Select a Safe Riding Helmet

During National Helmet Awareness Day, helmet manufacturers and horseback riders team up to educate the public about safe riding headgear.

by Dani Yokhna

Safe riding helmet
Courtesy Sarah Wheeler
Riders4Helmets co-founder Jeri Bryant practices safety with her horse, Baby, by wearing a helmet while riding.

Horseback-riding safety should be important to any hobby farmer who keeps horses—whether you ride Western, English, bareback or saddleseat—but during National Helmet Awareness Day on July 10, 2010, the Riders4Helmets campaign is emphasizing the importance of wearing helmets while riding.

The Riders4Helmets campaign started in March 2010 to raise money for 2008 Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye, who suffered a serious head injury while riding. Out of this fundraising campaign, coordinators Jeri Bryant and Lyndsey White launched a helmet-safety education website, which received official endorsement from national equestrian organizations.

White, who has ridden horses her whole life and has always worn a helmet, is especially close to the issue.

“Having ridden since the age of 4, I have had my fair share of tumbles, like all riders do,” she says. “But a fall while riding at a cross country event at the age of 16 resulted in a mild concussion and a skull cap that was completely cracked in two pieces, [which] reinforced why helmets really do save your head.”

Medical examiner record reports show that at least 60 percent of horse-related deaths are caused by head injuries, and helmets can reduce that number by 70 to 80 percent, says Jenifer Nadeau, an equine specialist at the University of Connecticut Extension.

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When it comes to selecting the perfect backyard-riding helmet, no ordinary helmet will do.

“A bike helmet does not protect against equestrian-related falls, since the height and direction of a fall from a bike is different than that from a horse,” Nadeau says. “And also, a bike helmet does not fully protect the back and forehead as thoroughly as a riding helmet does.”

Backyard riders should instead seek an ASTM/SEI certified riding helmet, she says. ASTM International tests helmets and sets minimum safety standards in regard to impact sustainability, harnessing-system safety, head coverage and other safety concerns.

To select a properly fitting riding helmet, backyard riders should measure their head with a cloth measuring tape from about 1 inch above the eyebrows around the head’s circumference.

“The helmet should not make a red line across the forehead; then it is too tight. If it wobbles, it is too loose,” Nadeau says.

The riding helmet should also come with a chin strap that secures tightly across the throat, so that the rider can feel the strap when swallowing. The straps will be located on the sides of the riding helmet in a V-shape, with an adjuster buckle at the V’s base, located just below the ears.

“If you tilt the helmet forward, it should not obscure vision, and tilting it back should not expose the forehead too much,” Nadeau recommends.

A riding helmet should be replaced after a fall or impact to the helmet or after five years, when the material begins to break down. Some signs that a riding helmet should be replaced include:

  • a black helmet turning beige
  • a white helmet turning yellow
  • the harness pulling loose from the helmet
  • a broken harness clip
  • helmet surface cracks, dents or holes
  • pieces missing from the helmet liner
  • a cracked helmet liner or shell
  • helmet liner compressed in places

Helmet manufacturers are partnering with the Riders4Helmets campaign for National Helmet Awareness Day to offer helmet discounts to riders. More than 100 retailers in the U.S., Canada and Spain will be participating. Backyard riders can click here to see a complete list of retailers. If your preferred retailer doesn’t offer discounted helmets, ask them to contact Lyndsey White for more information.

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