Polo helmet safety - trusting your helmet to protect you?


At a tournament at my club in August 2017, a two goal playing groom, who was grooming for me and other players at the club, fell off his horse on the first day of the tournament. Not at speed, but almost at a standstill. Falling on his head, he suffered a serious injury.

This accident, so close to home, is encouraging me to write in more detail about polo helmet safety. While I can't say to what extent the helmet was a causal factor of his terrible injury, it has become clear to me that for most polo players, your trusted polo helmet does not actually deserve your trust. Apologies for the lengthy text, but I hope you will agree that it is justified.

With few exceptions, most polo helmets come only with the manufacturers' claim of protection. Most likely, you have been provided no information on the protection offered by your polo helmet - unless, your polo helmet has been tested to recognised standards by a certified body. In other equestrian sports, certified riding helmets have been mandatory for years. Riding helmets are considered personal protective equipment and as such may only be sold by retailers in Europe if certified (CE-marked in Europe, Kite-marked in the U.K.). In polo, however, it has been considered a personal choice, what to wear as long as it has a chin strap - until now. As of 1. January 2018, the HPA rules mandates the use of certified helmets by players and grooms, finally bringing polo in line with the rest of the equestrian world. My hope is that the polo associations in Europe and elsewhere, which have traditionally adopted the HPA rules, will also mandate the use of certified polo helmets.

HPA rules demands certified polo helmets from 1. January 2018

My old, traditional polo helmet

It is worth taking a closer look at the difference between traditional, non-certified polo helmets and the new generation of certified polo helmets. Since I started Performance Polo in 2015, I have only played in certified polo helmets, but I still have one of my old polo helmets on the shelf, which I will use to discuss the differences.

What's the big deal, you might ask? We have been playing in traditional polo helmets for years. Well, the accident I mentioned above is a worst case scenario, but one that can happen to any polo player: low probability but huge impact, potentially for the rest of your life. Secondly, numerous studies clearly show that even concussions can have a lasting impact, affecting your health,ability to work, and quality of life.

It is also only a question of time before insurance companies will demand evidence that an injured player was wearing a certified polo helmet.

The hard shell

The most obvious function of a polo helmet is performed by the hard shell, typically fiber glass or carbon fiber. The main purpose of the hard shell is to project against blows to the head from hitting the ground, or when receiving a ball or a horse's hoof to the head, basically allowing the helmet to crack rather than your skull. To a much lesser extent, the hard shell also dissipates some of the impact forces along the surface rather than into your skull and brain. A certified polo helmet (PAS015:2011) has had impact resistance tests at various points, both on the crown and along the rim. Most manufactures will conduct their own tests, but you and I will never know what level of protection is actually offered.

Robin Spicer, the designer behind the ARMIS polo helmet, took a closer look at the construction of a traditional polo helmet (image below) and found a hard shell and a rigid peak - and not much more (click the picture for the full story).

Concussion protection

Most traditional polo helmets are low profile helmets with no or only a small amount of inner padding. Even if your helmet does protect your skull from fractures or worse, most of the impact will travel from the other shell to your skull and into your brain. A concussion is almost a given. Certified polo helmets must deflect a significant portion of the impact away from your brain. They do this by introducing a 'crush' zone, typically a foam, which will compress and absorb the impact forces, thus reducing the risk of concussion.

Yes, the new generation helmets are larger than traditional polo helmets, but is it worth putting looks over safety?

My old polo helmet has virtually no padding, just enough to wear the helmet comfortably, but the outer shell is almost in contact with my head. Consequently, impact forces are free to transfer directly from the outer shell to my head.

Chinstraps vs. three or four point harnesses

It is encouraging to see that, in recent years, more and more polo players have opted for three or four point harnesses, another feature required by PAS015:2011. The traditional two point harness, or any harness that isn't fastened properly, will allow the helmet to move on your head or you may lose the polo helmet during a fall.

Obviously, a prerequisite for your polo helmet doing it's job is that it stays on your head and that it stays in the right place. A helmet that slides around on your head is dangerous and may itself cause serious injuries.

Peaks

Finally, many traditional polo helmets have rigid peaks, which may also cause injuries if you happen to fall on your face, potentially forcing your head backwards. Certified helmets have flexible peaks that collapse should you have an accident.

New generation, CE-certified polo helmets

For the avoidance of any doubt, I should at this point declare that I have a vested interest inasmuch as Performance Polo sells several brands of certified polo helmets. Having said this, I think we can all agree that mitigating risk, especially when the consequences may have a lasting, potentially devastating impact on our lives or those of our children. My mind is made up: I am determined to keep playing and to trust my polo helmet to allow me to do so. Read more about our certified polo helmets here. We will continue to add new brands as they become certified in Europe. As I am writing this, the following helmets are certified: Edition ARMIS

Instinct KEP Italia GPA (Speed Air/X2) Charles Owen (Palermo & Young Rider) Casablanca and La Martina have announced that they are in the process of certifying new helmets. Falcon has decided not to seek certification in Europe. If you have any questions about polo safety, please get in touch. I also recommend visiting Aurora Eastwood's page on Facebook: Safer helmets in polo

Always look for the CE mark and / or kitemark (in Europe)

Chinstraps vs. three or four point harnesses

It is encouraging to see that, in recent years, more and more polo players have opted for three or four point harnesses, another feature required by PAS015:2011. The traditional two point harness, or any harness that isn't fastened properly, will allow the helmet to move on your head or you may lose the polo helmet during a fall.

Obviously, a prerequisite for your polo helmet doing it's job is that it stays on your head and that it stays in the right place. A helmet that slides around on your head is dangerous and may itself cause serious injuries.

Peaks

Finally, many traditional polo helmets have rigid peaks, which may also cause injuries if you happen to fall on your face, potentially forcing your head backwards. Certified helmets have flexible peaks that collapse should you have an accident.

New generation, CE-certified polo helmets

For the avoidance of any doubt, I should at this point declare that I have a vested interest inasmuch as Performance Polo sells several brands of certified polo helmets. Having said this, I think we can all agree that mitigating risk, especially when the consequences may have a lasting, potentially devastating impact on our lives or those of our children. My mind is made up: I am determined to keep playing and to trust my polo helmet to allow me to do so. Read more about our certified polo helmets here. We will continue to add new brands as they become certified in Europe. As I am writing this, the following helmets are certified: Edition ARMIS

Instinct KEP Italia GPA (Speed Air/X2) Charles Owen (Palermo & Young Rider) Casablanca and La Martina have announced that they are in the process of certifying new helmets. Falcon has decided not to seek certification in Europe. If you have any questions about polo safety, please get in touch. I also recommend visiting Aurora Eastwood's page on Facebook: Safer helmets in polo

Always look for the CE mark and / or kitemark (in Europe)

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