Much of the talk in the development of equine helmets centers around the rollout of MIPS technology. But there is another consideration when evaluating helmet safety: namely, should you go brimmed or brimless?
In eventing, the helmet of choice is typically a jockey skull cap. This design has no built-in brim. Instead, helmet covers are available in either traditional black, or with a variety of colors. But for eventers, the skull cap is more than just a fashion statement. Since 2015, British Eventing has banned fixed brim (peaked) helmets for cross country, only permitting helmets with:
- No peak, peak type extensions or noticeable protuberances above the eyes (or to the front) and has an even, elliptical or rounded shape.
- A smooth or slightly abrasive surface.
- A removable cover containing the peak, should one be required.
The rule was amended in 2016 so that helmets with small peaks that are smooth and rounded are now also permitted in British Eventing cross-country competitions, after independent “expert” advice concluded they would pose no additional safety risk.
In hunters, jumpers, foxhunting, and lower level dressage (let’s leave the discussion of tophats for another day), helmets with brims are still overwhelmingly used. I can’t think of any time I’ve seen a skull cap other than on someone who events.
So why are brimless helmets safer?
First, let me say that wearing an approved helmet that fits goes a long way to keeping you safe. Now, let’s talk about why brimless helmets may improve on that. There has been no conclusive research, but the thoughts behind using a brimless helmet are that the brim becomes a point of pressure that could create a point of concussion on your forehead. Without the brim, if you land on your face, you likely break your nose but the pressure is more distributed across the front of your forehead, compared to with a brim. Additionally, a brim can become a lever that exacerbates the force of bend on your spine/neck.
Different Standards Require Different Performance
At this point, it’s important to understand how the different international standards may impact the performance of the helmet you choose to buy. levels of All PAS 015:2011 helmets are tested for the brim/peak to absorb the impact & energy of a fall, not act as a fulcrum. Helmets tested only to ASTM F1163 do not test the brim for energy absorption. The newest standard, SNELL E2001, is a higher performance standard which includes all aspects of ASTM and PAS 015 but with a sharper horseshoe anvil (to replicate a horse kick or impact with a sharp surface), higher impacts and an additional hemispherical anvil to represent an uneven but not sharp surface such as a tree, fence or cobbled surface. Understanding the differences in these standards can help you choose a helmet that will offer you the best protection.
If Skull Caps are Safer, Why Doesn’t Everyone Wear One?
Of course, not everyone wears a helmet, so as stated earlier, putting a well-fitted helmet on that meets safety certifications, is the first step. But the skull cap has not been adopted by other disciplines because they are typically hotter, heavier and people find them unflattering. My own opinion is that no helmets are flattering, but many people are super concerned about how they think their helmets look and they tend to go with designs they perceive to be sleeker or more fashionable.
Up until recently, skullcaps that incorporated MIPS technology also were not available. Luckily, that’s changed and you can now choose between the Charles Owen MS1 Pro, the Champion Revolve X-Air, and the Champion Revolve Ventair. Certainly more manufacturers will follow suit.
I haven’t owned a skull cap for many years. I did wear one foxhunting (with a black velvet cover) for a few years but eventually replaced it with a more formal velvet-covered helmet. For the last two seasons, I’ve chosen to wear my Trauma Void MIPS helmet, and have seen many people in the hunt field with them. However, when I next need a new helmet, I may reconsider one of the new MIPS skullcaps. Or at least make sure my helmet is SNELL certified with a brim that will not act as a fulcrum. You can never be too safe.
What type of helmet do you wear? And would you consider a skull cap?