Helmets Rules – Are you confused too?

Wearing a Hunt Cap and a Certified Safety Helmet at the same time

When the USEF approved new rules for requirements for Safety Helmets in Eventing and Dressage, many of us breathed a sigh of relief and were excited that everything was now simpler and easier to understand.
Unfortunately that is not the case when you start reading rules. I have analysed rules from across the globe and believe I have sorted it out into one simple paragraph that applies to all riders, no matter their discipline and will result in ALWAYS complying with the prevailing rules where ever you are in the world, USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Europe, it doesn’t matter.
Every Nation and the FEI all have slightly different rules, different exemptions and even different languages.  
But there is one common thread and I will get to that.
John and I have had a discussion about all the differences, who is doing what and who is not doing it, but this loop hole makes most of that irrelevant. 
It is NOT A NEW RULE and does not require additional reading of three different rule books to understand (or get even more confused).
The best thing is, you DO NOT need to go out and by a new Certified Safety Helmet, that is if you are already competing in Eventing or Jumping in particular, you already have an appropriate one in that case.
Lets start with the genteel sport of Dressage.  
Did you see the news the other day about Debbie McDonald having a serious fall training a young horse. This is an extract of the full story here on Riders4Helmets.

“I feel like I’ve been run over by a Mack truck,” Debbie said of the accident that left her with lacerations on the left side of face that “looks like I was dragged along the asphalt” and a black eye. She suffered severe whiplash and a concussion.

She said that she was riding the horse belonging to a client when it started to go into bronco bucking mode, throwing its head and stretching down between its legs.

“I realized that at some point I was going to come off,” she said.

“I went head first into the footing,” Debbie said. “The helmet showed that the footing went up to the base of the helmet.

“It was like a Christopher Reeves’ fall, with my hands out behind me,” referring to the actor who suffered a riding accident in 1995 that left him a quadraplegic. He died in in 2004.

We all know even the best horse can react badly when something goes wrong. Think about when you’re warming up at an event and a loose horse gallops through the warm up arena or gallops past you halfway round the cross country course going in the wrong direction. Scary but could be even scarier.  

We Aussies have a saying about riding and I am sure it rings true around the world, if your not falling off your not trying hard enough.  Next time you see Philip, Boyd, Karen or any other elite rider and ask them when they last fell off a horse, I am sure it was only a matter of weeks ago.
Aussie Eventer and Dressage Olympian Heath Ryan maintains that when he has a fall off a horse it is always a big one. Why? Because he is so good in the saddle that when he finally starts flying, all hell breaks loose.  
I hope that by now everybody who reads my stuff knows that I am passionate about safety in our sport.  The big question is why?
Well there are a couple of answers to that.
  1. We all accept that our sport is inherently dangerous, but neither horses nor riders should need to die as a consequence of making a mistake on cross country in particular.
  2. As a Technical Delegate I NEVER EVER want to be living with the knowledge that a rider died on my watch, I will do EVERYTHING in my power to avoid this happening (regardless of how unpopular it makes me with some powers that be).
  3. I love that our sport is in the Olympics, I want it to stay that way. Just think of how much funding will be lost from our elite programs across the globe if our sport is no longer contested at the Olympics.
I leave you with one final thought before I share the global loophole on Safety Helmets.  In 2010 four riders died competing in Eventing around the world, this number is a devastating statistic, but imagine how many more lives were saved by wearing Safety Helmets.
So the loophole that will get you through Eventing across the GLOBE.
Wear a Certified Safety Helmet, with the strap snugly fastened at all times when you ride any horse.
Remember this is not a new rule, written in such a complicated way that you need to read it 10 times before you fully appreciate it, no, we will leave that task to the Dressage Rule writers.
I hope you saw that coming, but if you didn’t, let me take it one step further. All the differences in rules around the globe only give you an exemption for this reason or that, much of that is to do with tradition. Tradition has no place before safety.  Wear your helmet and you will not be marked differently, you will not look different to the other riders in the warm up ring because, to your surprise, within a few weeks, riders will figure out it is far simpler to just wear a helmet at all times.
I think the only reason riders in the USA both dressage and eventing are so bothered and confused about the rule is because it is bloody cold outside and it is easier to sit in front of the computer and complain than go for a nice hack in the snow or icy rain.  
P.S. On that note, could you guys start warming things up over there, it has been well over 100 deg F here for the last few days. I am hoping I don’t arrive to freezing conditions in a couple of weeks for Red Hills.
Yours in Eventing, please wear a Certified Safety Helmet at all times.
The FEI accepts protective headgear complying with the European (EN), British (PAS), North American (ASTM), Australian/New Zealand tested standards.  Any of these standards will keep you on good ground worldwide.



  • Leah says:

    I am still confused! And I have a big pet peeve.

    My favorite helmet complies with the EN and PAS standards. My understanding of the US Eventing rules is that I cannot wear my favorite (and best fitting helmet) when I compete in the USA (not FEI level) because it is not ASTM approved.

    I can wear my helmet when competing in Canada. I wish the American rules would change to include the other standards (just as other countries do). I would like to wear my favorite helmets but I do not want to get eliminated on a silly technicality. Not everyone’s head fits well into the IRH, CO and GPA molds…

  • Leah says:

    PS. I always wear my helmet! Just wish I had more choice about the helmet I put on my head when competing in the USA.

  • Nancy says:

    Thank you, ESJ!!!
    Count me among the many (and technically UNcounted as we don’t keep these statistics) who have had a safety helmet save their lives in competition.
    Had a freak accident in SJ, lawndarted absolutely head first into the (hard summer) ground, at a level at which I am very competent (many years competing, top finish at AECs etc etc) and at which my horse had happily jumped around for a year.

    This rule is long overdue. I have seen riders who typically flat at home without helmets change their habits this year and I am hopeful it is a sea change in our sport (by sport, I mean equestrian in general; I suspect eventers wear their helmets at home much more than dressage or some others).

    I have worn my safety vest at home and in competition whenever jumping since my accident; moments after slamming my wrists and then my head into the ground I hit and bounced along on my back — without serious injury (although, DANG, I needed a massage for months!) — credit the vest for that.

    I look forward to the day when I do not get the hairy eyeball for showing up in SJ warmup at Prelim with my vest on over my jacket.

    A culture of sensible safety can only help our sport.

  • Anon in Australia says:

    At some big events in the UK (and Europe???) only certain certified Jockey skulls are OK for XC. You see them tagged as approved with yellow tape on the chistrap… One more level of confusion?

  • MET says:

    Has anyone else found themselves arguing with an eventing friend in the past few weeks and saying “Just wear the (expletive) helmet!”?
    As a life long helmet wearer *whenever* mounted, I just don’t see what the issue. WEAR THE HELMET! All the time!
    Thanks ESJ!

  • ESJ says:

    You are so right, this is a simple change that needs to be addressed by the USEF. As it stands you could enter 2 horses at the same event, one in an FEI class and one in an National class. You could wear the Euro standard safety helmet in the FEI class but not in the National class.

    Although in practical terms, I think that very few TDs or Ground Juries would penalise you for this.

    That said the USEF can issue a clarification of the Rule which I will be pushing for through the contacts I have and I suggest you do the same.

    For reference, this is how the Australian Eventing Rules Read

    “Wearing an approved helmet is compulsory for anyone riding a horse on the flat or anyone jumping an obstacle at the event. Protective headgear must comply with the European (EN), British (PAS), North American (ASTM), or Australian/New Zealand (AS/NZS) tested standards.”

    Thanks for all the great feedback team and please wear your helmet all the time, including to the supermarket!!! Kidding (sort of).

  • ESJ says:

    Following up with the USEF, we will see about changing to accept all FEI certified helmets.

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