ISSUE 99
APR 2024


JEMMA HERAN
& SAPHIRA

Take flight in Florida
EDWINA TOPS-ALEXANDER’S
ROAD TO PARIS
Lyndal Oatley
No stone unturned

PLUS: RYAN’S RAVE, OLYMPIC JUMPING PROSPECTS, KERRY MACK EXPLORES TRAINING’S WELFARE BENEFITS, A NEW RUGGING INNOVATION, UNDERSTANDING HELMET SAFETY, A VET’S LOOK AT THE BANDAGE BAN, JAMES ARKINS’ NEW TEAM, 100 YEARS OF THEAULT, WARWICK SCHILLER & DAN JAMES ON THE GAUCHO DERBY, TRAINING THE WALK PIROUETTES, & RIDLEY SCOTT’S ‘NAPOLEON’.

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
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ISSUE 99

CONTENTS

APR 2024
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A Few Words

FROM THE PUBLISHERS

EQ LIFE

Ryan's Rave

HIGH DRAMA IN OUR LEADERBOARDS

BY HEATH RYAN

Dressage

JEMMA HERAN’S
DRESSAGE DREAM

BY ADELE SEVERS

Showjumping

BLUE-RIBBON RACE
FOR OLYMPIC TEAM

BY JESSICA GRANT

Dressage

LYNDAL OATLEY IS
HUNGRY FOR MORE

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Health

HORSE-LED DESIGN: RUGGING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX

WRITTEN BY ADELE SEVERS / IMAGES BY JESSICA ATKINS STUDIO

Showjumping

EDWINA: THE ROAD TO PARIS

BY DAWN GIBSON-FAWCETT

Health

HOW DO WE STACK UP?

BY ADELE SEVERS

Health

BANDAGING TENDONS –
IS IT ALL BAD NEWS?

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Showjumping

JAMES ARKINS
SWITCHING IT UP

BY ADELE SEVERS

Training

EARNING OUR
‘SOCIAL LICENCE’

BY DR KERRY MACK

Lifestyle

THEAULT CELEBRATES 100 YEARS OF INNOVATION

BY ADELE SEVERS

Training

JUDGING WALK PIROUETTES

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Lifestyle

HORSES CARRY ‘NAPOLEON’ TO GLORY

BY SUZY JARRATT

Lifestyle

ONE HELL OF A RIDE
IN HEAVENLY PATAGONIA

BY ADELE SEVERS
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With a hospitalisation rate 20 times greater than motorbike riding, horse riding is a dangerous sport where head and spinal injuries are unfortunately not uncommon. Helmets play a crucial role in reducing the risk of these injuries, and it’s therefore critical we understand what we’re putting on our head. We speak to Rhys Powell of ARRO Helmets to find out how Australia stacks up.

As equestrians we strive to ensure we’re using the correct tools for our trade. We select discipline-specific saddles that correctly fit our horses and work in harmony with our own physiology. We source feeds that meet the nutritional requirements of our horses, both in terms of energy expenditure and health concerns. We obsess over fencing that will provide the safest option for our equine partners.

However, as riders, it’s likely we know very little about the helmet we are using. Most of us simply pick one we like and check that it’s acceptable for use in our chosen competitive field. Job done.

“We find most riders and officials actually know very little about this important piece of equipment and have a false sense of safety,” says Rhys Powell, founder of New Zealand-based company ARRO Helmets.

As someone who has always ridden, Rhys admits that once upon a time, he also gave little thought to helmet choice. However, that all changed in 2018 after fracturing his C3 vertebrae in a serious fall.

“I was in hospital for four days. You have plenty of time to think when you’re in a brace and can’t move. And I thought, this really shouldn’t have happened to me if I’d been wearing a different helmet.”

Grateful to make a full recovery, and once back on his feet, Rhys was determined to create a better helmet – one with proper coverage of the face and the neck that would provide additional protection against spinal injuries.

Rhys did all the initial design himself, pulling apart existing helmets to see how they were made, and using a 3D printer to produce his own test designs. As well as the safety features, they had to pass “the mirror test” for style-conscious equestrians. After five years of extensive research, rigorous testing, and multiple design iterations, ARRO Helmets was born.

For Rhys, it was critical that these helmets stacked up against the highest standards.

STANDARDS & QUALITY TESTING

We all know that you should replace your helmet if it receives any serious impact, as knocks of any size can compromise the helmet’s protective qualities. Studies have found that repeated impacts reduce the liner thickness of the foam, in turn decreasing the helmet’s ability to dissipate impact force and increasing head injury risk. In fact, natural wear and tear degrade the protective materials over time as it is, and most manufacturers actually recommend you replace your helmet every three to five years regardless.

However, not all helmets are created equal in the first place – so how do you know what you’re putting on your head is safe to begin with?

Equestrian helmets are typically manufactured according to an international standard and are then also subject to quality testing, which monitors the ongoing quality of the product. Each international standard has its own criteria and tests that place more or less emphasis on different features and various types of potential equestrian-related injuries.

“The average punter absolutely knows very little about helmet standards, quality testing, and what it all means,” says Rhys, who believes that despite meeting an international standard, many equestrian helmets fall significantly short of the protection needed for horse riding.

A helmet that might do the job when hitting the sand in an arena could fare very differently when faced with the impact of a rotational fall out on cross country or hitting your head on a jump wing.

In developing ARRO Helmets, Rhys discovered that only one international standard rigorously tested against specific equestrian hazards, such as the impact of a horse’s hoof or round objects like jumps, fences, posts, trees, and rocks. These round objects, common in equestrian environments, represent significant risks due to the concentrated impact point they create during a fall.

That standard was SNELL, which essentially tested a greater number of impact types compared to other standards and did so to a higher level in each scenario. As quality testing is incorporated into the standard, no additional quality testing is required.

Wanting to produce the safest helmet possible, Rhys knew that ARRO Helmets had to be certified by SNELL. “SNELL certification is really hard to get – 99% of helmets can’t pass that. But that’s the level of safety we wanted,” explains Rhys.

GLOBAL COMPARISONS

Here in Australia, the type of helmet allowed in competition depends on the governing body under which you’re riding. Equestrian Australia has a list of approved helmets and in recent years introduced helmet tagging, where riders are required to have their helmets checked and tagged by volunteers to confirm they display one of the approved standards prior to taking part in EA events.

For eventing, this was introduced in 2019, with jumping, dressage, driving and endurance following suit from 2022. Helmet tagging did create a bit of confusion initially, particularly in relation to the EN 1384 standard that was removed here in 2017 (following the European Union’s withdrawal of the standard in 2014 and the subsequent release of the VG01.040 instead).

So, how do Australian standards compare to other equestrian nations? The FEI refers to protective headgear in their regulations and stipulates that helmets must comply with at least one of the international testing standards, while also passing quality testing.

EA largely follows in the FEI’s footsteps – with the exception that here in Australia a helmet approved to VG01.040 standard doesn’t require a quality testing mark – ultimately meaning these helmets don’t have to have been subjected to quality testing.

“If there’s no safety mark that means they are not quality tested against the standard. So even before Equestrian Australia tags them, the helmet hasn’t actually had to go through a lab to be certified,” explains Rhys.

Discussing the varying standards accepted by other national equestrian federations, Rhys points out that while the United States Equestrian Federation and British Eventing have updated their regulations to largely remove superseded versions of international standards (and ensure all must carry a quality testing mark), Australia is lagging behind.

Over in the United Kingdom, the British Equestrian Federation varies depending on the discipline; British Eventing is a little stricter and has removed many of the outdated versions (older years) of each accepted standard. Meanwhile, the United States Equestrian Federation also requires later versions of the standards they accept.

Most notably, Australians can in theory still attend EA events wearing helmets created to outdated standards potentially set 26 years ago (in the case of PAS 015 1998, for example).

Rhys believes it’s time that here in Australia we close the loophole regarding the use of VG01.040 helmets that are not quality tested and consider reviewing the acceptance of quality standards that have been superseded. He has reached out to Equestrian Australia in the past with no response, and Equestrian Life’s recent inquiry regarding helmet standards also failed to heed a reply.

TRANSPARENCY & INNOVATION

While all helmets display their international standard and where applicable their quality testing mark, ARRO Helmets is the first brand to actually publish their test results in full. “We’re really trying to inject some transparency into the market so that riders can make informed decisions,” explains Rhys. “When we compete at horse shows our scores are posted on the internet for others to see, so why should the helmet companies not share their results?”

It’s a little akin to purchasing a Grand Prix dressage horse – are you happy knowing the horse has simply completed a Grand Prix test, or would you be interested to know whether its score was 50%… or 75%?

Through ARRO Helmets, Rhys is committed to developing head protection that utilises available technology whilst also seeking to innovate and push that standard further.

As someone who rode motocross for many years as a child, having a helmet with a chin bar isn’t all that foreign to Rhys – although to the equestrian world it certainly is. “The helmets for motocross and downhill mountain-biking were all open-faced in the 80s but had since evolved. While horse-riding helmets hadn’t; they’d actually gone backwards. When we show equestrian helmets to the motorbike guys or athletes in other sports, they’re surprised at how basic they are, considering our sport has some of the worst statistics when it comes to head injuries,” he says.

ARRO Helmets have become the first manufacturer to incorporate a chin bar attachment for additional jaw and facial protection, and Rhys believes it’s an important safety element when partaking in riskier activities such as handling young horses on the ground, schooling cross country, or riding young horses that can be unpredictable.

“People often ignore it,
but it’s
something we’ve
really focused on…”

“You have to think about ‘crush’ as well, it’s quite important,” explains Rhys. “It’s a rollover onto the helmet. People often ignore it, but it’s something we’ve really focused on. Many helmets only take 64kg… that’s nothing. ARRO Helmets has really cranked that up and are tested to 204kg. We believe we’re the highest in the world by a long way.”

A term you may have heard mentioned in association with helmets in more recent years is “MIPS”, otherwise known as a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. As Rhys explains, this is not a safety standard or quality testing, but rather a helmet safety system designed to reduce rotational motion to the brain during an accident.

ARRO Helmets incorporate MIPS, however Rhys is quick to point out that it’s only one element of helmet safety. “We educate riders that MIPS alone won’t keep you safe; everything helps as sum of all parts. If it may help, then every company should include it if they are serious about safety.”

In December 2023 the FEI published a recommendation for additional rotational tests to reduce the risk of concussions, and Rhys says this is a step in the right direction. “These tests will be harder to pass than MIPS testing and will aim to simulate more accurately the conditions of a fall from horseback rather than the height standing beside the horse (2.2m versus 1.8m). Preliminary tests we’ve conducted have shown promising results with ARRO Helmets.” Rhys anticipates that the FEI will likely meet some resistance from some manufacturers, given that many helmets currently on the market are unlikely to meet the enhanced criteria.

STAYING IN THE SADDLE

Tightening regulations – whether it’s the FEI introducing new testing standards, or EA closing the loophole regarding untested or older helmet – of course, a fine line. Equestrian sport is cost-prohibitive by nature, and rules and regulations that push riders to update their gear do ultimately serve to increase that cost.

However, as Kerry Mack explained in the December 2023 issue of Equestrian Life, the risk of a serious injury is higher when horse riding than any other sport except Formula 1 racing – so if we are going to choose a rule to be stricter about, headgear is one of the more important ones. From a rider perspective, it really should be seen as an investment.

“The hospitalisation rate is around one hospitalisation for every 350 hours of contact,” notes Kerry. “This rate is 20 times higher than motorbike riding. It is a fact that 81% of horse riders will have an accident; 21% will have a serious accident. About 20-30% of accidents occur when handling horses, not actually riding.” Even more poignant is the fact that concussion is the most frequent cause of hospitalisation for riders – so educating riders about head protection is critical.

Horses are inherently dangerous; we as riders are all very aware of that, but of course that doesn’t stop us getting in the saddle. As a rider himself, Rhys knows this as well as anyone. “People are going to keep horse riding, it’s like a religion. But if you can help mitigate the risk by putting on a helmet that will provide the highest level of protection, why wouldn’t you?”

This article was written in conjunction with ARRO Helmets. You can find out more about their range here. EQ 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ:

Bandaging Tendons: Is it all Bad News?Equestrian Life, April 2024

Play it Safe from the Ground Up – Equestrian Life, December 2023

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