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Why Helmets Matter


When you participate in Equestrian Sports, wearing a helmet can reduce your chances of sustaining serious brain injury. One of the most important pieces of safety equipment that equestrian athletes can own is a properly fitting, approved helmet that can absorb impact to the head, provide cushioning to the skull, and reduce jarring of the brain against the skill.
The Brain Injury Resource Center states that “an estimated 300,000 sports related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), of mild to moderate severity, occur in the U.S. each year. Most can be classified as concussions.” A TBI results from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or from a penetrating head injury, that disrupts the normal function of the brain.
“Of all types of injury, those to the brain are among the most likely to result in permanent disability or death,” notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The International Brain Injury Association has found that “Brain injury can cause many kinds of physical, cognitive, and behavioral/emotional impairments that may be either temporary or permanent. …Brain injury may result in seizure disorders.”
Fifty-four percent (54%) of riding injuries occur when riders are mounted performing non-jumping activities, and 21.1% of riders report head injuries as a result of riding accidents. In fact, 31.1% of all riding injuries reported are to the head and face (Nelson, Rivara, Condie, & Smith, 1994; Whitlock, 1999).
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). Watt and Finch (1996) reported that the majority of serious equestrian injuries and deaths involve head injuries and that the age group reporting the greatest number of injuries is 10-19 year olds.
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).
Head injury information is important to equestrians because the most common reason for equestrian death or admittance to hospitals is head injury (, 2000). Most brain injuries are minor. But brain trauma has a cumulative effect, and the results of brain injuries range from shortened attention spans to vegetative states and death, depending on the severity of each individual injury and the number and timing of previous injuries (Family Caregiver Alliance, 1997; Merck, 1995). Second impact syndrome affects junior and senior high school age athletes at a higher rate than athletes in other age groups. (McCrory & Berkovic, 1998).
Most serious head injuries can be prevented with the use of an ASTM/SEI-certified, properly fitting, equestrian helmet with the chin strap fastened (, 2000). Since The United States Pony Club made helmet use mandatory in 1983, their head injury rate has fallen 29% (, 2000). ASTM/SEI-certified helmets will decrease equestrian deaths and serious head injuries if used properly (Lamb, 2001). Not wearing a helmet, wearing a helmet that is inadequate or improperly fitted are factors associated with most riding injuries (Watt & Finch, 1996).
Helmets protect the skull in two different ways. First, they protect the head from the crushing force of the fall by having a stiff outer shell. Second, they absorb energy to reduce the force on the skull and brain (, 1999).
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that young riders should wear helmets that meet ASTM and SEI standards and that organizations promoting or sanctioning riding events should require the use of helmets (Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 1992).
Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. (1992). Horseback riding and head injuries. American Academy of Pediatrics.
Family Caregiver Alliance. (1997). Traumatic brain injury. Retrieved from (2000). Equestrian helmet fact sheet. Retrieved from (1999). Equestrian helmet safety test scores. Retrieved from
Lamb, C. (2001). Equestrian helmet use in national 4-H programs. NARHA news, 14(1).
Merck. (1995). Trauma of the head. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Retrieved from
McCrory, R., & Berkovic, S. F. (1998). Second impact syndrome. Neurology, 50, 677-683.
McKee, Katherine and Colleen Brady. (2004). Why Should 4-H and Pony Youth Wear Certified Equestrian Helmets? Journal of Extension. Retrieved from: 
Nelson, D. E., Rivara, F. P., & Condie, C. (1994). Helmets and horseback riders. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 10(1), 15-19.
Nelson, D. E., Rivara, F. P., Condie, C., & Smith, S. M. (1994). Injuries in equestrian sports. Physician and Sports Medicine, 22(10), 53-62.
Watt, G. M., & Finch, C. F. (1996). Preventing equestrian injuries: Locking the stable door. Sports Medicine, 22(3) 187-197.
Why Helmets Matter. 

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