ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Horse Loses Triple Crown, Jockeys Keep the Helmet, For Now

New York, Jun 07, 2004

From devoted racing enthusiasts to curious onlookers, people across the nation were glued to their television sets on Saturday, June 5, to cheer on a racehorse that had captured the hearts of millions during his bid for the elusive Triple Crown of horse racing. Another 120,000 fans were present at New York’s Belmont Park that day, but their cheers deflated when a long shot horse by the name of Birdstone pulled ahead and beat the beloved Smarty Jones by a length.

"(Birdstone) just came and got him. That's horse racing," said Smarty Jones jockey Stewart Elliott.

While hearts may have been broken and wagers certainly lost, the race was run with no accidents and no injury. Jockeys risk their safety, however, every time they mount a steed. Thoroughbred horse racing can be extremely dangerous, with jockeys weighing a little over 100 pounds atop horses weighing half a ton and running at close to 40 miles per hour. A sudden change in speed or direction while racing can send riders headfirst into a potentially deadly impact. For safety, jockeys are required to wear helmets to protect them from severe head injuries.

ANSI member and accredited standards developer ASTM International issued the first standard for riding helmets in 1988. ASTM F1163-01, Standard Specification for Protective Headgear Used in Horse Sports and Horseback Riding, covers minimum performance criteria and describes test methods for protective headgear for use in horse sports and horseback riding. The Safety Equipment Institute, an ANSI-accredited certification body, certifies helmets to the standard set by ASTM.

According to the U.S. Equestrian Federation, a riding helmet primarily performs two functions: protection against abrasions, such as hitting a jump cup when a person falls, and absorption of the impact of a fall to protect the brain. A thick layer of expanded polystyrene is responsible for a helmet's ability to absorb energy.

In recent months there has been some controversy over these helmets however, with representatives from the Jockeys’ Guild, a union that represents many jockeys, speaking out to the regulating Kentucky Horse Racing Authority against a rule requiring jockeys to wear helmets made to the ASTM standard. Some jockeys argue that the helmets do not fit properly and jeopardize their safety.

After considering suspension of the rule, the Authority recently reaffirmed its commitment to a state regulation requiring jockeys to wear ASTM-approved helmets, pending further investigation. One commissioner recommended to the authority at a recent meeting that it maintain the ASTM requirement and encouraged his fellow commissioners to talk with jockeys about the issue. According to the Authority, more research into safety helmets is needed before any permanent rule changes could be proposed.

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