The Kevin Babington Foundation is a safe haven for funding and support for the equestrian community.
The foundation, while in Kevin's name, serves the sport as a whole, and the website is there to provide research and at times financial support when circumstances dictate.
While competing is generally an individual sport, the equestrian community is very close outside the ring.
In support of the Kevin Babington Foundation, and the awareness of the spinal cord injuries that can occur from lack of protection when riding, we spoke with a variety of prominent contributors in the field to discuss the topic of equine safety and its possible lack of progression.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed many of our top riders (and many others, too) suffer close to career ending injuries, including Kevin Babington and David Beisel most notably.
Though the sport is represented in the Olympics, it is underfunded and is off the charts when it comes to major body injuries - only to be lacking in developmental research compared to competitive sports with similar data like football, gymnastics and rugby.
AS 83.4 PERCENT of horse-riding injuries are caused by the rider falling off the horse, the question is, how can we better protect the show jumping community, specifically?
The tragedy is we can have technology if only everyone chooses to deploy it.
We are talking serious money in the show ring.
Beyond the competition itself, who can we turn to for financial sponsorships when we need it the most?
As the sport progresses, it is imperative to provide the necessary data and research to provide better protection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports-related traumatic brain injury is affecting 1.7 to 3.8 million people annually in the U.S.
Additionally, a 2016 study by the journal Neurological Focus found that horse-related accidents cause the most traumatic brain injuries in the U.S.
Incidentally, according to the latest studies at Virginia Tech University Helmet Lab Research, equestrian helmets do not have a rating system on safety at the moment.
In other sports like football, helmets not only have developed based off of research but have a 5-star rating program.
Several studies over decades are concluding that the rate of serious injury per number of riding hours is higher than motorcycling, skiing, or football.
The study analyzed National Trauma Data Bank data between the 10-year period (2007 to 2016) and found that during the study period, 74.83% of equestrian deaths were caused by head and neck injuries.
Thoracic injuries were the second highest with 18.44% - Head and neck injuries were significantly associated with longer ICU LOS and more ventilator days.
The horse-riding deaths statistics also found that head and neck injuries were also associated with a ninefold increase in the risk of death. (sourced)
The more recent equine air vests have become a critical choice for safety, yet still a controversial topic.
The pertinent question for the group: why aren’t we all wearing more protection?
The board of the Kevin Babington Foundation views a mandate as necessary; others ask if they are dangerous.
Though the newer air vests have come a long way, there is a bit of reluctance with minimal data and the possible vanity issue.
Irish Olympic show jumper and team player of the Spy Coast Spies for the Major League Show Jumping roster, Shane Sweetnam believes, “A suitable equine safety vest could be a big solution, and it’s great to see a lot of people wearing them. But I do still see flaws - I believe more research and tweaking on the vest is important.”
As of today, the new air vests do not have any published scientific studies, certifying efficacy.
Helite Airbag Vests are developed in France, and offer research developed by engineers who have tested the vests through individual protection systems:
The HELITE research department develops innovative solutions to integrate the airbags into HELITE brand products or HELITE partner brands.
Their research department also creates special airbag systems for B2B customers in a wide variety of sectors.
They invent and design each airbag component and all prototypes are made and tested before going into production.
Many parameters are studied and tested during the development phase of a product (materials, pressure, etc).
They put their airbags in real-life situations and simulate dozens of accidents or crash test configurations.
These tests enable them to collect the data needed to improve or validate their technologies.
Even at the top, one can so quickly walk away with a major injury – so we often must ask how we can continue to support and do better?
The statistical data correlating between thoracic injuries with equestrian sports are alarming.
“I've fallen off a couple times - once in Europe where I landed on my back after I had flipped.” said Ashlee Bond of the Israeli Olympic team and Helios player for the Major League Show jumping roster.“I would have severely been injured, but I am sure my vest kept me safe. It felt as though I landed on a cloud. Truthfully, no one is invincible, so I question … why not wear a vest?”
Overall, regardless of horse or country, a clear vision and pursuit are of the utmost importance: diligent protection backed by scientific data and research.
Riders want to be protected and want to protect each other.
On March 12, 2022 Grand Prix rider David Beisel suffered a severe neck injury after a dangerous fall in the $10,000 Future Prix at the World Equestrian Center–Ohio in Wilmington.
David snapped his C3 and C4 vertebra going into spinal shock.
He eventually had to replace a disc and have a cage surgically and permanently placed in his neck.
During our interview, he was attending his first horse show again, happy to be up and around horses - eager to discuss equine safety progression.
“If I could get my hands on a better jacket to wear, for myself, my children and my wife … I would absolutely do it.”
David has noticed how the pace of his sport has been slow to upgrade any of the safety standards.
“I am very interested in the research backed by all the football technology that is out there and what they can offer,” he said.
"The support has been overwhelming and I am blown away in every way imaginable,” David said. “The neat thing is, there does not seem to be any type of social stigma behind the safety movement in the hunter and/or equitation world. It is a dangerous sport, I don’t think anyone is going to pin a round differently today because of the uniform in regards to the safety vest, safety is important.”
Jeff Papows has an over-educated perch through which he views this issue.
"I've had my share of falls over decades of riding. I started wearing an air vest after Kevin's fall. Today's air vests are so light, I hardly notice I have it on. In fact, I've had the odd "senior moment" when I've dismounted without disconnecting so I can tell you they inflate in a microsecond. Much to my shame at the time, in one case with Dianna Babington coaching me!"
"Kevin and I are brothers of a sort. I'd trade places with him if I could, and I marvel every day at the tenacity, selflessness, and positive mindset he maintains. Kevin's concerns day to day are for those around him, never himself. I honestly don't know how many of us have that inner kindness and courage … so let's wear the vests and we will find out less often.
"It's an honor to chair the foundation and a puzzle to me why we aren't all employing this protection and why the Federation isn't codifying the issue and enacting a requirement across the sport!"
The push for better protection within one of the most dangerous sports in the world seems like a no brainer.
Riders, publishers, editors, and trainers, must continue to be their own advocates in order to obtain the funding, research and data and acquire the best tools for their community.
Constant outreach, networking, and exploration for now, seems to continue as the pathway for this Olympic pastime to reach its cap in progression and safety.
The Kevin Babington Foundation has become a safe haven for funding and support as our community continues to suffer from the progression it desires.
The non-profit continues to be a stronghold for the family of riders who seek education, research, and timely intervention.
Donate to Kevin Babington Foundation to further research on helmets and vests and to provide funds for riders who have been seriously injured.