Gone are the days of ‘get right back on that horse’ and with good reason. Bouncing your brain around and then bouncing right back into action can put an athlete at serious risk. Anytime a concussion is suspected all activity should stop and the person should be sent to a medical doctor.

According to a 2017 federal survey commissioned by the Public Health Agency of Canada, 97% of participants considered concussions an important health problem. The survey also revealed, only 51% knew where to get information on avoiding a concussion.

Anyone who has suffered a concussion will be able to tell you how important it is that your friends, family and coach have this vital information and can recognize the signs. Kristyn Englert, Academic Coordinator – Equine Programs University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus shares her road to recovery after sustaining a concussion:

It goes without saying that wearing a helmet is a must when riding horses. Anyone who says different is playing Russian roulette with their well-being and stands to be accused of being arrogant, selfish and/or ignorant. No level of skill is high enough to defend against all accidents.

Sadly, those who choose not to protect their heads are not just putting themselves at risk. In the event of an injury, they may lose physical capabilities, mental skills and the ability to earn an income. They will be impacting everyone around them, including friends and family. In many cases, a family member will bear the burden of their care and associated expenses.

Helmets cannot protect against all injuries, but strapping on a brain bin mitigates the risk of going from an independent person to a dependent one. Why would you opt not to wear one?

Whenever risks can be reduced, the conscientious horse person reaches for their helmet first. Wearing a properly fitted helmet may reduce the severity of concussion. No one would enter a construction zone without a hard hat so why would anyone hesitate to put on a helmet prior to any activity with associated risks? 20% of accidents which result in head injury happen not while riding horses, but while handling them from the ground. Here are just a few examples where a properly fitted helmet can reduce risks:

  • handling young, green horses
  • entering a confined space with any horse (stall, trailer…)
  • fetching your horse out of the herd in the field
  • while grooming
  • while doing groundwork (in hand, lunging or at liberty)
  • trail riding, beach rides or ANY RIDING regardless of discipline!

When purchasing a helmet, always check for a safety rating (ASTM, SEI etc…). Helmets are designed to absorb one impact so if they hit the ground, it is time for a replacement. That includes if they are not on your head and are dropped on a hard surface! They should be stored out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat and cold. If your vehicle is your travelling tack box, be aware that 40 degrees’ Celsius heat can be detrimental to the integrity of your helmet. Your helmet should be replaced at least every five years as the foam deteriorates over time and becomes less effective. ASTM/SEI helmets contain a manufacturer’s date with the SEI seal.

There are a multitude of resources on the Equine Canada (EC) website including rules that all athletes, regardless of age or level of competition, must wear properly fitted and fastened safety approved protective headgear at all times when mounted at EC sanctioned competitions.

Equestrian Canada’s return to play protocol can also be downloaded. These rules and resources help educate and monitor concussions in equine sport with specific guidelines to be followed.