Are we moving the bar with equestrian helmets?


Are we moving the bar with equestrian helmets?

By Jan 2016 many of the hats that we have worn when riding and competing will not be permitted under British competition rules. The (BS)EN1384 specification is to be withdrawn from the Official Journal of the European Union, which contains all EU legislation.

As a result, hat manufacturers will not be able to use this standard to CE mark their hats. All riding hats must have a CE mark under EU law to show compliance with European safety standards. A statement from the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) said the EN1384 is currently being revised, but a new standard had yet to be agreed.

“The changes of the standard will only be a further development of the current safety rules according to the best available technology,” explained Maria Wynne from Uvex.

“These will include shock absorption, lateral rigidity, plus additional enhancements to the individual adjustment system and one-click harness.” This can only be a good thing when looking to save lives. All major governing bodies, including The British Horse Society, Eventing, Show Jumping, Dressage, Riding Club and Pony Club will require all riders to conform to the new standards wearing hats that meet PAS015 regulations. EN1384 will not be permitted under their rules.

Ironically another hugely popular equestrian sport within the UK still isn’t singing from the same hymn sheet. Polo is one of the fastest, highest risk equestrian sports. It is also one of the oldest and is still steeped in tradition. Is it this heady mixture of vanity and traditional values that mean that nearly 50% of players recently admitted that they value looks over safety when it comes to choosing their helmets? In a study carried out by Liverpool University in Jan 2015 players chose aesthetics to be the most important factor.

Although it has been a number of years since the introduction of helmets with the 4 point harness, the majority of players still choose to wear hats with a 2 point attachment just in front of the ears. Tragically there have multiple deaths in the sport over the last 10 years, yet very little seems to change.   Unbelievably there is still no minimum safety standard imposed by the Uk’s Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) or the Federation of International Polo (FIP). With virtually all other governing bodies in equestrian sport miles ahead of this in terms of safety it does beg the question why?

When Horse and Hound magazine addressed the issue with the HPA they were told that the “intention is to introduce a minimum standard” but they are waiting on the change to EN 1384 safety standard. Charles Owen are currently the only hat manufacturer to make a polo helmet that meets PAS015 standard in the UK. But you only need to go to a polo match to see that these hats are certainly not the norm. In fact you would be more likely to see their use in lower goal and amateur level polo than in top end high goal, professional polo.

But a young and extremely innovative student studying at Loughborough is looking to change this. Robin Spicer, a polo player himself, has taken on the challenge to design the safest and most stylish helmet yet. In fact the technology involved potentially puts even some of the most advanced riding hats in question. During his research he dismantled the most popular, slimline type of polo hat currently worn. He says “The helmets protect against penetration because they have a hard shell, but they don’t stop the energy being transferred into your brain because there is virtually no padding. I’ve fallen off countless times while playing polo and have been knocked unconscious three times, with the most recent incident lasting for over 20 minutes. But I was straight back up onto the horse and playing polo again in a couple of days, which I really shouldn’t have been.

Robin’s “Armis” polo helmet includes a “crash sensor” which when linked to a smart phone app via Bluetooth can notify emergency responders. GPS coordinates will also be sent allowing the location of the rider to be tracked immediately. This incredible technology could save lives and be utilized in all equestrian sport, especially when riders are on their own hacking or training horses.

The prototype was created using a 3D printer and developed for production, comprising of a crumple zone made of expanded polystyrene, a flexible peak, and a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) that moves inside the helmet mimicking the brain’s own protection system. The low friction layer reduces the amount of rotational acceleration to the head and minimises the risk of suffering a serious brain injury.

Robin adds “with my polo helmet design, I hope to change attitudes and behavior towards safety in the sport and encourage polo players to seek proper medical attention when suffering a dangerous head impact. Even though the rate of injury in polo is low, the severity rate is extremely high. If I can influence other manufacturers and companies to have a re-think about the design of their polo helmets and look at making them safer, then I have achieved my goal.”

Here at drybrow we take a serious interest in helmet safety. Product development and innovation that allows us all to ride whilst minimizing injury and even worse death has to be a top priority. With the rapid advancement of all sporting equipment and it’s availability across the market, there really is no excuse not to be wearing the best possible helmet. After all is there another more valuable, single item in our sports? Robin Spicer we “take our hats off to you” and wish you the very best with your new design!



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