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Recent Innovations in Equestrian Safety

HCBC Staff
Created: January 4, 2016

Helmets, body protectors and helmet Camera's

Authored By: Shelby Allen - USEA Staff

Roy Burek visited our Annual Meeting to share some of the most cutting edge innovations in safety for equestrians. He began by explaining how helmet testing has existed historically. Manufactures have previously tested helmets in a direct fall scenario as if the rider were to hit the ground at a 90-degree angle. The reality is that most falls see impact in uncharacteristic ways. Burek showed an animation of this fall, which helped visualize the amount of movement that occurs inside a helmet when a normal fall like this takes place. Even with this amount of movement within the helmet, the outside may still appear unscathed. Because of this, Burek cautioned that helmets should be replaced after any fall, even if the helmet does not appear to be damaged, because inside layers could be compromised.

Burek also described what the human brain experiences during a fall. Most people may assume your brain matter closest to impact will incur the most damage. For example, if you hit the front of your head, your frontal lobe would be the most damaged. This assumption is incorrect because of the composition of brain matter, Burek explained, “Brain matter is very difficult to compress, but very easy to stretch.” Because of this, when your skull takes an impact to the front, brain matter closest to the impact doesn’t compress, but instead, the brain matter in the back of your skull stretches to meet the impact, thus sustaining the more severe injuries.
Burek also spoke on this upcoming American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard change, which will come into effect January 2016. The current ASTM standard for helmets on the U.S. market is ASTM F1163 O4a, and the new standard would be ASTM F1163-13. Burek explained to the audience that although this is a standardization change, it wouldn’t affect most equestrians. The bulk of this change comes after research has recently proven that smaller heads weigh less than an average human head (and larger heads would weigh more). He joked that although this seems obvious, research to this point has not taken that into consideration. This change led to slight changes in helmet design and construction for smaller sized helmets, mostly for juniors and children. Helmets that meet the previous ASTM F1163 O4a standard will still be acceptable for competition, and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has no plans currently to update any helmet requirements. Burek explained that because of the small percentage of membership this affects, he did not anticipate many equestrian organizations would change their rules regarding helmets.

One of the many hot topics lately in helmet safety discussions involves helmet cameras. These have become very popular in the last few years, offering an entirely different way for spectators to experience the thrill of cross-country. Helmet cameras are currently not prohibited by the USEF, but are prohibited by British Eventing. A recent study regarding helmet cameras and bicyclists, which was released in September of this year, dove into these issues. This study found that the biggest potential concerns involved with mounted cameras involve how they may influence your head to spin in the case of an impact. Surprisingly, the study also found that at slow speeds, having some sort of mounted camera actually improves your protection because it additionally delays your head impact. Like many suspected, the study did find evidence that at high speed a helmet camera would increase your chance of injury. Because most Eventing accidents happen at speed, Burek believes the dangers of helmet cameras may outweigh the benefits.
In Burek’s last topic, he discussed body protectors. The most recent body protector standard (SATRA M38) directed the way manufacturers test air vests. This required that they take many things into consideration including: Can the rider stand up from a ‘prone’ or laying position with vest inflated? Is the helmet unaffected from inflation of a vest? Can you assume a riding position with an inflated vest? And Can you land on a canister with an uninflated vest without injury? Burek explained that this new standard addressed issues that many manufacturers were already considering. He also explained how these vests work. Almost all vests on the market today inflate on the front and rear of your body, and don’t have any inflation on the sides. This new standard requires that vests go off when somewhere between 6.6 and 66 pounds of pressure are applied to the lanyard. Burek added that most vests are designed to go off after a pressure of 20 pounds is applied. Vests are also currently designed to inflate fully then slightly deflate after 45 seconds. This means that the vest does not remain at their highest inflation, allowing medics to access the rider easily if needed.
With many riders opting to use air vests now, some are under the impression that traditional body protectors are unnecessary. Burek urged the audience to realize this is incorrect. He explained that this foam is a constant and dependable layer of protection. Burek elaborated further by saying, “Foam vests are the seatbelts of Eventing. You wouldn’t stop wearing your seatbelt just because you also have an airbag.” target='_blank' >For more information on information on equestrian safety please visit
About Roy Burek
Roy Burek is the grandson of the founder of the renowned helmet and safety vest brand, Charles Owen. He is very involved in the development of safety equipment standards around the world and is involved in the leading edge research for the development of safer helmets. He has been recognized for his contribution by ASTM and the British Horse Society. He is currently a member of the Safety Advisory board to the British Horse Society.

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