Virginia Tech is raising money to test equestrian helmets. The Blacksburg-based university’s VT Helmet Lab has been conducting independent safety tests on helmets for sports like football and cycling since 2011. Researchers run helmets that already meet minimum safety standards through tests that mimic real-life conditions and use a star system to rate how well they protect from impact.
“Since we started the Helmet Lab, I’ve gotten more phone calls about equestrian helmets than I have about any other sport except football,” Stefan Duma, the lab’s founder, told VT Daily. “So we know there’s interest. And when you look at the injury numbers, they are staggering.”
A study published in 2016 showed that equestrian sport leads the way when it comes to traumatic brain injuries, ratcheting up 45 percent of all sports-related TBI.
Equestrian helmets go through a battery of tests to earn ASTM/SEI certification, the industry standard for required headgear for riders competing in most U.S. Equestrian Federation-recognized events. But this certification doesn’t distinguish between the helmets that just barely meet requirements versus those that pass with flying colors. Researchers at the VT Helmet Lab want to pursue more thorough testing in order to evaluate which models are most effective at preventing concussions and other head injuries.
The lab already conducted preliminary research using six riding helmets and found wide variation in how well they performed. The researchers also discovered that the best equestrian helmet was still far less effective at managing impact energy than the top-performing football helmets in their tests.
“There is tremendous room for improvement not only in how helmets are evaluated, but also in utilizing advanced helmet technology,” Duma told VT Daily.
Fundraising is taking place on the VT’s JUMP crowdfunding platform, and so far the lab has raised just over $11,000 of the $25,000 goal. They estimate it will take about six months to do the testing once they’ve raised enough funds.