One of the most crucial pieces of equipment for horse riders is the helmet. The right helmet helps protect against head injuries in the event of a fall or other accident. However, finding the right horse riding helmet can be a daunting task.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand the importance of wearing a helmet while horse riding. Studies have shown that helmets reduce the risk of injury by as much as 70-80%. I know it can feel uncool to wear a helmet, but having a life-long brain injury is no treat either. Especially, when it could have been prevented by something as simple as wearing a helmet.
Three out of every five equestrian accident deaths are caused by brain injuries.
According to the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky, hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. treat approximately 70,000 equestrian related injuries. 3-in-5 equestrian accidental deaths are due to brain injuries, and there is a four-fold increase in mortality for injured, non-helmeted riders. Of all injuries caused by large animals that are treated by trauma units, horses are responsible for more than half, and approximately one-third of these are brain or head injuries.
According to Horse Council BC, a human skull can be shattered on impact at 7-10 kph (4-6 mph) and a horse can gallop at over 60 kph (37 mph). And a fall from just two feet can cause brain injury.
Yet when you’re sitting on your horse, your head is at least 2+ metres (6+ feet) above the ground. If your horse bucks you off, you’re often torpedoed head first to the ground or into a wall. A study published in the journal “Nature” in 2002 stated that head injuries outnumber spinal injuries five to one.
A proper helmet can drastically reduce the chance of a head injury. When the United States Pony Club tightened its regulations for headgear, concussions were reduced by 29 percent and head injuries by 26 percent during the following two years.
Although no helmet can protect every rider from injury under every circumstance, the benefits of protective headgear cannot be discounted. However, for helmets to function as intended, they must fit properly, receive proper care, and bee replaced as needed.
A proper helmet greatly reduces the risk of a catastrophic head injury.
Jill Ball and a team of health professionals with the University of Calgary, the Foothills Medical Centre and the Calgary Health Region explored the outcomes of severe and serious equestrian injuries. They collected their findings in a report called “Ten years of major equestrian injury: are we addressing functional outcomes?” published in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Trauma Management & Outcomes.
Selecting a study period from 1995 to 2005, they reviewed all trauma patients and identified 151 injured when horse riding. Ten died, all from catastrophic head injuries. Of the remaining 141, all had a mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 20 (major trauma) as a direct result of their injuries.
The helmet is designed to protect the head from injuries, which can have severe, life-long consequences and even be life-threatening. You should wear a helmet that meets the current safety standards. The first helmet I ever had when I started riding in the 90s, was basically a hard hat with minimal padding. Looking at it now makes me wonder how that flimsy thing was ever approved for safety.
Soon after I started riding, the EU updated the safety regulations for horse riding helmets, and I’ve still got that (relatively newer) helmet in a box on a shelf somewhere. The padding inside that helmet is substantial and makes the older helmet seem like a toy.
The main things to consider are that your helmet should meet an accepted safety standard, should have a certification (quality assurance) mark, and should fit properly. And it can look good, too. When I started riding, the only thing available was the black velvet cover, and this is the style I still personally prefer because I deeply associate it with riding.
When I was shopping for a helmet for my kid, I saw just how much the helmet landscape has changed. In addition to getting helmets in all kinds of colours and styles (bedazzled and besparkled, which I’m not sure is a good idea), you can also get all kinds of covers to customise your helmet. You can even get cowboy hats with built-in riding helmets, for that authentic Western look but with safety.
One of the key things when shopping for a helmet, is the fit.
Because a well-fitting helmet will be comfortable to wear, meaning you (or your child) will be happy to wear it. When my old helmet started getting tight around the head, giving me tension headaches after lessons, I knew it was time to buy a bigger helmet.
But it took me a while to realise the headaches were from the helmet, and before I did, I was subconsciously starting to resent putting it on, which affected my mood in riding class, which we all know, is a big no-no when around horses. Any kind of tension in your body will quickly translate to tension in the horse.
And proper fit is important for all gear. You should feel comfortable, and the gear or clothes need to feel like a part of you, allowing you free movement and not demanding that a portion of your attention constantly be on what you’re wearing or how it’s bringing your body or mind out of alignment.
A properly fitting helmet should sit snugly on the head without being too tight or too loose. It should cover the forehead and the back of the head, providing full coverage for the head. Measure your head size correctly to ensure that you get the right size helmet. You can do this by using a measuring tape and measuring around the widest part of your head, just above the eyebrows and ears.
Try on many different brands and models of helmets, don’t just settle for the first one you come across. Investing in the right helmet is worth it, because it can protect you from life-long consequences of not wearing one or wearing a poorly fitting one.
Make sure the helmet is up to current safety standards.
These standards ensure that the helmet has been tested and meets the necessary safety requirements to protect the riders from head injuries. Check that the helmet meets the required safety standard before purchasing it. There are several helmet safety standards around the world that are commonly used to ensure the quality and safety of helmets.
Some of the most common helmet safety standards are:
- ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) – Used primarily in the United States, ASTM is a standard that specifies the requirements for helmets used in horse riding, cycling, and other sports.
- Snell Memorial Foundation – This is a US-based independent organization that sets voluntary standards for helmet manufacturers. The Snell standards are designed to provide higher levels of protection than the minimum standards required by law.
- CE (Conformité Européenne) – Used primarily in Europe, this standard specifies the requirements for helmets used in various sports, including cycling, skiing, and horse riding.
- AS/NZS (Australia/New Zealand Standard) – This is a standard used in Australia and New Zealand, and it specifies the requirements for helmets used in various sports, including horse riding.
- JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) – This is a standard used in Japan, and it specifies the requirements for helmets used in various sports, including horse riding.
Another factor to consider is the helmet’s construction.
Most helmets are made from a hard, durable outer shell and a soft, cushioned inner lining. Look for helmets with a solid shell that can withstand impact and a thick layer of padding that can absorb shock.
The helmet should have good ventilation, especially in hot climates and summer months, and a comfortable chin strap that keeps the helmet securely in place. There’s nothing worse than a helmet that won’t sit where it should, i.e. rendering it ineffective.
While it is tempting to opt for a cheaper option, it is crucial to prioritize safety and invest in a quality helmet. A good helmet may cost more, but it will provide better protection and last longer, saving you from having to constantly buy new ones.
When it comes to horse riding competitions, safety is just as important as style.
Finding the right helmet for competition requires careful consideration of both factors. Before purchasing a helmet for competition, it’s essential to check the rules of the competition. Different competitions have different requirements for helmets, such as certain safety standards or specific colour requirements.
Choose a helmet that has a sleek, professional design, and consider the colour that will best match your competition outfit and enhance your overall look. It’s important to choose a helmet that meets the requirements to avoid disqualification.
And remember, a helmet doesn’t make you a better rider, your horse more trained, or prevent accidents.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to test the full capabilities of your helmet. Just make sure that your helmet is up to date (safety standards change over time), in good condition (nothing broken), and is a pleasure to use, so that you’ll want to use it on every ride.