Safety has always been my number one concern when teaching students how to ride. I find safe horses and ponies to teach on; I follow the farm safety protocol of Equine Canada, I have had my facility approved by the Ontario Equestrian Federation; and when it comes to riding apparel, I recommend safety vests but mandate a properly fitted, approved helmet for all of my riders.
With the start of a new session this week, it’s a great time for riders to check over their equipment to make sure that everything is safe. Even if your helmet has never sustained any damage or impact from a fall, ALL manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every 5 years…and for many of us “mature” riders, if not replaced, we may be wearing helmets that are no longer approved.
This coming weekend, manufacturers and retailers are offering great discounts on riding helmets for International Helmet Awareness Days (September 16/17), so it’s the perfect time to purchase a helmet for a new rider or replace your existing helmet – especially if older than 5 or if you have had a few falls in the last couple of years.
Once you choose a tack store, the decision then comes down to safety standards, fit and style:
Helmet Safety Standards
The first thing you will want to look for is a helmet that is ASTM approved. ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) tests all types of sports and work equipment including equestrian helmets.
Helmets are subject to drops, sharp and blunt blows, and extreme temperatures. If a helmet bears the ASTM certification, you can be assured that it is made to pass at least the minimum standards set by the ASTM.
Fitting a Helmet
To get the best fit, you’ll need to try some helmets on so it is imperative that the rider who is getting the helmet be present for the fitting. The sales person may measure your head with a tape measure before starting to select helmets to try on. This will give you a general size to work from. This measurement is only used as a guideline for finding the right size and to start trying on helmets as some helmets fit different shapes of heads differently.
Once you have the helmet on your head, leave the harness undone and tip your head back and forth, and side to side. The helmet should sit firmly, not sliding forward or backwards. The helmet should be snug, but not tight. Remember that the linings will compress with use, so take that into account. Do up the harness and notice how the helmet feels. It should feel secure but not like your head is being squeezed. Pay attention to any pressure points that may become irritating. The helmet should be between one half (1.25 cm) to one inch (2.5cm) above the eyebrows. If the helmet looks perched on your head or sits too low, try another style.
I can’t stress enough, the importance of having the rider try on different helmets, making sure you are shopping at a reputable tack store with knowledgable staff. I’ve had several students come to the barn with helmets they received as Christmas gifts or birthday presents, that do not fit properly. Having owned a tack store, myself, for many years and having taken a workshop on how to fit a helmet, I know how imperative it is to have the rider sized properly. Many tack stores will not allow you to return a helmet, for sanitary/safety reasons, so if you wish to purchase a helmet for a gift, get a gift card and then take the rider into the store to get properly sized.
The style of helmet you choose is entirely up to you and there are many different options:
For weekly/daily schooling purposes, a schooling helmet is appropriate and they come in a range of colours with patterns/designs, etc and are easy to keep clean by simply wiping off. Most of them are vented, making wearing a helmet on a hot, summer day rather bearable:)
If you are going to be showing, a velvet/velveteen show helmet is more suitable; however, the popularity of helmets, such as Sam Shield, are on the rise and they are not velvet/velveteen. In most cases, it comes down to the discipline of riding that you are doing as well as how much money you wish to spend. Keeping all of that in mind,
whether it’s a colourful, schooling helmet or a sparkly show helmet, remember that the most important part is making sure it fits!
Buying Used Helmets
Should you buy a used helmet? The answer is NO! And tack stores will not sell used helmets. The same thought applies to using a 2nd hand helmet. Over the years that I have been running lessons and camp, I have had a few riders who show up to their first lesson with their mom or even grandma’s old helmet. I understand the sentimental attachment to the old helmet; however, most likely, it is not approved.
So, with a little information about fitting helmets, and with some great discounts being offered this weekend, if it’s time for a new helmet or time to replace an old one, happy shopping!!
Until next time,