With the safety issue basically settled, it’s starting to come down to fashion.
It goes without saying at this point that any helmet you wear should be ASTM/SEI certified. And it bears repeating that your old velvet ”hard hat” will not cut it, so your first job when looking for a helmet is to make sure it has that ASTM/SEI label or sticker inside.
Next, you can check out the newest trends. We’re helping you with a look at current products for show, schooling and Western riding. We see no need to do a field trial of helmets because the safety-factor testing is done by SEI using ASTM standards, and you must find the right brand of helmet to fit your individual head correctly.
As much as we like online and catalog shopping, we prefer to buy our helmets from tack stores, where knowledgeable people can help you find the right helmet to fit your head. We’ve even noticed slight differences in fit/comfort among helmets of the same type, size and manufacturer.
We asked Dru Malavase, equestrian helmet safety expert and co-chairman of the ASTM Equestrian Headgear Subcommittee, about the latest info in helmets, including what has made prices go up, especially for English show styles. She says that there has been no evidence that helmets costing over $300 test better than the lower-price models.
The helmets with the largest ”profiles,” which show the use of the most liner material, have always tested the best in the past. Malavase points out there is no way to say for certain which helmet is safest because no one knows the manufacturers’ testing numbers. Only the certification labs have this information, and it’s apparently a tightly guarded secret.
All the helmets on the SEI list surpass the minimum ASTM standards, some better at one test site, some at another, so a direct comparison isn’t really possible. What can be said for more expensive helmets is that the heavier helmet shells are usually more durable than the ultra-lights.
They also tend to come in sizes that are sold in 1/8 inch size increments, suitable for the small percentage of riders who don’t like the fit of the less expensive XS-S-M-LG helmets or who have a more oval or long oval head configuration.
If you’re competing in hunter-jumper disciplines, you may see those around you wearing the most fashionable and expensive GPAs and Charles Owens. Do you really need to follow suit and spend $300 to $400 for a show helmet' Well, no. But don’t be surprised if most of the competitors around you are wearing them.
The GPA Titium, which is the original ”skunk” helmet and is very popular in the jumper ring, retails for $419.95. The Speed’Air (commonly called the ”bug-eye” for its teardrop-shaped intake vents in front) retails for $499. Noreen Cothan, a managing partner of Farm House Tack, which is located in Landrum, S. C., but also does mail-order business, says that people do not seem put off by the price of the GPAs, which are her best seller.
Also popular among jumpers and hunters is the Charles Owen GR8, which sells for around $280. It has a more subtle stripe than the GPA, and a more traditional appearance coupled with a thick profile. The Hampton and Wellington models offer classic looks, with leather harnesses, and a choice of black, brown, or gray velvet.
The Charles Owens are sturdy and the lacing harness offers excellent fitting opportunities. They are well-appointed helmets with posh leather harnesses and metal fittings.
Charles Owens are not known for their ventilation, though, and can get very hot and heavy feeling on a long sunny day, which keeps many riders
schooling in one helmet and showing in another.
One trend, the decorating of jumper helmets with barn colors or costume jewelry, is being stopped as of December 2006. (A tip for riders or parents whose children have expensive helmets with costume crystals super-glued to them: nail-polish remover will dissolve glue and restore the helmet to its previous condition.)
The budget-minded competitor can look at International’s line, which offers similar styling to trendy helmets at reasonable prices. Their ATH helmet with interchangeable strips retails for around $100 and looks similar to the GPA. But they won’t fool anyone: the logos are prominently placed on the GPAs (and the Charles Owen GR8s). The Internationals clearly say IRH where the ”real thing” says GPA.
Our favorite way to save money in the show ring is to go classic. Black velvet never goes out of style. At a reasonable $99.95, Troxel’s Grand Prix Classic is velvet and has an elegant leather harness, similar to the Charles Owen Hampton. It’s also a great helmet for the dressage or equitation ring, where quiet timelessness is more important than the latest fads or logos.
For dressage, says Dorothy Mueller, who is the chairman of the USDF Youth Council, a velvet or velveteen helmet in black, brown or navy blue is the most appropriate. She adds that some dressage riders school in a helmet and then change to a hat before they enter the ring. We’d like to see them keep those helmets on.
We do think having a schooling helmet is a good idea, though. It saves your good helmet for show, and gives you no excuse to go without. As we decided in our trail helmet test in January 2006, we like the Tipperary. It’s lightweight and ventilated and has enough of a cool, exercise rider look to please even the most athletic rider. There are Tipperary logos on the back and front and leather touches. The Tipperary comes in a wide range of sizes, to fit even a small child. And it costs $59.95. (Lise Gagnon of Phoenix Performance says that Tipperary has some new models on the horizon, so we’ll look forward to seeing those.)
To save money on a schooler, consider the Troxel Sport. It is well ventilated and cleanly designed, and at $29.95, very well priced.
Saddle Seat and Western
Saddle seat riders no longer have an excuse not to wear a helmet with the advent of the Troxel Derby, a helmet shaped like the traditional derby hats worn by saddle seat riders.
The Derby is a protective helmet with a covering in the style of a black fur derby hat. The hat has 8X fur and the brim can be custom shaped, but comes shaped to the styling found in saddle seat riding disciplines, and retails for around $400. (Custom colors will cost extra.)
Many trail riders ride Western, and the Western saddle-and-chinks-with-a-trail-helmet is, we are happy to say, starting to catch on. Troxel makes helmets with Western-inspired styling.
The Troxel Dakota and Sierra have rugged looks and cost around $80, while the Laredo is the budget-minded Western helmet choice at $39.95. (It seems to be the Sport with two silver concho details.)
Make sure the helmet fits properly for safety and feels comfortable. Be sure you know what a c orrect fit feels like (Troxel has a helpful fitting PDF available at http://www.troxelhelmets.com/pdf/FitGuide.pdf).
You may need to try several helmets and walk around the store for a while to adjust to the feel, if you’re new to helmets or just returning to riding after decades out of the saddle.
Wear your helmet every time you get on a horse. Some of the most dangerous accidents occur when the horse is standing or walking. There’s no excuse for ”just this once” riding without a helmet.
If you ride saddle seat or Western, don’t give up on ASTM/SEI helmets because the choices are slim or because your peers think it’s unnecessary or ”too English.” Use your brain and protect it appropriately with the helmet that suits you best. Make it clear to manufacturers that you want more discipline-specific designs. Manufacturers respond to consumer demand.
Once you’ve got your new helmet, keep your proof of purchase in case you need to replace it after an accident, since many manufacturers offer a new helmet for less if the original helmet is damaged.