Alex Grayton wearing a Back on Track helmet. Photo Credit/Back on Track

Price no guarantee for safety with horse riding helmets: new report

A Swedish insurance report reveals that many brands of equestrian helmets do not protect riders as well as they could.

The dangers of repeated head injuries and concussions in professional sports like hockey and football has prompted a mainstream discussion, a scientific obsession and blockbuster films, but they are still widely misunderstood.

Concussion, a movie about Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, showcased the doctor’s discovery of the detrimental long-term health impacts of brain injury on NFL players.

From the deaths of Mike Webster and Derek Boogaard to bull rider Ty Pozzobon, the mental health implications have been made clear and yet those outside of these mainstream sports may not be aware of the danger.

A recent study is hoping to bring some new awareness to the potential danger in the world of equestrian sports.

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The study, produced by Swedish insurance company Folksam, looked into the safety and effectiveness of a range of well-known and certified riding helmets.

Folksam tested 15 helmets on the Swedish market, all previously tested and approved to the CE standard, which means the energy absorption of the helmets was tested with a perpendicular impact to the helmet.

“This does not fully reflect the scenario in an equestrian accident,” Folksam wrote in its findings.

“In a fall from the horse or horse kick, the impact to the head will be oblique. The intention was to simulate this in the tests since it is known that angular acceleration is the dominating cause of brain injuries.”

Photo by Folksam

Its independent study showed only three of the helmets tested offered protection from side impact falls – known as oblique impact, which best simulates actual riding and handling accidents.

The test determined three helmets earned Folksam’s Best Award in Best Choice or Good Choice. The Back on Track EQ3 Lynx, Back on Track EQ3 and Charles Owen Ayr8 Leather Look.

The highest grade helmet – the grade 5 Lynx – met the legal requirements and performed 30 per cent better than the average helmet.

The other two received a grade 4, which meant the helmet met the legal requirements, was better than average and provides good protection.

It found the two helmets with MIPS technology provided “extra good” protection as they counteract the rotation violence – something researchers say the brain is sensitive to.

The study found many of the certified helmets did not meet the standard required to protect the brain on impact and yet those helmets are widely sold and sought after in the equestrian world.

The top helmets contained MIPS Brain Protection System (BPS) technology, a helmet technology that is only sold in riding helmet form by Back on Track Canada.

Back on Track Canada advisor Tim McLeod said the company was already pushing for head injuries to become a point of discussion in Canada’s equestrian community when the report was released last week.

He is passionate about the topic after he almost lost his life in an equestrian incident as a teenager. His daughter was also forced to leave the sport after multiple injuries.

“It was a serious incident, I never rode a horse again. Horseback riding can be very unsafe if people don’t take care to ride wisely and safely,” explained McLeod.

“I promptly forgot about it until Back on Track Canada was asked by ownership to carry a new technology, horseback riding helmets.”

He said that prompted the company to investigate helmets in Canada and he said they were shocked by what they uncovered.

“We looked at statistics and studies from around the world and when we looked into certifying the helmet in Canada, we discovered that there is no testing for this new technology,” explained McLeod.

This particular helmet with MIPS has an inner helmet that swivels, similar to how the brain does within your skull. An invention designed to dissipate the energy of the impact, lessening potential injury to the brain.

Photo by Folksam

“This invention is in 5.4 million helmets in the world, but not in riding helmets,” said McLeod. “We were the first company to sell it. It shocked us why the horseback riding world is ignoring this technology.”

The company started talking to its partners like Equestrian Canada, Spruce Meadows, pro rodeo and others about working together to protect brains better.

He said the Swedish study has quickly made waves in the Canadian equestrian market place as the results are “staggering”.

“In terms of safety, some of the most expensive helmets on the market didn’t even make the register of safety. They came in below average,” said McLeod.

“People are paying $800-$900 for helmets and this study showed in safety tests they don’t function very well. Yet, you’re putting all your faith into that.”

He said the helmets were all ADSM approved and yet were not tested for rotational impact, something that can happen when you fall off a horse.

“They look at up and down forces, but nothing rotational,” said McLeod.

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He said his company is in conversation with stakeholders across Canada to open a symposium on brain safety in the equestrian world.

‘We’ve committed, as a company, to provide the resources to get this conversation going,” said McLeod.

“This study exposes the cracks in Canadian’s lack of understanding about our head health in the horse world, and how to deal with it. How to bring research into the picture.”

To read the full report click here and or here to see how the riding helmets compare.

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@carmenweld
carmen.weld@bpdigital.ca

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