Helmet awareness day: riders urged to consider safety

The 10th international helmet awareness day (IHAD) takes place this weekend (14 to 15 September), educating riders on when to replace their hats as well as offering discounts on new ones.

The annual event was created by US-based Brit Lyndsey White in 2010 and has since expanded across the globe, with 19 hat manufacturers and retailers in 26 countries taking part last year.

“We want to promote as much as possible reminders that the materials hats are made of do expire over time and that people shouldn’t be complacent if they have had a fall and their hat has taken a knock. The damage can be invisible to the naked eye,” said Lyndsey. “While retailers do sign up to offer discounts, safety has always been at the forefront of our campaign.”

Lyndsey was prompted to found Riders 4 Helmets, the campaign behind IHAD, after US Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye spent four weeks in a coma following a schooling accident. The horse she was riding tripped and fell and Courtney was not wearing a helmet at the time.

“While she was still in hospital I reached out to various Olympians and asked them if they could speak about why it is important to replace helmets, and I also approached helmet manufacturers and we came up with the idea of bringing those together for an event,” Lyndsey said.

In the early days of the campaign, Lyndsey teamed up with US equestrian team physician and FEI medical chairman Craig Ferrell to help promote the message. Dr Ferrell later died as a result of a head injury sustained in a polo accident in 2012.

“We organised some events in Florida and sat round a table with neurosurgeons, Olympians and equestrian federations and the FEI got behind the campaign — which to date is the only external campaign they have ever endorsed,” Lyndsey said.

“US Equestrian, the Canadian federation, British Dressage and British Eventing were all among those who changed their rules on the back of it and it is great to still be able to keep the campaign running in memory of Craig.”

Danielle Santos of hat manufacturers Charles Owen is among those who have supported the campaign from the outset and she reiterated the importance of riders regularly replacing their helmets.

“Riders should replace their helmets after any fall, not just a significant fall. People don’t always realise when they have hit their head and the chances are that the head has hit the ground at some point, probably as a secondary hit,” she said.

“The rule of thumb is that unless you’re positive your head hasn’t hit the ground — for example you know you landed on your feet — then it needs replacing.”

Even if the helmet has not been involved in an accident, Charles Owen’s late chairman Roy Burek recommended replacing them after around five years of use, which Riders 4 Helmets believe is a solid guideline. Most modern helmets are made using polystyrene, which degrades over time.

“It is the sweat and occasional drop that reduces a helmet’s safety level,” Roy has previously advised. “I would equate that to 2,000 hrs of riding, so a helmet that is worn regularly will deteriorate faster than one that is used for only one hour a week.”

UK riders looking to replace their helmets can check out the list of participating retailers on the Riders 4 Helmets web page, where retailers can also sign up.

Danielle said many hat manufacturers were as keen to back the campaign today as they were 10 years ago.

“I am in awe of how IHAD has grown,” she added. “You can’t be a helmet brand and hold the beliefs we do and just push people to buy helmets — you have to educate them and sometimes you need a third party to help with that.

“Roy was never about selling helmets, it was just a way to fulfil a purpose and stop riders suffering concussions and injuries.”

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Lyndsey said she had been amazed at how far Riders 4 Helmets message had spread and that she hoped to expand the IHAD campaign to other sports.

“We receive interesting photos and videos from around the world every year of people backing IHAD — we had a guide in the Masai Mara in Kenya send us a picture of a rider in a helmet decorated with jewels from the local tribe.

“Last year we even had a group of motorcycle riders in India saying the wanted to support it — IHAD has its own legs and it’s amazing that it’s going so well after 10 years and how the messages can spread through the power of social media,” she said.

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