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Alta. 4-H makes helmets mandatory on horseback

Alberta 4-H members in horse programs will be required to wear helmets when taking part in mounted 4-H events, starting next month.

The Alberta 4-H Council last year said it would consider such a policy, which at that time was already in place for 4-H members in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and several states in the U.S.

All Alberta 4-H members in horsemanship levels 1, 2 and 3, while mounted on horseback, will need to wear ASTM/SEI- or BSI-approved equestrian helmets, starting Oct. 1, council president Stacy Price said Tuesday on the provincial ag department’s Call of the Land program.

Any members born after 2000 will also be required to wear helmets, she said.

“This (approach) is grandfathering it in,” she said, in the hope that members will “become comfortable with it, and they’ll just choose to do it on their own, even when they’re (riding) at home.”

Several 4-H clubs within the province have already added mandatory helmet policies on their own, she noted.

The new policy is considered a matter of risk management, she said. The council, in proposing the new rule last year, said it’s expected to “reduce the risk of horseback riding injuries to our equine project members.”

“Due diligence”

Anticipating pushback from members and parents, the provincial council said last year that in any organized event where liability is involved, safety is “everyone’s business.”

“Lack of structure and safety measures can lead to added costs and restrictions,” the council said. “More importantly, head injuries can affect the rest of your life. In the interest of everyone involved, it is vital that organizations do due diligence and safety planning.”

Expecting parents to suggest that children who are experienced riders should be exempt, the council also cited an Alberta study finding the highest incidents of injury are among more experienced riders.

Riders who reported an injury had an average of 27 years of riding experience, the council said.

Knowing how to perform an emergency stop and dismount is a useful skill to learn, the council said, but it wouldn’t replace a helmet if a rider takes a fall.

“Falls can happen so quickly that you don’t know you are going to come off, leaving you no time to prepare.”

Other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and New York state, have enacted legislation requiring young riders to wear helmets. Ontario’s law, as enacted in 2001, requires approved helmets for horseback riders under the age of 18 in most situations except horse shows.

Related stories:

Alta. 4-H eyes mandatory helmets on horseback, Sept. 16, 2010

Horseback riders lack protection: injury study, Sept. 24, 2007

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