While riding hats that comply to accepted standards are already rigorously tested, with some manufacturers going above and beyond the required standards to ensure their products give the best protection possible, new research has suggested ‘there is an urgent need to assess the protective capacity of equestrian helmets under real-world conditions’. H&H finds out more...
There is an “urgent need” to assess the protective capacity of equestrian helmets under more types of real-world conditions, a study involving racing and eventing falls has found.
The study involved researchers from the University College Dublin and the University of Ottawa, as well as British Eventing’s (BE) national safety officer Jonathan Clissold, the British Horseracing Authority’s chief medical officer Jerry Hill and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s former senior medical officer Adrian McGoldrick.
It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport in March 2020.
The purpose was to examine biomechanics of real equestrian accidents and develop associated thresholds for when concussions happen.
While much previous understanding of sporting concussions is based on research in other sports, this looked specifically at rider falls and also the surfaces competitors are likely to fall on — turf and sand — and the forces, speeds and angles associated with falling from a horse.
Riding hats from reputable brands that comply to accepted standards are already rigorously tested in recreated scenarios in which riders might find themselves. These can vary slightly depending on which standard they comply with, but include situations such as a blow from a horse’s foot, the crushing force from a falling horse and landing on different types of object, such as a pole.
Many manufacturers also go above and beyond the required testing standards to ensure their products are giving the best protection possible.
This study is in no way saying helmets are not fit for purpose, rather that as knowledge of this area continues to grow through research and testing, assessing the level of protection helmets offer in real-world situations would be of additional benefit.
“This investigation found that concussive equestrian accidents occurred from oblique impacts to turf or sand with lower magnitude and longer duration impacts [than linear drop to a steel anvil testing, commonly used in helmet testing standards],” states the study.
“This suggests that current equestrian helmet standards may not adequately represent real-world concussive impact conditions and, consequently, there is an urgent need to assess the protective capacity of equestrian helmets under real-world conditions.”
Footage of 1,119 racing and cross-country falls in Britain and Ireland between August 2011 and May 2018 was collected. These included both falls that resulted in diagnosed concussions and those where riders did not have a head injury.
Of these +1,100 falls, 114 were concussive and of these, 25 met the exact criteria needed for the study. This included having a clear view of the fall, the rider’s head must have hit the ground and they cannot have had multiple impacts (for example, falls where a rider landed and then was kicked were excluded). The study also included 25 non-concussive falls.
These 50 falls, which included both men and women, were then reconstructed.
“From the accident reconstructions, it is apparent that current certification standards for equestrian helmets represent different loading conditions than those associated with real-world concussion,” concluded the researchers.
“It is unknown how equestrian helmets perform for oblique impacts to a compliant surface and, therefore, there is a need to assess the protective capacity of equestrian helmets under these impact loading conditions.”
Mr Clissold told H&H BE was “lucky enough” to work with Dr Michio Clark, one of the study’s authors, on this “very detailed and thorough project”.
“We hope the findings will lead to further development of equestrian helmets to help reduce the risk of riders’ being concussed in falls,” he added.
A spokesman for Charles Owen, which provided helmets for the research, told H&H studies like this are “important to support the whole equestrian industry in taking small steps towards improved safety for all riders”.
“The research from this paper, and others like it, are used as reference material for industry-standard committees, like ASTM [American Society for Testing and Materials — one of the safety standards riding helmets can comply to],” he said.
“Those standards dictate the kind of tests each equestrian helmet must go through to be sold in various markets around the world. So in essence, research papers and studies conducted today help form safety standards for rider’s helmets for the future.”
The spokesman added Dr Clark has spent time at Charles Owen and has been involved in other published papers “vital” in shaping equestrian helmet standards.
“We are actively using them in the helmet committees and working groups that address changes and improvements for the future,” added the spokesman.
“Having a wider audience in the general public rather than just academics and the industry will also help to push changes.
“This paper and others that look at oblique impacts are making the noise necessary for change and new test methodology in the standards is being written.
“The helmet industry is taking notice and looking to create helmets that mitigate rotational falls.”
A spokesman for helmet manufacturer Champion Safety added the company has been investigating the relationship between rotational acceleration and concussion for many years, recently introducing the MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) brain protection system to several ranges of its helmets. The MIPS system is also available in some riding hats from other manufacturers.
“MIPS works by allowing a small movement of the helmet on the head which redirects rotational forces away from the skull in the event of a fall and in doing so helps mitigate against brain injury,” he told H&H.
“As the industry’s understanding of the relationship between horse rider falls and concussion increases, we hope to see more test labs having the capability to measure these forces and this will hopefully mean we can start to include performance criteria for this type of injury into our global standards.”
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