Riding Helmet Safety And Liability


The label inside your riding helmet "ASTM/SEI certified" is what all riders now look for to ensure their helmet is safe, but what exactly does ASTM/SEI-certified stand for?

Formed in Philadelphia in 1898, the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials is now known as ASTM International (www.astm.org )

ASTM’s broad group of staff and volunteers write safety standards for everything from artificial playground surfaces to firefighters' suits. These testing procedures and safety requirements can then be adopted by individual organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation Inc.

In the 1980’s, recognition spread among equestrian sports advocates that protective helmets were needed that were tailored to the unique hazards of their sport. The need for new standards became very apparent when inadequate helmets appeared on the market leaving consumers at risk with no basis for distinguishing the adequate ones from those that were marginal or even dangerous. The new standard (F 1163) was first issued in 1988 known as the Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding. It’s now used worldwide throughout the equestrian community.

Since 2005 it has been compulsory that junior and senior riders in horse jumping competitions wear a protective helmet the meets or exceeds ASTM International/SEI standard ASTM F1163 Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback riding. Although ASTM standards are voluntary, they are usually adopted by governing bodies that demand independent third party certification. Many horse sports organizations and retailers require that the helmet is certified by the Safety Equipment Institute Inc. (SEI), to ensure that the performance of the helmet has been verified. Some states now require riders to wear equestrian helmets that satisfy F 1163.


The ASTM Equestrian Protective Headgear Committee is a volunteer advisory body for the industry. Len Clement, a committee member since 2002, has several decades of industry experience. He says, “To earn certification, the equestrian helmets are dropped onto a flat anvil from a height of about six feet, and impacted on several different locations”. Clement added, “The helmets are also dropped onto a second anvil designed with a very sharp corner that represents the impact on the corner of a fence or a horse's hoof.” Computer sensors measure the force of the fall that is transferred to the inside of a helmet in terms of gravity force (g). "The impact level most serious head injuries occur at is 300g," says Clement, "All helmets must be under 300g and preferably well under that level."

A separate test focuses on the helmet's harness strap to assure that it remains in place during a fall. “The helmet is placed on a head form with a realistic human skull shape." explains Clement, "Then a weight is attached to the chin strap and dropped." The straps and buckles must hold the helmet on the head without stretching beyond a certain distance.

Additional helmet samples are retested for impact and retention after being frozen to minus-20 degrees, heated to over 120 degrees and submerged in water for at least 6 hours. When a helmet still transfers less than 300g and the straps still retain the helmet on the head, only then can the helmet model receive ASTM/SEI approval.

Once the helmet is certified, the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) ensures that the manufacturers maintain a product quality system and test samples from each manufactured lot to ensure they still meet the certification requirements. SEI representatives visit the manufacturer twice in the first year and annually thereafter to audit the manufacturing and quality procedures. Liability insurance must be provided by manufacturers on their products as part of the SEI certification process.

"With all the abuse we put helmets through around the ranch and the barn," says Clement, "we have to know that they will still protect our heads." 

Though the majority of equestrian riders have adopted helmets, there continues to be resistance from western riders who want to maintain the cowboy tradition.  To try to achieve this traditional look some riders will modify an existing helmet by adding a cowboy hat brim. Manufacturers of equestrian helmets are typically very clear that their warranty is void, if the helmet is modified by painting it or adding stickers, applying crystals, cameras or any other objects that otherwise modify a helmet because all of these modifications can damage the helmet and/or reduce its protective capabilities leaving the rider at risk of injury.

The following is an excerpt from IRMI (International Risk Management Institute) Agribusiness conference 2017 by Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC : 

‘Currently, only a small number of states, and the province of Ontario, Canada, have helmet laws.

All of them differ. Some municipalities have helmet ordinances such as Bainbridge Island, Washington;

Norco, California; municipalities that have enacted helmet ordinances include Wellington, Florida;

Plantation, Florida; Davie, Florida; and Parkland, Florida. Over the years, other states, such as

Massachusetts and Texas, have considered enacting equestrian helmet legislation. In sharp comparison, 22 states have bicycle helmet laws.

New York’s equestrian helmet law took effect in 2000. It requires riders under age 14 to wear approved helmets when riding a horse on highways and/or private roads. New York’s law requires those who hire, rent out horses for riding, or provide training in the riding of horses for consideration to provide helmets at no extra charge to “beginning riders” of any age and riders less than 14 years of age. 

The law also requires “horse providers” to offer ASTM/SEI standard equestrian helmets to all riders along with “appropriate helmet safety information.” In 2013, New York’s Governor signed into law an amended helmet law [Bill No. S 2007] (amending prior helmet legislation passed in 2000), that requires minors under 18 to wear a helmet while riding a horse. The 2013 law increases the maximum fine for violators to $250 and imposes the fines on parents or guardians.

The amended law offers a justification stating, in part:

Horseback riding is a popular recreational activity enjoyed by more than 30 million people in the United States. It has been estimated that 19 million people aged 16 years and older participating in riding activities. Horseback riding is the eighth leading case of emergency room treated, sports and recreation-related injuries. Horseback riding has been identified as a higher-risk activity than automobile racing, motorcycle riding, football, and skiing. Injuries occur while riding or handling horses without discrimination for age or experience level. Approximately 70,000 people are treated in emergency rooms annually because of equestrian-related injuries, while thousands more are treated in physicians' offices. Head injuries account for approximately 60% of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. Wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the chances of sustaining serious injury. One of the most important pieces of safety equipment is a properly fitting helmet in order to absorb the impact to the head, provide cushioning to the skull and reduce jarring of the brain against the skull. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that wearing helmets reduces head and brain injuries by 85% and the Equestrian Medical Safety Association strongly recommends the wearing of a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmet with the harness secured during equestrian activities.

Florida Stat. 773.06, known as “Nicole’s Law” (named for a child who died after being thrown from a horse and sustained fatal head injuries) applies to minors. It provides, among other things, that a child under age 16 must wear an ASTM-standard equestrian helmet while riding an equine on a public roadway or right-of-way, public equestrian trail, park, or school site, or public property. Trainers or instructors cannot "knowingly" rent or lease an equine to a child under 16 in violation of this law, and parents or guardians cannot knowingly allow a child to violate the law.

Bainbridge Island, Washington, passed a helmet ordinance requiring that people who ride a horse in a public area shall wear a helmet unless the rider has an appropriate note from a Washington-licensed doctor excusing the use of a helmet.

Norco, California passed a helmet ordinance in 2008. It states that those under age 18 who ride horses in public areas must wear properly fitted and secured helmets that are ASTM-standard (or any other nationally recognized helmet standard). The helmet must be worn regardless of whether the rider is controlling the horse.

Lawsuits have occasionally been brought regarding equestrian helmets. In recent years, two people who wore no helmet sued their employer or trainer claiming that he or she should have provided a helmet or offered education about them.

Ferguson v. Ulmer, 2003 WL 22512042 (Cal. App. 2003). The plaintiff, 16 years old, was competing in a reining event at a horse show when her horse stumbled during a high-speed maneuver and threw her, causing severe head injuries. She sued her former instructor with whom she had not worked in at least a year alleging that he negligently told her not to wear a safety helmet during reining competition. The trial court granted summary disposition in the defendant’s favor, and the appellate court affirmed. It stated in part: The undisputed evidence reveals riders in western competition, at the time of Krista's accident, did not customarily wear helmets while competing. Within the world of western competition, riding apparel is designed to simulate cowboy regalia.

Hence, the ubiquitous cowboy hat, not a safety helmet, completes the ensemble. During the western competition at which Krista fell, neither she nor her fellow riders sported protective headgear. Both of Krista's parents agreed it was not common practice for western riders to don protective headgear.

 * * *

Given the conflicting advice on apparel provided by the AHSA rules and the widespread practice of eschewing protective headgear during a western competition, we cannot find Ulmer owed Krista a duty, as her trainer, to go against the prevailing custom and advise her to wear protective headgear. Krista, citing numerous cases, argues a coach or trainer owes his or her pupil a duty to avoid increasing the risk of injury inherent in a sport. According to Krista, Ulmer’s directive to ride without protective headgear is an affirmative act which increases the risk of injury. Emphasis added. While the court dismissed the claims directed against the trainer, finding that he did nothing to increase her risk of harm while she competed, it also commented on the ‘contradictory’ rules of the AHSA [now U.S. Equestrian Federation] in which western competition rules warned competitors they would be penalized for ‘incomplete appointments’ and required them to wear a Western hat. Nowhere, at the time, did the western rules of the sports mention the use of protective equestrian headgear.


RISK MANAGEMENT - Unless a state law or applicable regulations mandate the wearing of helmets, helmet use is optional. Insureds seeking to protect themselves against claims might consider the following:

  1. Written Helmet Warnings As an adjunct to a waiver/release form used by an equine business, a written helmet statement can be considered. This document would reaffirm that the business or professional has warned the client about the existence of ASTM-standard/SEI-certified equestrian protective headgear.
  2. Written Helmet Release Professionals (or potentially non-professionals) who provide helmets to others can also consider requiring the user to sign a helmet release. This document can be especially important because of the ever-present possibility that a helmet appearing to be in good condition might potentially have cracks or dents under the shell.
  3. If Helmets are Provided, Provide Certified Ones

 If your insureds intend to provide helmets to their customers or guests, encourage them to provide only helmets that meet the ASTM standard and are SEI-certified.

The Resistol Ridesafe® was designed and manufactured to address this clear need for protection without losing that cowboy look. It is the only cowboy hat helmet that is ASTM/SEI certified to the ASTM F 1163, Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding. The Resistol RideSafe includes a comfort dial that keeps your hat in position on your head so you don’t need to jam it down on those fast rides.

Riders4 Helmets Lyndsey White says, "I believe in educating the youth because they're the next generation coming through". White says she uses "gentle persuasion" to get western riders to come around to helmets like the Resistol Ride safe.  Today the average traumatic brain injury recovery runs $1.5 million to $3 million in medical and care costs. So it won’t be long before insurance companies insist on protective helmets for all riders.


  • Anthony Gambardella

    I can’t find the online registration link. Please help.

  • Curtis

    Will you ever consider making larger sizes in both styles of cowboy helmets?

  • Daniel

    Is there any reason why these hats should not be used when bicycling? I am looking for a bicycle helmet with a wide brim for sun protection and thought this may be a good solution.

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