In order to considered “protective”, horse riding helmets must meet very strict safety standards. Helmet that do not meet these standards are considered to be for appearance only, not for protection. Not surprising, research has shown that horseback riding is a “dangerous” activity, with a high percentage of horse-related injuries being head injuries. Wearing a helmet that meets the equestrian riding helmet safety standards can reduce the potential for injury by up to 80 percent.
What are the Equestrian Riding Helmet Safety Standards?
Different countries have different safety standards and manufacturers are required to meet the standards of the country in which their helmets are sold. To cover all their bases, some manufacturers meet the standards of all the major countries that have established standards, of which there are the following:
Britain: PAS 015 or VG1 with BSI Kitemark
European (EU): VG1 with BSI Kitemark
United States: ASTM F1163 with SEI mark and/or Snell E2001.
Australia: AS/NZS 3838 with SAI global mark
It should be noted that most these standards are very similar to each other, though there are subtle differences in testing methods and depth of testing performed.
British Riding Helmet Safety Standards
Product Approval Specification (PAS) 015 was first developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) in 1994 as a “band-aid” for the delay in developing EN1384, which has for a long time been the European Safety Standard. EN1384 was first published in 1997, but was officially withdrawn at the end of 2015 and will no longer be accepted at the end of 2016. PAS 015 has undergone numerous revisions over time to address new areas of protection and advances in technology.
Helmets sold in Britain may also adhere to the European helmet safety standard VG1.
European Helmet Safety Standards
VG1 was adopted by the European Commission in order for manufacturers to still attain CE certification while a replacement for EN1384 is developed. It basically follows British Standards and is accepted in most European countries.
What is BSI Kitemark?
The Kitemark is the British Standards Institute (BSI) registration mark. It can only appear on helmets that have been certified by the BSI. These products are subject to periodic testing to ensure they are compliant with current standards. Once a helmet is certified, it may not undergo any design changes or be produced using different materials than originally used in the testing and certification process. Redesigned helmets need to be re-certified. The BSI Kitemark makes sure that certified helmets continue to meet the requirements established in testing.
For more information on BSI and to take advantage of their amazing resources, please visit their official website.
What is CE Marking (CE Mark)?
The CE Mark is the abbreviation for a French term meaning “European Conformity”. The marking is a declaration by the manufacturer of a product that the product is in compliance with the “essential requirements” of European health, safety and environmental protection legislation. The marking goes beyond just safety standards and can be applied most any product sold in the European Union marketplace.
For equestrian riding helmets, the CE Mark, like the BSI Kitemark, is just a way of ensuring consumers that the marked helmet meets and maintains certain standards that are required in the European marketplace.
United States Helmet Safety Standards
In the United States, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) writes the safety standards for equestrian helmets, among other things. Once these standards are developed, the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) makes sure these standards are followed by the various manufacturers who make the helmets (or other products).
Though manufacturers are allowed to do their own testing in house or contract it out, SEI representatives regularly audit the procedures used at the various labs to ensure the ASTM standards are being met.
Products such as riding helmets that are found to be in compliance with the ASTM standards may then receive an ASTM/SEI certification seal. This tells consumers the helmet is designed for safety and is not just for appearance only.
The testing that is done is referred to as anvil testing and is pretty much what the name implies. From a height of about six feet, weighted helmets are dropped onto a flat anvil at various directions and angles. Then a second anvil is used that mimics the type of injury a rider might sustain from a horse’s hoof or on the side of a jump. This anvil has a sharp corner the helmet is dropped on. This is a test that differentiates horse riding helmet testing and testing for helmets for other purposes, like bike helmets.
Snell is an independent testing agency in the United States that initially focused on helmet testing for motorcycle helmets, but has expanded testing for helmets for other activities. For more information on SNELL, click here.
Australia Helmet Safety Standards
In competitive riding, riders may be required to adhere to AS/NZS 3838 2006 rules regarding helmets. Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand, have published rules regarding helmets and safety related to horse related activities, including riding. Specifics regarding the standards are copyrighted, but are available for purchase to anyone who is interested in learning more about them. For Australia/New Zealand standards, click here.
Care and Replacement of Helmets
Though helmets are made to be sturdy and provide protection, they are not meant to last forever. Nor are they meant to offer protection beyond one accident. If a helmet was involved in an accident, it should be replaced. This is because any points of impact can now be points of weakness, which means the rider now has less protection from future injuries.
Additionally, materials found in helmets degrade over time. Even under optimal care conditions, an equestrian riding helmet should be replaced appropriately every five years. This applies to all safety certified helmets.
Standard care, according to the manufacturer’s instructions should be closely followed for storage, cleaning and maintenance in order to ensure optimal performance and life expectancy. Generally, inserts are removable and may be replaced, which allows the rider to keep the inside of the helmet largely free from dirt, sweat and grime. Additionally, usually a simple soap and water wash down will suffice for the exterior and interior hard surfaces. Fabric such as suede on the harness may require special or spot cleaning.