It is widely known that helmets should not be used when vaulting, but less widely understood why. This page introduces the basics, while our Fall g-Force Calculator page goes into all the details, provides a tool to help assess the level of risk, and states the Risk Management Guidelines for Vaulting.
Helmets should not be used for vaulting. The straps of a helmet are designed and tested to not stretch or break which makes them a hanging hazard in a vaulting environment for all but the most basic positions, or any time multiple people are on the horse. Helmets with break-away straps (if such a thing even existed) would still not be safe for vaulting as a dislodged helmet could turn an otherwise minor fall into a severe neck injury. No helmet manufacturer today makes a helmet that is designed or certified for vaulting. However, all persons riding a horse, instead of vaulting, must wear a helmet since riding occurs near walls and other hard objects, and not on a consistent circle.
The rules of Equine Canada for Vaulting, in Article L206 Vaulter's Attire, states the following:
Helmets are not permitted while vaulting. However, approved protective headgear is required at all times when riding (for example, but not limited to, during warm up, exercise, or schooling.)
The rules of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), in Article 713 states the following related rules:
2.4 Dress of Squad, Individual, and Pas-de-Deux Vaulters must not hinder the movement of the Vaulter or the safe interaction between Vaulters during the performance. Dress must in no way compromise the safety of either Vaulter or Horse.
2.7 Dress must be formfitting and all articles of clothing, or parts thereof, must remain attached to the Vaulter’s body at all times. Decorative Accessories (not limited to but including belts, masks, jewellery) and props (not limited to but including hats, capes, canes, gadgets) are strictly forbidden in the arena.
Later, in Article 719, it states:
Any member of the Delegation entered in the Definite Entries by the NF may work the Horse mounted. When mounted for riding, suitable footwear and protective headgear secured by a three-point retention harness is compulsory.
It is widely understood by FEI Judges and Stewards that the combination of the above two rules from 713, plus the absence of a helmet listed as permitted equipment, means that helmets are not permitted while vaulting, but are required when riding, just like in Canada.
If you would like to learn more about the forces athletes experience in falls, how to calculate that force, and learn about the recommendations for maximum force potential while vaulting, please visit our Fall g-Force Calculator page.