Sarah Washington knows all too well how important it is to always wear a correctly fitted helmet when riding.
In June 2020, Sarah, now 23, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall while out hacking when her horse spooked and bolted.
Sarah was knocked unconscious and rushed to hospital in an induced coma. A scan found severe bleeding and bruising on the brain, and she remained in intensive care for several weeks, and in hospital for six months.
She underwent a long rehabilitation to regain her speech, her balance and her ability to walk – as well as her memory.
But if Sarah had not been wearing a correctly fitted hat when she had her accident, the outcome would likely have been a lot worse – her Champion helmet saved her life.
“Whatever horse you’re on and whatever you’re doing, you should wear a properly fitted helmet and make sure it’s done up. They’re animals with a mind of their own and anything could happen,” says Sarah, who uses the hashtag #helmetsarereplaceableheadsarenot on social media to help spread the message.
“Make sure after any accident, especially if it involves any impact to your head, you change your helmet and get a new one.”
Champion production engineer Ben Hanna echoes this advice.
“The liner is the most important safety component of a helmet,” he says, explaining that the other key safety elements are the shell and the harness. “The liner is a piece of typically expanded polystyrene foam that sits inside the shell. It is designed to crush down under impact and prevent energy from going into the head. But this foam is designed for a single impact – it only works once.”
We’re all familiar with the various kitemarks and standards we see when it comes to riding helmets. But what do these actually mean – and which is best?
“In the UK there are two predominant standards,” explains Champion’s brand manager Helen Riley, who also sits on the European & BETA Standards Committees safety committee. “These are the VG1 and the PAS 015. There are also the American standards SNELL 2016 and ASTM F1163-15. Each prescribes exact test methods and criteria, and in the UK it is the PAS 015 standard that has the most stringent requirements, more so than the VG1 and ASTM.”
All Champion helmets are manufactured to meet the PAS 015 2011 standard, and carry the relevant kitemark – showing that batch testing has taken place by the British Standards Institute (BSI).
“People know they can trust Champion – safety comes as standard with us,” Helen confirms.
Given Champion’s status as an innovator and market leader, and its commitment to safety, it is hardly surprising that its helmets undergo rigorous testing at Champion’s own in-house laboratory facility by its own engineers, like Ben.
Ben reveals that hats are impact tested using a metal head form, and dropped from a height of up to 2m onto a steel surface called an anvil, of varying shapes designed to mimic the sort of things a rider’s head might come into contact with in the event of a fall.
“The helmets are also tested for crush and loaded up with 1000 newtons of force – the equivalent of someone weighing 100kg standing on the helmet,” he adds.
The ultimate in safety
And what if you want to go one step further, and ensure that your hat will offer the absolute maximum protection? You’ll want a Mips helmet, a cutting-edge piece of kit that can reduce the risk of concussion in a fall.
Mips is a multi-directional impact protection system developed to help redirect the energy that causes the dangerous rotational motion of the brain typically experienced by riders when they have a fall.
Champion has partnered with Mips to offer the technology since 2019, and the Mips system is now available in 11 different models of Champion helmet, easily identified by a yellow circular badge on the rear of the harness.
“Mips is a low friction layer located inside a helmet… that redirects the energy which is normally absorbed by your head [in a fall],” explains Max Strandwitz, CEO of Mips.
“At the point of impact, the Mips layer allows your head to continue to travel around 10-15mm, avoiding the head coming to a sudden stop, and preventing your head from absorbing the dangerous energies. We call that rotational motion and that is something that you want to avoid to make sure you don’t expose your brain to unnecessary angled impacts.”
As a trusted manufacturer of Mips helmets, Champion uses extensive third-party testing and accident reconstruction with state-of-the-art computer modelling to calculate the significant difference this technology can make in the event of a fall. Helen explains that as well as putting a great deal of work into refining testing methods, the brand is also at the very forefront of the work involved in getting rotational performance requirements written into helmet standards.
With such dedication to safety and research, and always with an eye on the future, it should come as no surprise that Champion is the favoured brand for a number of the world’s most successful riders, such as top eventers Pippa Funnell, Piggy March and Kitty King, and para dressage Olympic medallists Sophie Wells and Georgia Wilson. Why not join them?