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June 26, 2012

Vote For the Greater Good, AHSA

ASTM/SEI approved helmets with chinstraps, such as this one worn by Judy Richter, were a hot topic of debate before they were required. Photo by James Leslie Parker.

Jan. 4, 1991

Editor John Strassburger argued that it was a good decision to require ASTM-SEI helmets, even if riders weren't eager to don them.

The question of whether or not the American Horse Shows Association should adopt its April 1 helmet deadline is being argued largely on emotional grounds. One side, the “safety first” group, nearly unequivocably endorses the ATSM-SEI-approved helmet as an improvement in head injury protection. The other side, the “comfort first” group, rejects the ATSM-approved helmets for a variety of reasons. And neither side will believe the other.

The helmet issue can be easily compared to safety issues in everyday life and in other sports. A vocal public segment dislikes the mandatory seatbelt laws for reasons ranging from wrinkling clothes to the bruises they cause in accidents. Skiers objected when breakaway bindings were introduced about 20 years ago. Initially they were hard to put on and there were problems with the fit and reliability; but ski resorts required them and since then their design has reached such an advanced stage that now you can simply step in and out of them without touching them. Both measures have prevented many injuries and deaths.

The three biggest complaints about the ATSM-approved helmets are fit, weight and lack of ventilation. The last two are easily answered. Wearing a helmet is always hotter than not wearing one. If you are hot, you get off your horse and take your helmet off, as Pony Clubbers are taught. And there are ASTM-approved helmets with ventilation holes. As for weight, the ASTM models weigh approximately the same as the British Horse Society-approved helmets many riders are fond of and only ounces more than the Pony Club-approved helmets they have replaced.

Fit, admittedly, is a problem. The hard inner liner doesn’t conform to the odd shapes of the human head, which is especially uncomfortable for the people who haven’t worn a helmet with a hard liner before. There have been many complaints of helmets slipping from front to back, even several accounts of helmets that came off in falls, although riders claimed they were properly adjusted. Clearly, this is a problem to which the helmet manufacturers must respond. They have already responded to many complaints and problems in the year and half the helmets have been available and made substantial improvements, and there is no reason to think they won’t continue to do so.

The ATSM-approved helmets aren’t perfect, but what helmet or other piece of safety equipment is? The bottom line is that neither these helmets—nor any other—can completely protect a rider. But they have been scientifically demonstrated to protect the human head from concussion and penetration better than any other helmets available.

Our survey shows that 53.4 percent of those who answered it did not support the April 1 deadline. But sometimes governments have to make tough decisions and enact legislation for the greater good of its constituents, even against their objections. That’s exactly what the AHSA board of directors must do when it meets in two weeks.

This article was first published on Jan. 4, 1991, in The Chronicle of the Horse. It's part of a series celebrating 75 years of Chronicle history.