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Safer Helmets for Safer Jumping
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 July 2006 Spotlight

Safer Helmets for Safer Jumping

A ruling last year by the United States Equestrian Federation, Inc., has made it compulsory for participants in horse jumping competitions to wear a protective helmet that meets or exceeds ASTM International/SEI standards. The ruling, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2005, mandates that junior and senior participants in any classes who are participating in an event that includes jumping, wear a helmet that meets the requirements stated in ASTM F 1163, Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding.

ASTM F 1163 was developed by Subcommittee F08.53 on Headgear and Helmets, which is under the jurisdiction of ASTM International Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities. The standard, which was developed as a result of a request from the United States Pony Clubs, was first approved in 1988 and covers minimum performance criteria and describes test methods for protective headgear for use in horse sports and horseback riding.

According to Drusilla Malavase, safety chair for the New York State Horse Council, reaction to the new ruling has been generally positive, though some participants have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the ruling. “Many of the adults had already switched to ASTM/SEI helmets voluntarily,” says Malavase, who was recently awarded the Society-recognized Committee F08 William F. Hulce Award in 2005 for her longtime work on the equestrian helmet task group. “Unfortunately, there are many traditional competitors who have taken the requirement as a personal affront.”

Some of the reasons that are cited by opponents for not wearing a helmet include the idea that helmets are not part of the tradition of these events, along with complaints that helmets are ugly, hot, heavy and don’t fit. Malavase says that there are answers to each of these complaints.

“Some insist that helmets cause injuries, something F08.53 members have been researching and disproving,” says Malavase. “Equestrian manufacturers have done a great job on improving the appearance of their products since 1988; there are many ventilated models; some helmets weigh only nine ounces and there are now many fitting systems that make it possible for any determined rider to find a good fit.”

While there are still events in horse sports in which protective helmets are not required (including western, saddle seat and dressage), Malavase is happy to note that the USEF rules of judging state that judges may not penalize riders for wearing protective headgear in any divisions or events and that ASTM/SEI helmets can be seen in events in which they are not required.

Malavase notes that a number of people associated with different organizations have been leaders in helping to bring about the attitude shift that resulted in the rule change. Andrew Ellis, the chairman of the USEF Safety Committee; Dick London of the New York State Horse Council, who has been a helmet advocate for many years on the current and predecessor committees; Joe Dotoli, who got USEF to require ASTM/SEI helmets for juniors; Rusty Lowe, who shepherded the eventing rule through the U.S. Eventing Association; Dr. Doris Bixby-Hammett of the American Medical Equestrian Association/Safe Riders Foundation; and Jan Dawson at the American Association for Horsemanship Safety have all been influential in the rule change.

According to Malavase, Committee F08 approached SEI when F 1163 was nearly complete about overseeing testing, quality control and an insurance requirement. The SEI board approved adding sports helmets to their certified product list. Malavase feels that this arrangement creates a system of checks and balances that is a great plus for riders that are required to use F 1163-approved helmets.

“No list of important factors would be complete without mentioning the role of the Internet,” continues Malavase. “Chat rooms and Web sites like www.chronofhorse.com have educated riders in a wonderful way, sharing ‘good helmet’ stories, offering fitting and selection and advice, and letting some of the traditionalists know that it’s ‘cool’ to protect their brains.” Malavase says that as a result of search engines she receives about a dozen requests for helmet information every week, as well as stories of injuries avoided or minimized because F 1163-approved helmets were being worn at the time of accidents. “I’ve even had people e-mail to thank me for volunteering my time to try to spread the word,” says Malavase.

 
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