June 27, 2016

Use your head – stay safe!

With horse riding an inherently risky sport, safety should be paramount for everyone, whatever the season. Cathy Wood recaps helmets standards, looks at safety products and seeks legal advice on the use of helmet cameras.

Head first 

Last year the news broke that one of the most common standards of CE marked helmet, the EN1384, no longer conformed to regulations. However, the hats were no less safe, it was more of a red tape problem linked to certification. In response, many UK riding bodies changed their rules and it is worth recapping the rules for each of the major sports:

British Dressage: EN1384 helmets may be worn until December 2016, but after that helmets reaching only this standard will not be allowed. BSI Kitemarked PAS 015 and VG1 are allowed, as are SNELL E2001, SEI ASTM F1163 04a (American) and AS/NZS 3838 2003 (Aus/NZ).

British Horse Society: The above standard helmets are also allowed at British Riding Club competitions. Helmets previously marked with a blue tag are no longer accepted and all helmets must be checked by an official and marked with an orange tag. Helmets that only conform to EN1384 are no longer allowed at BRC competitions from the end of this year. It is also worth noting that only ‘jockey skull’ type helmets are to be used on cross country, helmets with attached peaks are not allowed. Also head cams used on any part of the horse or rider are prohibited at any BRC affiliated competition.

British Eventing: The same as the BHS – EN1384 are no longer accepted if that is the only standard reached. All competitors when jumping and warming up must wear a helmet that reaches BSI Kitemarked PAS 015 and VG1, SNELL E2001, SEI ASTM F1163 04a (American) or AS/NZS 3838 2003 (Aus/NZ). The helmet must have been checked by an official and visibly tagged. A ‘jockey skull’ type helmet is the only type permitted by BE for the cross country phase.

British Showjumping: Hats conforming to BSI Kitemarked PAS 015 and VG1, SNELL E2001, SEI ASTM F1163 04a (American) or AS/NZS 3838 2003 (Aus/NZ) are accepted and BS rules state that protective helmets must be worn by all riders, whether competing or not, with harnesses adjusted and fastened at all times. EN1384 is no longer accepted.

Showing Council: Hats with the EN1384 standard will continue to be permitted for use in affiliated showing competitions throughout 2016 for those bodies which are Members of The Showing Council. All the other standards mentioned are also accepted. From January 2017, EN1384 will no longer be accepted.

Retailers are still able to sell EN1384 helmets that they currently have in stock, and in fact these helmets are still just as safe as they always were, and therefore perfect for leisure riders. Many popular helmets already reach beyond this standard and as such will not be affected by the change in rules, however, each rider should check the tag inside their helmet to ensure they know which standards are reached and in which competitions they are accepted. Helmets should be regularly inspected anyway, to check for damage or wear and tear – even damage to the lining and specifically damage to the shell or harness of the helmet could mean that the helmet is no longer safe and should be replaced.

Body protectors 

A body protector is a must have bit of kit for any rider and they come in a variety of designs and standards to suit all. Body protectors in the UK carry a label that indicates the standard they reach, which is governed by the British Equestrian Trade Association.

Level 1 (black label) provides the lowest level of protection that is only considered appropriate for licensed jockeys while racing.

Level 2 (brown label) offers a lower than normal level of protection so is considered suitable for low risk situations – not including jumping, riding on the roads, riding young or excitable horses or riding while inexperienced.

Level 3 (purple label) is considered appropriate for general riding, competitions including eventing and working with horses. Level 3 body protectors should prevent minor bruising that would have produced stiffness and pain, reduce soft tissue injuries and prevent a limited number of rib fractures.

Body protectors, like helmets, should be fitted by a trained retailer or fitter and neither body protectors nor helmets should be bought second hand as their history will be unknown. Modern body protectors are lightweight and flexible, providing maximum protection to the rider without restricting movement or causing overheating.

High visibility 

High visibility (hi-viz) clothing is classed as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which means it must correspond to an official standard. EN471 and EN20471 is the highest standard of hi-viz and is suitable for professional use, such as for grooms. EN1150 is suitable for leisure riders. EN13356 applies to accessories such as arm and hat bands. For most riders, it is not compulsory to wear hi-viz at all, however it is a very good idea. But, for professional riders, which includes grooms, those employed to exercise horses on livery yards, jockeys exercising horses and so on, hi-viz conforming to EN471 is compulsory when riding on the roads – if you employ someone, make sure your staff complies.

Ideally, every rider should wear hi-viz when riding on the road as it allows other road users to see you three seconds earlier and react faster, potentially saving your life as well as your horse’s life. Hi-viz is also a good idea for riding in the countryside as it will help you if you fall and require assistance – the emergency services are likely to find you faster.

Hi-viz should be a combination of fluorescent colours and reflective material; the fluorescent colours will help you be seen in daylight, dappled shade and low light conditions, and the reflective materials will reflect the light from car headlights, making it particularly effective in low light conditions. Best practice is for both you and your horse to wear hi-viz and to wear enough that you can be seen from in front and behind. Modern hi-viz clothing and equipment is now stylish, breathable and very versatile, so there is no excuse for not owning something to make you more visible.

Air jackets 

Many event riders wear an air jacket, which is a lightweight jacket with built in air bags that are triggered if the rider falls from the horse. Air jackets in cross country competitions must be worn with a body protector, as they both provide different types of protection. However, air jackets can be a useful bit of safety kit on their own for leisure riders or those training at home. New to the market are air jackets that just look like standard gilets, but include the airbag technology, providing safety with a subtle style. Also available are air bags that also incorporate a BETA level body protector, for protection all in one unit.

Although air bags must be worn alongside a body protector for cross country, rule changes this year in both the Pony Club and British Eventing now allow air jackets to be worn without body protectors for dressage, showjumping and Pony Club rallies.


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