Many of the millions of UK riders are choosing to ignore the warnings that each hat only serves its purpose for one serious fall, and British Eventing (BE) is gearing up to tackle this problem.

Concerned that riders often keep the same hat for years, the governing body will soon launch a project similar to that in racing, in which hats are taken from jockeys who suffer concussion.

Twenty-year-old eventer Sophie McCormack suffered a rotational fall at Rockingham Horse Trials (22 May), which left her with nerve damage, several fractures and bruising to her brain. Her horse According To Pete IV died.

Consultants told her she was lucky to have survived the fall, and credited the quality of the hat she was wearing.

“I bought my hat two weeks before my fall as I was aware the hat I had was at least a year old. Although I hadn’t fallen off in it I had dropped it many times,” Sophie told H&H.

“In the fall I damaged some nerves in my left eye, broke the bones around it and fractured my left shoulder blade.”

Yet medical professionals treating Sophie at the Central England Rehabilitation Unit in Leamington Spa have said it was incredibly rare for someone who had experienced such a level of head trauma not to have suffered damage to the brain.

“The bruising was caused by my brain hitting my skull, not as a result of my head hitting the ground and suffering a major trauma,” added Sophie.

Sophie, a former working pupil for Harry Meade, left hospital after five-and-a -half weeks of treatment, as opposed to the nine- to 12-month recovery period originally estimated.

“My consultants said my hat saved my life and also saved me from majorly damaging my brain. Knowing that if I had not bought a new hat two weeks previously I would not have survived the fall shows how important it is to get your hat checked regularly,” she added.

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She is not the only one advocating that more riders regularly change their hats to improve safety.

Lissa Green, who broke her chin, collarbone and ribs in a rotational fall at Sapey Horse Trials last August, said riders must be aware that inspecting a hat often does not indicate the damage within.

“Looking at my hat, it doesn’t look broken,” said the 26-year-old.

“It still looks perfect on the outside but the whole inner shell is shattered.”

Helmet safety awareness low in riders

Researchers at University College Dublin found that the likelihood of riders falling is one in every 20 rides and the probability of sustaining a head injury is one in every 1,000.

Most accept these dangers as part of the deal, but helmet safety awareness is low among many riders.

In response, BE will be launching a scheme later this year to encourage riders to frequently change their hats, having become concerned that riders often keep the same helmet for years.

“We want to ensure riders realise their hat doesn’t stay in pristine condition when they have a fall,” said BE’s national safety officer, Jonathan Clissold.

“It does its job, like an airbag in a car. There is often no way of telling that a hat has suffered a severe blow, unless you rip out the lining. It’s not something you can normally see.”

Jonathan, who was involved in the decision to ban helmet cameras and hard peaks in hats used for cross-country, said this is an initiative BE has been working on since 2012.

There is consensus among helmet manufacturers that a hat should be replaced after five years of use, as well as after any fall or impact.

Riding hat company Charles Owen said that the impact of occasional drops and the effect of sweat on the properties of helmets mean that the safety level will be significantly reduced after 2,000 hours of use, even with no heavy impacts.

Roy Burek, managing director of Charles Owen, added: “While one can always go out and tell people to do things, most people say they don’t have time or hats are expensive.

“People think, ‘No one is making me do it and I can’t see there’s anything wrong with my hat.’ The onus is on the rider and it’s not the first thing you think of. But when it is put into an accident situation, people suddenly see a reason to do it.”

Concussion once in 50 falls

Professor Michael Gilchrist, of University College Dublin’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, led the research in 2009 into the effects of rider falls on the structural integrity of their helmets. His findings, covering Ireland, the UK and France, show that a rider is likely to suffer concussion once every 50 falls.

“Our study showed that the baseline energy absorption of a hat is reduced by 20-50% if the helmet sustains one to four falls,” he said.

“That reduction brings it below the fit-for-work threshold, and that may not be visible to the user.

“The most significant amount of plastic crushing occurs after the first impact.”

Ref: H&H magazine 8/10/15