective headgear when mounted, with harness adjusted and secured.
Riders in international competitions must abide by rules of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). Like USEF, the FEI has expanded its rules for 2012.
In the saddle, all FEI jumper riders must wear a hard hat at all times. Dressage competitors who are 18 and younger and all who ride horses six years or younger, must also comply.
A broader FEI rule, effective January 1, 2013, will require all riders to wear properly fastened protective headgear.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the world’s largest breed association, had a rule change proposed for review at the 2012 convention to require all hunt seat riders to wear approved helmets. However, no action was taken on the proposal. AQHA, like many breeds, currently requires helmets only over fences.
The Right Fit
As many of the rules state, helmets need to be “properly fitted,”?and for good reason. An ill-fitting helmet will not be as effective in preventing injury.
To stay in place, the helmet must conform to the rider’s skull without any pressure points. Often, helmets come with padding that can be added or removed to achieve a good fit.
For a snug fit, riders should wear hair behind the helmet. Hair up and under the helmet affects the fit, and can make the helmet more likely to move.
The second most important component to a good fit is the retention system (harness), which should conform to the nape and jawline. And many manufacturers advise adjusting the chin strap so you fit two fingers between strap and skin.
With the new rules, helmet manufacturers are stepping up with some great advances in making sure that helmets are worn properly. Today’s helmets feel comfortable while fitting securely. “The Samshield helmets are so comfortable, I have found myself sometimes forgetting that I still have it on after a ride,” says dressage champion, Heather Blitz.
Troxel has sold over three million helmets, and just introduced its new CinchFit strap for enhanced stability. Elastic on the strap conforms to the back of the head in a Comfort Cradle. Troxel plans to use this strap on its entire line of helmets.
Charles Owen offers a new GRpx technology that has “self adjusting cups that create a grip at the base of the skull, resulting in an increased security for the rider,” according to the company’s Danielle Santos.
Pegasus offers a range of 17 shell sizes for regular and slim head shapes. Pegasus founder Ron Friedson explains the technology of the helmet like a race car: “On impact, with our helmets the shell and liner separate—the shell pops off and energy is dissipated. The liner protects your head.”
Ovation helmets are good choices for schooling. Amy Pembleton notes, “The Deluxe Schooler is the most popular. People like our helmets because they are very light weight and very tight to the head. All have an adjustable dial in the back that makes for that snug fit.”
Jayne Hickey of Greenway Saddlery. Scottsdale, Arizona, says, “A lot of riders go to the Ovation helmet. It fits, and is light weight. It has a low profile and low cost.”
Small children can be the hardest to fit. Ovation offers a size 6 helmet, for a head size of 18-7/8 inches. A “small” helmet can fit a range of sizes, from child to petite adult, and on a child a helmet can still look oversized. “A child’s head size and shape is not like an adult’s,” says Friedson.
Ovation helmets also have removable, washable fabric liners of Coolmax. If riders share helmets, each can supply her own liner.
Comforts to Consider
When the temperature heats up, cooling vents improve air circulation when you ride, and the more the better. Most vents now feature mesh covers to let air in and keep everything else out.
Top dressage rider Pierre St. Jacques describes the Samshield helmet, “They are very comfortable and cool with that vent in the front. I live in Florida and wear it year round.”
Blitz says, “Air passing through and over the top of your head helps cooling a lot.”
Two new designs even offer sun protection. The OneK Defender Pro adds a retractable, built-in sunshield. “It’s shatterproof polycarbonate, and won’t crack or break,” says Pembleton. The shield also protects eyes against dust. And Charles Owen’s new SP8 has a visor that Santos describes as “deeper and wider to offer shade to the whole face and upper neck of the rider. Top riders who wear the product have commented that the wider brim makes riding in the sun more pleasant and with less squinting.”
And for those that are concerned with the clunkiness of headgear, fear no more. Manufacturers are making sleeker designs every year and low-profile helmets are now the norm.
Schooling helmets feature glossy or rubberized finish shells in various colors for durability and cleaning. Show helmets step it up a little with a matte finish, often with a soft synthetic suede.
For show, Troxel just introduced the Avalon. The Charles Owen GR8 and AYR8 are popular in the hunter and dressage disciplines. These helmets are outselling the GPA, which is seen more on jumper riders.
Hickey notes, “The AYR8 is what many wear now at dressage shows. The midnight blue color sells to dressage riders—it matches a navy coat.”
Several brands offer a helmet resembling the old velvet hunt cap, with a fabric cover over the shell. Traditionalists who prefer the button and the bow may opt for the Charles Owen Classic or a velvet Pegasus helmet.
As helmets gain in popularity across all disciplines, there is no shortage of options for every rider. As many sports ahead of us have found, head protection is no small matter.
For More Information, check out:
Riders4helmets.com–International Helmet Awareness Day, and symposiums on helmet safety.
Saddleupsafely.org–Horseback riding injury prevention.
phoenixperformance.com (Tipperary helmets)