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Safety first is the name of the game

THE SAFEST riding hat is simply the one that fits your head, that was the important message that emerged at the British Horse Society Scotland safety conference.

Roy Burek's grandfather set up the riding hat manufacturer, Charles Owen and Co, and he spoke at length about the new standards in riding hats and body protectors.

"The safest hat is the one that fits your head. Don't be swamped by technology – if it doesn't fit, it won't protect you," said Roy. "It's not uncommon to see hats that are two or three sizes too big.

"Buy a hat, then break it in gently, wear it around the house, take it on and off. Try different models, as even the same brands do vary in shape and fit."

All riding helmet manufacturers have to produce helmets to meet one of three international safety standards or marks – the PAS015:2011, the EN1384:1996/BSEN1384:1997 and ASTM F1163:04a – some manufacturers produce helmets to meet all of them.

As each standard tests for a different set of accident situations, helmets that meet multiple standards provide the most comprehensive protection and cover a wider range of potential accident situations.

The PAS015 standard was introduced in 1998 with a green label, but in 2011 it was changed to a purple triangle and is known as PAS015:2011. It now has 30% greater protection compared to the previous standard.

"When determining helmet safety and assessing if a helmet passes a particular standard, each of the individual standards have their own criteria and tests, putting more or less emphasis on different helmets and various types of injuries.

For example, they'll assess how much of the head a helmet covers, how a rider falls and onto what type of surface, how a helmet moves and how much an injury riders can expect to receive from their fall," explained Roy.

"Some standards look closely at preventing the most severe types of head injuries a rider may experience, others protect from the more commonplace.

"As no one can obviously predict what type of accident or fall a rider may experience – be it on concrete, grass or in an arena, whether they are kicked when they fall, whether the horse is wearing studs, or if a horse falls on them, causing a crush injury – a helmet that meets multiple standards has proven protection in more types of accident," pointed out Roy.

"The amount of times a batch of riding helmets is tested varies between the different certifications. The BSI Kitemark checks one of every 200 helmets from a batch of 800 to 3200 before they will issue an approval label. If the helmets don't pass the standard, then the whole batch must be destroyed," explained Roy.

"The Safety Equipment Institute, in America, will test a batch every 12 months to ensure quality. All of the certification schemes require the helmets to pass an initial design test.

The CE mark (the European safety certification scheme) does not require any further testing after initial approval unless the helmet is modified in design.

"When helmets are tested, they are traditionally checked by measuring the peak acceleration of a helmeted steel head form falling onto a steel surface.

"For leading manufacturers, this is only the start of analysing how a helmet will perform in the real world," said Roy, who added that at Charles Owen's design headquarters in north Wales, they use advanced computer simulation understand how to maximise the dissipation of energy from impact.

"The PAS standard is 30% better than the EN standard and it is the standard the EU is moving to. Always change your helmet after a fall on the head and the safest helmet is not the most expensive – it needs to fit your head," pointed out Roy.

PC Keith Evans, from West Midlands Police Dog Unit, spoke on dangerous dog attacks, which is becoming increasingly common. The British Horse Society has responded to the Defra consultation on a package of measures to promote more responsible dog ownership and to reduce dog attacks.

"Dog attacks on horses, or even when a dog chases a horse but does not attack, can have serious emotional, physical and financial consequences for horses, owners and riders," explained PC Evans.

Since the launch of the dedicated horse accident recording website, www.horseaccidents.org.uk, in November, 2010, the BHS has received 316 reports of dog attacks on horses, and as a resut the BHS believe that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be extended to cover all places, including private property.

Riders who are in a designated low flying aircraft route were urged to wear hi-viz (fluorescent) clothing on both themselves and their horse. After a fatal horse riding accident where the horse was frightened by a low flying helicopter a major review was undertaken.

Extensive trials were undertaken using two riders who acted as guinea pigs for the Chinook pilots and it was easily shown that with a rider wearing a hi-viz jacket, a hat band/cover and the horse wearing a hi-viz exercise sheet, the pilot could see them up to half-a-mile sooner.

That'ss plenty of time for them to avoid over-flight and avoid frightening the horse and rider. Many riders wearing appropriate hi-viz clothing have reported that they have witnessed pilots taking avoiding action and remained safe as a result of this.