Everyone has an excuse for not wearing a helmet when they ride: "I'm not going to jump; I'm just going for a trail ride; my horse is perfectly safe; I'm only going to let my horse stretch his legs for a few minutes; I'm not going to do anything dangerous."
Now think back to the last time you came off your horse. Were you jumping a high fence on a strange horse after an hour of hard work? Probably not. You were more likely doing an activity you do every day with your horse and the unexpected occurred, something you never could have anticipated.
That's why it's a good idea to wear a helmet every time you climb on a horse. You never know when and how an accident will occur. We work with our horses to minimize spooking, runaways and other dangerous situations. But we can't anticipate everything. And if we're challenging ourselves and our horses athletically, eventually we're likely to attempt something that will cause a fall.
- Choose a helmet that meets or exceeds ASTM/SEI safety standards.
- Always fasten the harness strap.
- Be sure the helmet fits properly, so that when you rock it, your scalp moves with the helmet.
- Fasten long hair at the nape of the neck instead of putting it up under the helmet.
- If the helmet is involved in a fall, either replace it or have it inspected to ensure that it still has its protective qualities.
Fortunately, helmet manufacturers have been working to design better and safer helmets. So if you wear one and do fall, you're much more likely to avoid a head injury than ever before. That's important because, according to the American Medical Equine Association/Safe Riders Foundation, head injuries account for 20% of all equestrian injuries and 60% of fatalities occur from head injuries.
The danger to your head in a fall isn't just the possibility of cracking your skull or sustaining a gash if your horse's hoof hits your head. A lot of head injuries are actually injuries to the brain. When you are moving and your head meets a solid object (usually the ground), your brain doesn't immediately stop its motion. It continues forward, often hitting the opposite side of your skull from where the impact occurred.
Many of today's helmets conform to ASTM/SEI safety standards, meaning they have passed tests by the Safety Equipment Institute based on standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. These tests are designed to emulate impacts that can occur in a fall from a horse. The helmets meeting these thresholds have an outside shell built to resist impact coupled with cushioning material inside the helmet to protect your skull and brain.