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The Importance of Wearing Helmets: Every Time, Every Ride


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

The United States Pony Club (USPC) requires that helmets be worn by members during any mounted activity, and in some unmounted activities. The instructional video, “Every Time, Every Ride,” shows the critical need for ASTM/SEI protective helmets, and why they can prevent serious head injuries. Pony Club and 4-H riders are featured with head injury survivors, and families of less fortunate riders, giving testimony to their experiences.

According to the University of Connecticut report, “In 1980 the United States Pony Club began tracking accidents reported among its members. Three years later, the Pony Club developed its own standard for riding helmets and required that all members wear their USPC standard helmets, which had been tested at independent laboratories. In 1986 the USPC asked ASTM, an organization that had developed helmets for other sports, to develop one for horseback riding helmets as well. ASTM F 1163 was first published in 1990 and is reviewed every five years.

“The study the Pony Club began in 1980 continued for 12 years and provided solid evidence in favor of the standard. The USPC found a 26% decrease in head injuries with the onset of the USPC standard helmet in 1983. The American Medical Equestrian Association estimates that ASTM/SEI approved helmets have decreased riding-related head injuries by 50%.”

The American Riding Instructors Association supports the policy statement from the Equestrian Medical Safety Association (EMSA):

“The EMSA strongly recommends the wearing of a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmet with the harness secured during equestrian activities. Head injuries account for approximately 60% of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. Properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmets can prevent death and reduce the severity of head injuries sustained while riding.”

Why? The EMSA provides numerous reasons:

1.           Approximately 12 to 15 million persons in the United States ride a horse or pony every year.
2.           Approximately 20 percent of horse-related injuries occur on the ground and not riding.
3.           Most riding injuries occur during pleasure riding.
4.           The most common reason among riders for admission to hospital and death are head injuries.
5.           A fall from two feet can cause permanent brain damage. A horse elevates a rider eight feet or more above ground.
6.           A human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. Horses can gallop at 40 mph.
7.           A rider who has one head injury has a 40 percent chance of suffering a second head injury. Children, teens and young adults are most vulnerable to sudden death from second impact syndrome: severe brain swelling as a result of suffering a second head injury before recovery from the first head injury.
8.           Death is not the only serious outcome of unprotected head injuries. Those who survive with brain injury may suffer epilepsy, intellectual and memory impairment, and personality changes.
9.           Hospital costs for an acute head injury can be in the range of $25,000 per day. Lifetime extended care costs may easily exceed $3 million.
10.       Helmets work. Most deaths from head injury can be prevented by wearing ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) approved helmets that fit correctly and have the harness firmly applied.
11.       Racing organizations require helmets and, as a result, jockeys suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders. The US Pony Club lowered their head injury rate 29 percent with mandatory helmet use. Britain's hospital admission rate for equestrians fell 46 percent after helmet design improved and they came into routine use.
12.       The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association through the Committee on Sports Medicine, Canadian Medical Association, and the American Medical Equestrian Association/Safe Riders Foundation recommend that approved, fitted and secured helmets be worn on all rides by all horseback riders.

McKee and Brady (2004) reviewed the literature that pertains to the use and function of equestrian helmets. There are numerous health reasons that justify the use of equestrian helmets. “The unpredictable nature of the horse, the speed at which a horse travels, and the rider's distance from the ground--up to three meters--combine to put equestrians at higher risk for serious injury than participants in automobile and motorcycle racing (Watt & Finch, 1996; Paix, 1999). The human skull can be shattered at 7-10 kilometers per hour, which means that a fall from a trotting horse can shatter the skull (, 2000).

“Head injuries occur most frequently in riders who are 21 years of age or younger, and the use of an approved helmet has been shown to reduce the rate of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young riders be supervised when riding and be required to wear an ASTM/SEI-certified helmet with the chins strap attached (Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 1992).”
What is ASTM/SEI?

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) is an organization, comprised of thousands of skilled volunteers including doctors, engineers and physicists, that sets the standards for many types of safety equipment. The ASTM has established the safety criteria for horseback riding helmets. These standards are summarized in ASTM F 1163. The SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) is an independent laboratory that tests helmets to ensure they meet the ASTM standard.

According to the University of Connecticut Animal Science report, these are the companies manufacturing approved helmets: Troxel - makes only approved helmets; International Helmets; Australian Holdings; Charles Owens & Co. Ltd.; Lexington Safety Products, Inc.; Equine Science Marketing, Ltd.; Del Mar Helmet Co., Inc.
Why Not Wear A Helmet?

So, with these and other reasons to wear a helmet – and prevent head and brain injury – why would any equestrian NOT be wearing a helmet when riding and/or generally working around horses? Maybe folks in your riding discipline just don’t do it. Maybe you think it is just not fashionable or just not cool.  Maybe you don’t like “helmet hair” and prefer to have the wind blowing through your hair. Maybe you don’t think you will ever have an accident or suffer a fall. Maybe you think helmets are too expensive. Are these really valid reasons not to protect your head and brain from injury?
Kim Winstead, owner of The Stockyard Nursery and Feed Store, is a strong advocate for all riders to wear safety helmets. “Rick Hodges’ daughter had a horse rear on her a few weeks ago and, consequently, she was airlifted to The Med and spent a week there. She had bleeding of the brain. Right after that I saw a spike in helmet sales from the people at the show. And Jordan Rice’s parents would like to spread the word. Jordan almost died a few years ago from a head injury,” Kim said.

Jordan’s dad recounted the incident: “September 23, 2010, wearing a helmet, Jordan fell off her horse and was unconscious for three days in Le Bonheur Hospital. The doctor told us that is Jordan had not been wearing a helmet, she would not be with us.” The Mid-South Horse Review published an article on Jordan’s accident – and recovery – in the October 2010 issue.

Jordan’s mom Linda encourages all parents to require their children to wear protective helmets. “We are a testament to the importance of wearing helmets,” she said as she recounted Jordan’s ordeal. “She’s 14 years old and we’re insistent that she doesn’t get on a horse without her helmet. A year and a half after her first accident, she was at the All American Youth Barrel Race in Jackson, MS (June 2012), and came off her horse, hitting the rungs in the corral panels. But her horse stood still, waited, and she got up. She was wearing her helmet, so was able to get back on her horse and have her ride. “She had one of the best runs of her life,” Linda said. “There’s no question in our minds that without Troxel helmets, Jordan would not be with us today.”

Kim Winstead continued, “The barrel racing community, and Western riders in general, have been slow to embrace wearing helmets. Troxel has come up with some great looking low profile helmets. They have crosses on them, flames, and horse shoes, and pretty scrolling ivy. I carry these to encourage the kids to wear them. It just takes one accident... The helmets are $60 – inexpensive considering what they are protecting!

What’s your reason for not wearing an ASTM/SEI approved safety helmet? None are more valid that protecting your head, your brain, and your health.

Visit the Troxel blog for more testimonials on the importance of wearing helmets and Jordan’s story:


American Riding Instructors Association. Helmet Safety.
Animal Science, University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “What is ASTM/SEI?”
Equestrian Medical Safety Association. “Helmet Safety.”
McKee, Katherine and Colleen Brady. 2004. “Why Should 4-H Horse and Pony Youth Wear Certified Equestrian Helmets.” Journal of Extension, Dec. Vol. 42, No. 6.
U.S. Pony Club Safety Booklet.
Washington State 4-H Foundation. “Every Time, Every Ride” DVD. Available from

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