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Hats Off to New Mississippi 4-H Safety Helmet Regulation


(left to right) Emilie Oakes, Emilee Myers and Kate Harding Mattox represent 4-H riders who enjoy barrel racing, gaited classes, and dressage with their horses. All 4-H riders will now be wearing protective equestrian head gear in all 4-H events. (photo by The Greenwood Commonwealth)
By Jan Carruthers Sturdivant

Mississippi has changed its equine 4-H rules to require that all of its riders statewide wear a properly fitted and fastened ASTM/SEI certified helmet whenever mounted at any 4-H event. Such changes are the norm in roughly 80% of state’s the 4-H programs nationwide.

Wearing an equine safety helmet when mounted has been proven to substantially reduce the severity of head injuries by 70-80%. This added measure of safety is especially significant since, according to The University of Connecticut, horseback riding carries a higher rate of injury per hour of exposure than downhill ski racing, football, hang-gliding and motorcycle racing. Each year, approximately 70,000 people are treated in emergency rooms because of equestrian related activities, with head injuries being the most common reason for hospital admissions.

Dr. Gary Jackson, Director of MS State Extension Service, says, “As educators and leaders, we have a moral responsibility to minimize potential injuries by ensuring that appropriate safety precautions and equipment are a part of our programming.”

Horseback riding head injuries are not just related to young, novice riders. Courtney King Dye who represented the USA in dressage at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was warming up her horse at her own barn in 2010 when her horse tripped. Courtney was not wearing a helmet and received a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her life was dramatically changed in an instant! It is very different today. She is now a passionate helmet proponent.

Another long time helmet proponent, Jan Carruthers Sturdivant of Itta Bena ,MS  has recommendations when selecting a helmet.

1.  Be sure that your helmet bears the highest safety rating: “ASTM F1163-15/SEI Certified.” All approved helmets allow less than 300g’s of energy to pass through the helmet to the rider’s head. The internationally accepted threshold for serious brain injury is 300g’s. Headwear such as baseball caps, cowboy hats, bicycle helmets, or old hunt caps, which are not ASTM/SEI rated, are only considered to be a fashion statement, offering little or no significant head protection. Such unapproved headwear has been found to allow 900g’s to pass through!

2.  Realize when selecting a helmet that a more expensive, approved helmet is NOT NECESSARILY a safer helmet than a less expensive one! Helmets are made of different materials and in different styles. If you choose to pay more for a certain style or manufacturer, do not think that you are getting a SAFER safety helmet.

3.  Good fit is crucial for optimal brain protection. All heads are not the same shape and neither are all safety helmets. Try on several from different manufacturers and choose the one which snugly and comfortably fits your head. There are many good videos on YouTube which demonstrate how to properly fit a helmet and adjust the harness.

4.  Unlike some other sport specific helmets, due to the potentially very high g-force of impact in an accident, all equestrian helmets must be replaced after a hard fall; abuse to the helmet, such as prolonged extreme heat, etc.; or 5 years of use. After a fall, you cannot always see signs that your helmet has been compromised. When in doubt, replace it. Write the purchase date and your name inside your helmet.

  Hats off to Dr. Gary Jackson and the 4-H leaders for taking this new position! As they continue the mission of 4-H and the MS Extension Service, they guide their young students through various 4-H activities to make well informed and wise life choices.

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