The decision by USA Equestrian to require junior riders in their hunter/jumper shows to wear ASTM/SEI helmets is a huge step in the right direction. This means no more hunt caps, or “items of apparel” for any junior riders. With juniors complying, more adult riders will follow suit. In addition, the change will encourage additional organizations to pass similar rules.
We’re long past the arguments about whether ASTM/SEI helmets are “safer” or not. And we’re certainly not going to go down the aesthetic road. That just reminds us of the joke, “If you think your hair is more important than your brain, it probably is.” Suffice it to say, ASTM/SEI helmets are the only way to go.
Eight companies — Troxel, International, Charles Owen, Del Mar, Eurocasque, LAS/Frantisi, Equine Science (Aussie Rider), and Seven Star — make ASTM/SEI helmets. Lexington Safety Products also made ASTM/SEI helmets but stopped production in 2001.
Manufacturers are working to produce a wider selection of helmets to fit more price ranges and head sizes and shapes. Different colors are available as well, with dark brown helmets becoming more popular.
Your brand choice is much a matter of personal preference. It does need to be comfortable, although you may need to adjust to the feel at first. The chinstraps from different manufacturers do vary slightly in style and materials — and the chinstrap must be fastened for the helmet to do its job. The actual shape of the helmets from different manufacturers also varies a little.
Your best bet is to go to a tack store that stocks several different brands and try them on. Take your time. Check the fit, choose a color and then purchase your helmet there. (We think it’s in bad taste to go to a tack store to make a decision and then order it from a “discount” dealer.)
If you don’t have a nearby tack store, call your catalog company and talk with the representative. He or she may be able to help you narrow down your choices. Perhaps you’ve got to have blue, and only one company makes it. Find out the catalog’s return policy and order a couple of models to try, returning the ones you don’t like.
Whatever you do, however, be absolutely certain the helmet you purchase is labeled — in the helmet — as meeting current ASTM/SEI standards. The label should state: “ASTM F-1163-00/SEI Certified” or “ASTM F-1163-01/SEI Certified.” If it doesn’t, don’t buy that helmet.
If money’s a factor, consider velveteen instead of velvet. A helmet like the Troxel Victory is a reasonable $69.95. It has a velveteen cover and a web harness instead of leather, but it provides the same kind of safety as Troxel’s Grand Prix Gold, which is closer to $89.95.
You can also consider a plain schooling helmet like International’s Air-Lite Helmet, at $59.95, or Troxel’s Sport Helmet, $34.95, for non-show riding or if you don’t show in divisions that require the hunt-cap look. You don’t have to purchase one of those neat Lycra helmet covers for it, but they are a fun addition.
The GPA helmet — the popular “skunk” helmet with the stripe down the center — now comes in an ASTM/SEI certified model. Keep in mind, though, that unless it is the GPA4 model, which was certified in November 2001, this helmet is not ASTM/SEI-certified. Look for the label in the helmet.
If you like the stripe, but don’t like the GPA4’s nearly $300 price, International makes the Advanced Technology Helmet, which we think looks similar to the GPAs and is also ASTM/SEI-certified. It’s $120.
Drusilla Malavase, an equestrian safety and helmet expert, says she can’t stress enough the need for riders and parents to read the fitting instructions that come with new helmets. We have to agree.
While these helmets are thoughtfully designed, their instructions often aren’t. Getting the right fit isn’t just a matter of plopping the helmet on your head and snapping the chinstrap. Read everything on the enclosed tag/brochure, all the way down to the fine print, and ask for help if you aren’t sure.
In general, to check fit, place one hand on top of the helmet and rock it backward and forward, and from side to side. The scalp should move with the helmet, which is shown by the eyebrows moving. Small fitting problems can be solved by following the manufacturer’s instructions, usually by adding the foam padding which is provided with the helmet, or by adjusting the internal harness with Velcro on the outside. If the helmet needs more padding than is provided, you probably need a smaller size or different model.
Malavase also recommends that all riders keep their proof of helmet purchase — the receipt — in a safe place so they are able to find it on the off chance that their helmet needs replacement after a fall. Most of the manufacturers have replacement policies that offer a new helmet at a reduced price if the original helmet is damaged within a reasonable time frame. This policy will be spelled out in the owner’s manual.
Also bear in mind that you can’t always see or feel serious damage to a helmet. Any helmet that has been in a hard fall should be inspected by the manufacturer or destroyed and replaced. However, some of the signs you need a replacement are the harness pulling loose from the helmet, squeeze clips with broken teeth, surface cracks, holes or dents, chunks missing from the liner, liner squashed down in places, and the shell or liner being cracked through. And, of course, never purchase a used helmet unless you’re absolutely certain of its history.
If you need more convincing to wear your helmet, consider these facts from the American Medical Equestrian Association:
• Most riding injuries occur during pleasure riding.
• The most common reason among riders for admission to hospital and death are head injuries.
• A fall from two feet can cause permanent brain damage. A horse elevates a rider eight feet or more above ground.
• Helmets work. Most deaths resulting from head injury can be prevented by wearing ASTM/SEI-approved helmets that fit correctly and have the chinstrap firmly applied. Other types of helmets, including bike helmets, are inadequate for riding horses.
• Racing organizations require helmets, and as a result jockeys now suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders. The U.S. Pony Clubs lowered their head injury rate 29 percent with mandatory helmet use. Britain’s hospital admission rate for equestrians fell 46 percent after helmet design improved and they became in routine use.
If you’re in doubt about whether a helmet you’re considering is certified, look at SEI’s online list at www.seinet.org. Remember, part of the ASTM standard is that the helmet must undergo certification by the SEI in order to be approved.
Contact your local tack store or favorite retailer for ASTM/SEI helmets.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Who Requires ASTM/SEI Helmets'”
Click here to view ”Helmet Shopping.”