DARIEN, CT – Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) were in Darien this morning to announce the upcoming introduction of the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Safety Act in the U.S. Senate, which would require all equestrian helmets manufactured and sold in the United States to meet certain safety standards. Himes introduced the bill in the House of Representatives in April this year in honor of Christen O’ Donnell, a 12-year-old Darien girl who passed away after being thrown from her horse while wearing a hat that appeared to be a helmet, but did not actually meet proper safety standards. They were joined by Kemi O’Donnell, Christen’s mother, and Courtney King-Dye, a Connecticut native and former Olympic Dressage rider who suffered a traumatic brain injury following a fall from her horse.  

“As a parent of two young girls, nothing would cause me greater pain than seeing my daughter hurt or worse from an injury that could have been prevented with proper protective gear,” said Himes. “Unfortunately, many horse riders unknowingly purchase ineffective head gear for themselves or their children. I am proud to champion Christen’s bill in the House and I applaud Senators Blumenthal and Murphy for introducing the Senate version. I look forward to continue working closely with them to get this commonsense safety legislation passed to prevent future tragedies.”

“No family should have to experience the unimaginable pain that Christen’s family has suffered. This common sense bill will save lives and prevent future tragedies. These hats are identical to riding helmets in every way except for one critical distinction, that they do not protect from deadly injury. This bill sets a simple standard that all equestrian helmets sold in the United States meet basic safety standards,” Senator Blumenthal said.

“Christen died 16 years ago and for the past 14 years I have been tirelessly working to pass the Christen O’Donnell Equestrian Helmet Safety Act that would require all equestrian helmets produced and sold in the United States to meet a minimum safety standard,” Kemi O’Donnell said. “When Christen fell that day I had no idea that the helmet she had been wearing was not a helmet at all, but rather piece of apparel that offered little to no protection. I could not then, and still cannot, understand how something that looks exactly like a helmet but is not can be sold and marketed the way it is. With the increasing awareness of head injuries today, I believe there is no better time to finally pass Christen’s Bill. Statistics show that the largest percentage of TBI’s in recreational sports comes from the equestrian world. That is a fact, but Christen’s law can help change that.”

The bill directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to establish safety standards for equestrian helmets based on those already developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a leading non-profit developer of safety standards used in U.S. law. It requires all helmets manufactured and sold in the United States to meet the ASTM safety standards until the CPSC standards are finalized and imposes fines on companies who try to pass off their unapproved hats as approved helmets.

Brain injuries are a major public health concern, with two million head injuries occurring in the United States every year. Horseback riding causes 11.7% of sports-related traumatic brain injuries, which is the largest percentage of any recreational sport. Over 100 deaths per year are estimated to result from equestrian related activities, with head injuries accounting for three of every five of these deaths. Properly fitted ASTM-certified helmets can reduce head injury-related deaths by 70 to 80 percent; the U.S. Pony Clubs lowered head injury rates by 29 percent through mandatory helmet use.

The bill is supported by leading equestrian and safety organizations, including the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, U.S. Pony Clubs, U.S. Equestrian Federation, National Riding Commission, National Steeplechase Foundation, Chronicle of the Horse, Riders 4 Helmets, National Sports Safety Organization, Brain Trauma Foundation, US Brain Injury Alliance, New Mexico Brain Injury Alliance, Kids in Danger, Centers for Health and Public Safety, Safe Kids Worldwide, American Academy of Neurology, Consumer Federation of America, and leading manufacturer of certified equestrian helmets Charles Owen.