The most important part of your riding ensemble is your riding helmet, which helps to protect your head in the event of a fall. Here's how to select the right helmet, how to fit it for optimal function, and how to care for it so it lasts.
Start with Selection
Start with selecting the helmet that's right for your needs. Here are helmet-selection tips, for function and aesthetics.
- Look for the ASTM/SEI label. Helmets that are ASTM-approved and SEI-certified have been manufactured to meet certain safety standards tailored for the horseback rider. (For more on what this label means, see below.)
- Pay attention to material. Some helmets feature a shiny plastic finish, while others have leather or felt covers. The material you choose is a matter of aesthetics. Pick the one that best suits your riding style. Leather covers typically have a Western look, while plastic is sportier. English riders often choose helmets with felt covers.
- Find a helmet you'll wear. Consider how the helmet looks. Some helmets feature a rugged look, while others have a sleek aerodynamic design. If you like the way your helmet looks, you'll be more likely to wear it on every ride.
- Choose the venting. Passive venting allows warm air to escape from inside the helmet, even when you're stationary. Active venting requires movement to push air through the helmet. A helmet usually has passive venting if there are holes cut in the top. Most helmets with active venting have holes in the sides and in the back.
- Select a color. Get a color that you like, keeping in mind that lighter colors can be cooler than dark colors in hot weather. Also consider your personality: Do you want to stand out or fit in? If you often ride alone, consider a brighter color so you'll be visible, in case of a mishap.
Focus on Fit
The right fit is crucial if you want the helmet to do its job — protect your head in case of a fall. Get the right fit by following these guidelines.
- Do your hair. Before you try on helmets for fit, wear your hair the way you will when you are riding. Your hairstyle will affect how the helmet sits on your head.
- Measure your head. Save time! Before you start grabbing helmets to try on, measure your head with a measuring tape to determine your hat size. Then look on the helmet packaging to see which size you need, based on your measurements.
- Find the right shape. Try on lots of helmets to see what feels right on your head. Look for a helmet whose basic design fits your particular head shape. This helmet will be more likely to stay put on your head in the event of a fall. Make sure the helmet feels snug on your head without too much pressure.
- Position it right. The helmet should sit straight on your head, covering your forehead. The brim should be two fingers' width from your eyebrows.
- Adjust the chin strap. Adjust the strap so it's snug, yet comfortable, under your chin. At the barn and in the saddle, always fasten the chin strap. An unsecured helmet won't protect you, and if it's knocked out of position as you fall, it can even be dangerous.
- Shake your head. Give your head a shake while you're wearing the helmet. You don't want it to move.
- Walk around. Walk around the store while wearing the helmet to see whether it's comfortable as you move. Wear it as you do your other shopping. It shouldn't give you a headache.
Handle With Care
Proper helmet care will ensure your helmet will be in top shape for optimal head protection in the event of a riding accident.
- Clean the vents. Regularly blow dust out of air vents and channels using compressed air.
- Wash the padding. Regularly clean the helmet padding with warm, soapy water containing a few drops of bleach. Never use solvents. Allow to air-dry.
- Inspect the integrity. Before each ride, inspect your helmet. Look for cracked, torn, or loose plastic and straps. If your helmet isn't in top shape, repair or replace it immediately.
- Store it right. Store your helmet in a dry, well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight. Never leave your helmet in a hot car; extreme heat can ruin the helmet's materials.
- Replace it. If you fall off your horse and hit the helmet in any way, replace the helmet. There may be damage that will comprise the helmet's effectiveness, even if you can't see it on the outside.
Behind the Label
You've seen the ASTM/SEI labels on riding helmets. What exactly does this mean?
"ASTM" stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials, an organization that determines the safety standards of a variety of products. The ASTM is responsible for providing safety standards for horseback-riding helmets, as well as helmets designed for other uses.
"SEI" refers to the Safety Equipment Institute, an organization that verifies that manufacturers are following the standards established by the ASTM.
Always look for the ASTM/SEI label when you helmet shop to be assured the helmet meets the highest safety and quality standards in the industry.
We thank Troxel, LLC, for contributing to this article.
Audrey Pavia, a freelance writer based in Norco, California, rides competitive trail with her Spanish Mustang, Milagro. She's the author of Trail Riding: A Complete Guide (Howell Book House).