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What is the Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Study and Why Does It Matter?


Chances are, if you ride horses you’ve heard about the recent Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Study. As the first of its kind for the equestrian community, this study is making headlines across all media outlets in the United States. This study has the potential to completely change how horseback riders shop at equestrian shops online and at in-person tack stores. As TuffRider is one of our in-house brands for our tack shop online, we’re so excited that the study ranked our  TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet in second place compared to helmets selling for ten times its price.  

What was the Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Rating Study?

Researchers at  Virginia Tech have been testing and rating helmets since 2011. So far, they have researched helmets for sports including football, flag football, hockey, cycling, soccer, snow sports, white water rafting, and, most recently, equestrian sports. 

The goal of these studies is to identify which helmets are best at reducing concussion risk. Each rating is the result of over 15 years of research on head impact injuries in sports. Best of all, every study is completely independently funded and unbiased. No funding is received from helmet manufacturers and studies are completed under strict conditions to avoid influence from helmet companies. 

How Were the Helmets Tested?

The acronym STAR stands for Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk. Researchers at Virginia Tech put each helmet through a series of different tests that simulate common impacts sustained in each sport and then deduce a helmet rating from a summary of all the tests. A helmet with a lower raw score does a better job of protecting the wearer from concussions. Each score is equal to a rating from one to five stars, with five stars being the best. 

Injuries in equestrian sports are very different from those sustained in, for example, football. Testing all helmets by the same protocol would not provide an accurate and sport-specific rating. Per the Virginia Tech  website, “The impact conditions are sports-specific and inclusive of the broad range of head impacts that athletes are likely to experience.”

Prior to testing the helmets for each sport, researchers first look at the most common head impacts sustained while competing in or practicing the sport. Each test is weighted based on how often people suffer impacts that are similar to the test and how well the helmet reduces lower linear and rotational head acceleration.

Why Does It Matter?

This is the first time an outside organization has tested equestrian helmets and ranked the helmets against one another. Up until now, equestrians have relied upon SEI and ASTM ratings to ensure manufacturers were held up to the same standard. However, some manufacturers go above and beyond that rating, while others merely meet the rating. 

The Virginia Tech researchers put it best on their  website, “All helmets sold must be certified to meet minimum safety requirements set by standards organizations. These standards are evaluated with testing on a pass/fail basis. However, not all helmets are created equal and two helmets that meet the standard may offer different levels of impact protection.”

Thanks to the Virginia Tech STAR helmet study, equestrians now have an unbiased way to gauge the effectiveness of the helmet they choose to buy at their favorite tack shop online.  

The Results of the Study

The equestrian community has been holding their breath waiting for the results of this study. For the first time ever, a $50 helmet has been pitted against a $700 helmet in the ultimate test. The  results were industry-transforming, particularly for equestrian shops online. 

There was a $100 dollar difference between the top ranked helmet and the second place winner: the  TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet

In a sport that has always believed that more expensive equals high-quality and more safety, it was truly an industry-wide revelation that the most expensive helmet on the list came in at number nine, while the second most expensive helmet on the list came in only seven from the bottom of the list. The results of the study showed that equestrians cannot rely on the long-held assumption that the higher the price of their helmet, the more protected they are. 

The  Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Study will also allow equestrian shops online to have more information about what helmets they stock in their stores. Thanks to this study, equestrians may soon start to see more affordable, yet protective, helmet options in their favorite tack store online. The flip side of this is that equestrians may feel more comfortable buying a less expensive helmet, like the  TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet, and still rest assured that they’re just as protected, if not more protected than those riders with a more expensive helmet. 

The TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet

Coming in second place in the Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Rankings, the  TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet is quickly becoming one of the most popular helmets sold in equestrian shops online. 

On top of its new ranking, this helmet is also SEI certified. Featuring an adjustable dial for a customized fit, this helmet can be worn with a ponytail and is designed to fit both adults and children, if the correct size is purchased. Stainless steel mesh covered ventilation slots allow for added breathability on hot summer days, while a Coolmax washable lining wicks sweat away from the rider’s head. Available in most tack shops online, the  TuffRider Carbon Fiber Helmet has an outer shell that is designed to be strong and durable enough to protect the rider in most equestrian accidents. 

If you purchase this helmet at a tack shop online, you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting the best protection for your head at the best price. 

Breeches.com: Tack Shop Online

At Breeches.com, we’re proud to call TuffRider one of our original in-house brands. We’ve always made safety and affordability our top two priorities. To see our efforts recognized by the Virginia Tech STAR Helmet Study has truly been a rewarding moment. 

Click here to shop our collection of helmets in our equestrian shop online.

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