Virginia Tech Helmet Lab turns attention to equestrian helmets, starts crowdfunding campaign

Written by Eleanor Nelsen  |  Virginia Tech

Since the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab launched in 2011, their staff has fielded a steady stream of calls from players and parents who need to buy a helmet and want to know which models are most effective. Some of those calls are about traditional contact sports — football, hockey. But a lot of them are about a topic you might not expect.

“Since we started the Helmet Lab, I’ve gotten more phone calls about equestrian helmets than I have about any other sport except football,” said Stefan Duma, who founded the lab and today directs the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

“So we know there’s interest. And when you look at the injury numbers, they are staggering.”

Current estimates put the annual U.S. tally of injuries associated with equestrian sports around 50,000; head impacts account for the largest portion of that total.

Duma explains that the basic physics of riding a horse ratchet up the risk of head injury.

“When you’re on a horse, that puts your head about 8 to 10 feet off the ground. If you come off the horse for any reason, whether you’re thrown or you just fall, you end up with a much higher impact injury than people might expect,” he said.

The Helmet Lab is currently raising money through Virginia Tech’s JUMP crowdfunding platform to fund testing for the gear designed to protect riders from those impacts.

Most serious riders wear specialized equestrian helmets. But as for many sports, equestrian helmets are certified through a simple standard pegged to a very high impact-energy — the kind associated with catastrophic, and potentially life-threatening, head injuries. The pass-fail standard doesn’t provide consumers with any information about a helmet’s ability to protect a rider against milder — but still serious — injuries like concussion, and it doesn’t distinguish between a helmet that passes with flying colors and one that barely squeaks by.

“Equestrian sports have an unusually high risk of head injury, and I don’t think that’s widely recognized. Per exposure, there’s a higher risk of head injury than playing football or hockey or racing cars.”

Two helmets can pass the same standard and perform very differently, and consumers currently have no way of knowing that information.

“There is tremendous room for improvement not only in how helmets are evaluated, but also in utilizing advanced helmet technology,” Duma said.

That’s where the Helmet Lab comes in. Customized pendulums, drop towers, and other equipment recreate impacts experienced by athletes in a variety of sports — so far football, hockey, soccer, and cycling, with others in the pipeline. These sophisticated devices allow the lab’s researchers to test helmets and other protective headgear under realistic conditions, evaluating which models are most effective at managing the impact energy responsible for concussions and other head injuries.

The most visible outcome of this research has been the lab’s five-star helmet-rating system. The Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings have given consumers an independent, evidence-based tool to guide purchasing decisions; they’ve also driven innovation in the helmet industry by providing a more granular metric for evaluating different models against each other using test methods that are reproducible in the lab and relevant on the field.

Now, the group hopes to extend this model to equestrian helmets. They’ve already conducted preliminary tests, measuring the performance of six different helmet models with respect to the existing standard. All six helmets passed, but the results revealed wide variation in performance and significant room for improvement: the best equestrian helmet was still far less effective at managing impact energy than top-performing football helmets subjected to the same test. The researchers presented the data at the World Congress on Biomechanics in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018.

The next step is to extend the testing, running additional trials and developing the same kind of bespoke testing protocols and equipment that they have for other sports. The crowdfunding campaign will help cover the purchase of helmets and defray the cost of testing.

This is the helmet lab’s second foray into crowdfunding. In a previous project, 84 donors pitched in to raise $10,000 toward the purchase of padded headbands marketed to soccer players. The result was the first independent ratings ever published for soccer headgear, which gave consumers a new source of information and, incidentally, helped raise awareness about how effective this type of headgear can be.

Now, the Helmet Lab and their donors have another opportunity to make a difference for athletes.

“Equestrian sports have an unusually high risk of head injury, and I don’t think that’s widely recognized. Per exposure, there’s a higher risk of head injury than playing football or hockey or racing cars,” Duma said. “That, to me, is the big story — and that there’s so much room for improvement.”

Advertisements

Eileen Beckman of Otteridge Farm in Bedford inducted into Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame

41916779_10217055169401574_6832957247522340864_n
Eileen Beckman was inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame on Sept. 15, 2018 at Virginia Tech. Photo courtesy of the Lynda McGarry

Eileen Brent Beckman, of Otteridge Farm in Bedford, Virginia, was inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame last week at Virginia Tech.

Beckman, well-known for breeding and raising champion hunter ponies, was nominated for the honor by the Virginia Horse Council.

Born in 1918, Beckman was not raised in a horse-riding family. But the love of horses still prevailed. In the 1940s she bought and rode a thoroughbred hunter, Ramos, to great success. After serving in the Red Cross — where she met her husband, Carl — and living in Chicago for a bit, she would move to Virginia and establish the famed Otteridge Farm. There at the base of the Peaks of Otter, she taught riding lessons and bred champion hunter ponies.

Beckman is a founding member and past president of the Virginia Pony Breeder’s Association and also is in the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.

Eileen Beckman on Ramos
Eileen Beckman on Ramos.  — Photo courtesy of Off Track Thoroughbreds

Beckman was a firm believer that breeding success lied in researching pedigrees. She told The Chronicle of the Horse in 2007, “In the beginning, I really had no idea what I was doing. I would look and see what everyone else was doing and just give it a try. But I think that I’ve been blessed with a pretty good eye. My husband used to say, ‘Eileen you come home with the worst looking things and they turn out just fine.’ ”

Among the farm’s many success stories were Otteridge Dreaming Of Blue, Otteridge Dress Blues, Otteridge Black Hawk, Otteridge Pow Wow, Otteridge Foxtrot, Otteridge Up In Lights and Otteridge French Twist.

Otteridge Farm has always placed a great emphasis on breeding ponies with great temperaments and that can be handled by children. Poor temperaments are not tolerated in their breeding program and there are no stallions standing at the farm.

Eileen Beckman died in May 2010 at the age of 91. Otteridge Farm’s tradition as a top-notch breeding program continues, with Beckman’s family, including daughter Randee Beckman and grand-daughter Katie Gardner, at the helm.

Related stories:

Virginia Tech sends 11 riders to Harrisburg for IHSA Nationals

tech team
Photo via Virginia Tech Equestrian Team Facebook page

The Virginia Tech Hunter Team is making Virginia proud in its first trip to the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals, held this year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Nationals, held May 3 to 6, is live streamed on EqSportsNet.

Eleven Hokies are in Harrisburg representing Virginia Tech. Four are riding individually and eight are riding as part of the team competition. One rider is competing in both the individual and team categories.

Virginia Tech had several riders already seeing success on the first day of competition.

tech carolyn rosazza
Carolyn Rosazza

Carolyn Rosazza was named Reserve Champion as a team rider in Novice Equitation on the Flat & also receives an honorable mention as an individual in Advanced W/T/C. Rachel Burton placed ninth as an individual in Advanced W/T/C.

 

Tanner Paige Price placed sixth as an individual in Intermediate Equitation Over Fences. Meanwhile, Nichole Jones received an honorable mention as a team rider in Novice Equitation Over Fences. Claire Elise Arnold received an honorable mention as a team rider in Intermediate Equitation on the Flat.

tech tanner price
Tanner Paige Price

IHSA Nationals features 450 men and women from across the U.S. and Canada competing in hunter seat equitation and Western horsemanship in a range of levels from Walk-Trot through Open. The riders have competed throughout the season to qualify and will vie for team, individual, alumni championships and the coveted USEF/Cacchione Cup and the AQHA Western High Point Rider national final.

Randolph College in Lynchburg also sent three riders to Nationals. Makayla Benjamin, of Sweet Briar College, is representing Zone 4 in the Cacchione Cup Finals. After the over-fences portion of the competition on Friday morning she was in third place.

Virginia Tech hiring associate farrier in Blacksburg

burns
Travis Burns shoes a 12-year-old competitive trial and riding horse named Chief.

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is seeking an associate farrier. Applications are due Friday, June 16, 2017. APPLY HERE.

The farrier will “provide ambulatory (on the farm) farrier services to clients within the college’s practice area. The successful applicant will also provide backup coverage for, and assistance to, the in-house farrier service as needed.” Travis Burns is the in-house farrier at Virginia Tech. Burns, who joined the veterinary teaching hospital in 2010, has earned many accolades nationally and internationally and served as an official farrier at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky.

Positive interactions and professional discretion with others are necessary in the position.

“This position will also require contribution to instructional efforts of the service, specifically to farrier students, veterinary students, veterinarians, horse owners and other farriers.”

Minimum qualifications include:

  • Certified Farrier distinction from the American Farrier’s Association.
  • Successful completion of a farrier training program (or equivalent experience).
  • Demonstrated ability to work in a team oriented, fast paced teaching environment.
  • Effective communication skills.
  • High school diploma (or equivalent).
  • Rabies prophylaxis vaccine is required and will be provided by the employer.

Candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, 24 months of farrier experience or training and the Certified Journeyman Farrier distinction from the American Farrier’s Association are preferred.

The hours will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and pay will commensurate with experience. The position is a staff position in Pay Band 4, which runs from $32K – $74K.

Emily Jane Hilscher Memorial Show seeks sponsors/donations

emily
Emily Jane Hilscher

Virginia Tech’s annual Emily Jane Hilscher Memorial Show has been scheduled for April 22-23 at the Alphin Stuart Arena in Blacksburg. The show is held in memory of Emily Jane Hilscher, a Virginia Tech equestrian team member and animal and poultry sciences freshman who was killed in the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech.

The horse show is run using donations from local companies, alumni and friends. All the money collected at the horse show goes to a scholarship fund for Animal & Poultry Science majors who represent good academic standing, amazing character and a strong work ethic. The show is currently seeking sponsors/donations. Visit http://kburke08.wix.com/ejhmhs#!boarding-options/cxxj or email kburke08@vt.edu for more information.
The show is one of two 4-H qualifiers in the southwest Virginia area and is also SWVHJA sanctioned. Saturday’s classes include over fences in the morning and hunter and dressage classes in the afternoon. Sunday features Western classes including pleasure, horsemanship, ranch riding, racking, trail obstacle challenge and speed. Find the class schedule here.