Helmet Safety Ratings

ASTM_Logo_compact The interwebs are abuzz with the recent news surrounding Samshield helmet recalls. The first thing that I saw was posted by Equestrian Empire… Which is mostly ignorant garbage in my opinion hence no link.logo-samshield

The real issue in my eyes is not that Samshield specifically has issued a recall on a set production of helmets (in France) but rather that there are different standards for the safety of our noggins and that it varies largely by country – with the US having less strict standards. Official statement here. It is actually really difficult as a consumer to understand the differences in various ratings.

Finding detailed information on each is even more challenging. It almost feels like they make it just difficult enough that most of us will assume that our helmets are safe. I personally would really like for there to be more transparency on the testing that our helmets endure. It would also be nice if we could see some kind of research comparing the different rated helmets to each other?


If I am just bad at the internet please feel free to educate me… If you guys have found more information I would also be really interested to read it.

Are the rest of you also questioning any of the things that I mentioned above?

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  1. Thank you for posting this! I hope if nothing else this situation inspires people to learn for themselves about various certifications instead of panicking over sensationalism.

  2. The main reason why I shared the link, and why the whole thing scares me, is because of what you’ve touched on here. We as consumers and riders know so little about our helmets safety qualifications, and the fact that France has something that the US doesn’t leads me to wonder what do the US standards cover?

    In this case it has to do with the visors crumpling action. I would think any safety guideline would require the visor to crumple on impact, to absorb the pressure that would otherwise be displaced onto our foreheads right behind the visors. But the fact that the US doesn’t have a standard equivalence to that is scary to me.

    We don’t know enough and the helmet companies don’t release enough of the information for us to educate ourselves. I bought my samshield after hearing from the rep at the time that it had some of the highest safety ratings. Obviously that was a sales pitch but I so eagerly wanted the highest level of protection that I bought it.

    Working at the tack store I’ve been able to talk to a lot of reps about their helmets and the rep with the most knowledge about their helmets safety qualifications and tests was hands down the Charles Owen rep.

    Sorry for typos and stuff, just saw this on my phone and had to chime in.

      1. Most of the studies that I could find when I researched this last year (which, granted, are few) indicate that the safest possible helmet is a skull cap, with a solid harness (not dial fit and not simple nylon straps, but a supportive full coverage harness), and no vent holes. Makes sense when you think about it. Of course a brim of any kind could possibly lead to instability if you hit the ground just right, even if it breaks. And any kind of hole (ie ventilation) in the shell of the helmet is a possible weak point.

        What scared me most when I started looking around is that very few certification standards test for secondary impact, which IMO is REALLY REALLY important in horse sports. Take the KEP helmets for example, which are actually meant to absorb impact by breaking apart. That scares the living daylights out of me, because what happens when a hoof comes up and catches you in the head after you’ve fallen? Yet it’s approved with several standards.

        Charles Owen, no doubt, is the most safety-oriented brand that is widely available in the US. They’re also one of the few to pursue and gain SNELL certification (granted only for one model of their skull cap), which is the most thorough testing I’ve been able to uncover so far. It’s very hard to find a lot of detail about how most of this testing is done.

        Of course, all the safety approvals in the world are moot if the helmet doesn’t fit you well, so that has to be factored into the consumer’s decision as well.

  3. I have no idea, but the whole thing is weird. I have also been told that Ovation helmets (like my cheapy schooler) follow less strict helmet regulations than more premium brands… not sure if that is true or not.

    1. I have also heard that you “get what you pay for” with regards to our helmets. I personally have felt like that proves true but honestly as long as the helmets are rated I have always assumed apples to apples.

  4. When I worked at the track, my boss (an Irish ex-jockey) had us all ride in skullcaps made in England because they were held to higher standards than the US manufacturers. US helmets have to meet ASTM standards, but I’ve never been able to find much on which helmets “meet” versus ones that “exceed” the standards.

  5. I have no idea as to what the differences in standards are but I am slightly appalled to think that there aren’t worldwide standards. Surely it is in the companies interest to provide the highest care possible to people’s heads no matter where they live. Consumers can only shop when our brains are fully functional.

    Terrifying to think that standards could be very variable between countries how is it possible that not everyone’s safety/head is given the same protection?!

  6. So I should buy my next helmet from France?? Definitely scary to think that a company would possibly only provide what they have to for certification in one country when they provide something safer in another. Not sure if that is really the case here without enough details, but it certainly sounds like it is.
    Hopefully all of us questioning things will push the helmet companies into providing more answers. Have you tried contacting someone at samshield? Would be interesting to hear what they have to say.

  7. I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more transparency regarding helmet testing and safety standards. Not just for consumers, but to share technology across different spots. I mean, football, motocross and baseball all require helmets… can we not learn from one another to come up with the best possible technology?

  8. very interesting. i’m not sure worldwide standards are the answer, honestly, as there isn’t exactly a worldwide rule that riders must always wear helmets either (just playing devil’s advocate here tho, protect your melon y’all!).

    rather, helmet companies are manufacturing products to sell them, and if there’s a market for substandard products well… substandard products will be sold (see: chinese knockoffs of everything under the sun).

    improved transparency on the rating process (beyond pass/fail) – which would be dictated by the organization responsible for bestowing rating approval – would help. as would ruling bodies like the FEI etc making clearer requirements for safety standards. (and aren’t we kinda seeing the same issues with safety vests abroad being safer than those required in the US?)

    consumers who want to be better informed shouldn’t have to jump through a zillion hoops or be fluent in legalese just to get that info. all the same tho, if the non-showing weekend trail rider wants to go around in a cheapy ovation instead of no helmet all? well it’s probably better than nothing.

  9. There is a lot of variation in safety and medicine between the US and Europe. A lot of medicine is outlawed on one or the other side. We handle Sepsis, pain, all sorts of things differently, which means I am not surprised France has different safety standards for helmets. They are pretty tight on all that. I do think with the recent huge epiphany in main sports that concussions are bad for people like football players, that this will trickle down along with recalls like this to increase helmet standards. We still have a huge equestrian population though that feels they don’t even need helmets.

  10. This is one of those subjects that has all manner of sides. I choose to purchase an expensive helmet that gives me comfort in that I *think* it’s up to or above standard. Do I know that for sure? No. I know I bought my vest from overseas, and it’s up to British code, which is stricter than ours here. The differences between the US and Europe is a result of the free commerce market that the US lives in. We do not like to be regulated. Here in Florida, you can ride a motorcycle with no helmet at all, never mind a horse. Because why would we want to allow anyone else to impose what they think is the right thing on us?! It’s the good old American viewpoint of “how dare you tell me what to do!” Companies will cater to what people will buy and until we as riders say that we want the same standards and better viability regarding those standards and quit creating a market for the lesser products, they will continue to be sold. And getting the FEI to do something across all countries? Yeah, let’s talk about dressage tophats, shall we?

  11. According to SmartPak, samshield helmets are ASTM and SEI approved, which is the USPC standard so I think they are good I have a CO tho haha. It is important to have standards because if they are ASTM and SEI aprooved they have been put through tests to insure that it will be safe while riding 🙂 Please check out our blog we are vey new!

  12. Definitely interesting. I currently ride in a Charles Owen and a Tipperary, but I admit I know very little about safety standards other than whether the helmets are ASTM and/or SEI approved. That said, I’m highly concerned about head injuries following a nasty concussion 3 years ago (freak accident led to me being kicked in the head while untying a hay net). While helmets can’t necessarily prevent concussions, they certainly can’t hurt. While I’m glad I can tell if a helmet is approved, I’d definitely like more transparency on the rating process. If a helmet barely passed but passed, it’s approved and that concerns me some. I wish I knew more about the process. If one helmet is truly safer, I’d like to have that information when I make helmet purchasing decisions!