A survey of the use of protective helmets by youthful horse back riders in Kentucky was conducted. A questionnaire was sent to all members of the 4-H horse project clubs in eight counties in Kentucky in the spring of 1995 to obtain information on demographics, use of safety helmets, attitudes toward using safety helmets, and riding styles. All 66 members of the clubs returned a completed, usable questionnaire. The respondents ranged in age from 8 to 19 years (yr), mean 13yr. Most (71%) lived on farms and 86% owned their own horses. The subjects' riding experience ranged from less than 1yr to 15yr, median = 6.5yr. Most began riding when they were around 5yr old. Approximately 82% of the subjects reported that they had been advised to wear a helmet and 86% felt that helmets should be worn to prevent injury. A majority of the subjects (60%) reported wearing a helmet at least once in the past. When helmet use was stratified according to specific riding style, 44% of hunt seat, 61% of jumping, 24% of western, 40% of saddle seat, and 38% of the trail riders reported consistently using a safety helmet. Only 15.5% of the subjects reported wearing a helmet when working with an unmounted horse. Approximately 86% of the respondents cited safety as the most positive feature of the helmets. Only 5.9% of the subjects mentioned light weight and comfort and 2.0% rated attractiveness as desirable helmet features. Poor ventilation, poor fit, and being uncomfortable and unattractive were the most important negative features of safety helmets mentioned, being cited by 60.6%, 21.2%, 22.3%, and 19.7% of the subjects, respectively. The authors conclude that the results of this study support the hypothesis that children and youth are able to appreciate the importance of wearing safety helmets when riding horses, but they have preconceived negative notions about them. To change the negative perceptions, helmet manufacturers should market redesigned helmets with an emphasis on comfort and style. A generalized overview of the problem of horse related injuries is also presented.
University of Kentucky, Department of Preventive Medicine, Lexington, KY