09/21/2011 02:53 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Alberta 4-H brings in mandatory helmet rule for young and beginner horse riders

EDMONTON - Alberta's 4-H Council has approved a mandatory helmet policy for young people who sign up for its horse-riding programs.

Starting Oct. 1, all beginner riders and anyone born in 2000 or later and enrolled in 4-H equine clubs must wear a protective helmet if they want to mount up.

Stacy Price, president of Alberta 4-H, says the rule is about keeping young people safe, especially from dangerous head injuries such as concussions.

"Safety is our first concern at 4-H. We are trying to improve our safety. We are trying to be proactive here," Price said Wednesday. "We see it as a growing trend and we don't want to be the ones that are lagging behind."

She said the policy, which was first suggested by Alberta Agriculture last summer, will also keep insurance costs down for the organization, which is geared to young people in rural areas.

The British Columbia 4-H Council has had an equestrian helmet policy since 2007. It is not clear how many other 4-H groups across Canada have such rules.

The Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research praised 4-H Alberta's decision.

Associate director Kathy Belton said the latest research shows that concussions and even bumps to the head can affect a person's sensitivity to light and noise and can lead to difficulties in concentration and memory later in life.

"I think it is a fantastic idea and long overdue. I say good on 4-H. We have been remiss in this province for not insisting on helmet use," Belton said. "We need to protect those young brains as they grow and mature."

There is growing awareness of head injuries in the sports world.

In May, Hockey Canada brought in a zero-tolerance policy for amateur players that goes into effect this season. Players are to be penalized even if they accidentally touch another player's face, head or neck during a game.

Despite that growing awareness, there are some people who are resisting the equine helmet policy. Price said there has been some pushback from parents who say they don't like being told that their children must wear helmets.

"They don't want to be told what to do. We hope that they will realize we are doing this for the safety of their children," she said. "It is a rule and it is something that 4-H believes in and stands behind."

But most parents are supportive and Price believes that as time passed, helmets for young or new equestrians will be as common as head gear in minor hockey.

Belton said it's time for the Alberta government to bring in a mandatory helmet law for young people who drive all-terrain vehicles, which she suggested are much more dangerous than riding horses.

The Centre for Injury Control is at a loss as to why the provincial government won't act when it comes to ATVs, she said.

"We have seen more devastation from ATVs then we do from equine activity. But we don't think this government will legislate a helmet law in the future, as much as we would like one."