Equestrian helmet discussion

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week

Farmer/Rancher Safety

Young Farm Worker Safety

Children's Safety


    Let's talk about brain injuries...
    • Your brain is basically floating in your head. It is surrounded by fluid that protects it from banging up against the bony skull.
    • When there is a blow to the head or any other part of the body that causes sudden jerking, the brain is jolted in the skull cavity. The fluid protects the brain to a certain degree but if the brain hits the skull, depending on the severity of the jolt, a number of things can happen:
    • Nerves and blood vessels can rip and tear, causing damage and potential blood clots, leading to a variety of issues such as headaches, strokes, etc.
    • Damage to the brain is caused from hitting the hard bone. Depending on which part of the brain is involved, this could affect many different things such as memory, motor skills, bodily functions and more. The brain stem can be affected causing a number of different issues such as paralysis.
    • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) also known as concussions never completely heal. Each consequent brain injury is compounded and once a person has had a concussion, it is much easier to get another one. The symptoms/results/consequences of a concussion may affect the rest of the person’s life and never go away.
    How does a helmet protect?
    • Helmets are made from the same Styrofoam that a regular disposable coffee cup is made from. The only difference is that helmet Styrofoam is more dense and thicker.
    • As it is with a Styrofoam cup, once you squish the foam, it never regains its shape. If it did regain its shape, it would in essence “bounce back”. Instead it absorbs the pressure you put on it and stays that way. The same is true of helmet foam. It is designed to absorb impact and thus absorb energy from a blow.
    • The amount of time and the distance it takes for a helmet to absorb a blow is enough time in many instances to slow the brain while it is hitting against the skull cavity. This is how the helmet protects against some TBIs. No protection is 100 per cent, however helmets are proven to make a difference.
    • Because a crushed helmet never regains its shape, once it has taken a blow it should be replaced. That blow can be from protecting the head, or it could be if the helmet falls off of a shelf and hits the floor very hard. You may never see the damage, so visual inspection of a helmet doesn’t tell you very much.
    • The hard shell of the helmet is designed to skid on some surfaces. This allows the helmet to slow down before it stops, giving the rider’s head a cushion rather than jarring it to stop.
    What are the different types of riding helmets?
    • There are many reputable organizations worldwide that test and certify equestrian headgear. Any helmet that has an ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute, Inc.), BSI/BS EN (British Standards Institution), EN (European Union Standards), or AS/NZS (Australian/New Zealand Standards) label meets or exceeds safety regulations. Regardless of the brand and certifying organization, they all protect the same way assuming they fit the user properly.
    • All approved riding helmets will have a manufacturers’ date on them near the seal of approval. Any helmet over 5 years should be replaced. Body oils, sunshine and chemicals will degrade the integrity of the Styrofoam over time and make it more brittle. This lessens the protective capabilities of the helmet.
    • An equestrian riding helmet is designed to protect all around the head – the forehead, just above the ears and around the back of the head. Compare this to a bicycle helmet designed to protect mainly the front of the head. For this reason alone a bicycle helmet should never be used to protect a rider while riding a horse. Most bicycle helmets also have a lot of ventilation holes – more than riding helmets. This compromises the strength of the helmet; therefore bicycle helmets are not strong enough to protect a rider’s head from a serious blow.
    • Motorcycle helmets are heavy and hard to see out of. They are not designed for riding a horse either. They are designed to protect a head from a much more severe impact. This means they won’t crush the same way a riding helmet will. This leaves the rider at risk of jarring the head from an impact that would otherwise be protected with the appropriate headgear.
    How to fit a helmet
    • Riding helmets come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. While they all protect the same way, they are becoming more comfortable to wear and more stylish for different riding disciplines and personal tastes.
    • Regardless of price, all approved helmets protect to the same degree assuming they fit properly.
    • Try on as many different helmets as you can to determine which ones fit you the best. The better it feels, the more likely you are to wear it. Some helmets come with a sizing dial which can change the size as a young rider grows.
    • The helmet should sit just above the rider’s eyebrows and fit snuggly all around the head, with no pressure points. If you wiggle the helmet gently, the skin on the forehead should move with it. Minimal padding should be used, if any, to adjust the fit of the helmet. If the helmet sits too high on the head (doesn’t sit down just above the ears) then the helmet is too small. If the helmet wiggles around on the head or can be knocked down on the bridge of the nose, it’s too big. Find the next size up or down, or if the helmet is adjustable, adjust accordingly.
    • The chin strap or harness should fit snug but not be too tight. The rider should be able to talk comfortably, but the chin strap should catch if the rider were to open the mouth as if yawning.
    How to care for a helmet
    • Keep your helmet out of direct sunshine, as ultraviolet rays will destroy the Styrofoam over time.
    • Never use chemicals to clean your helmet as some solvents will destroy the Styrofoam over time.
    • There are helmet cleaning and odour-absorbing products available at most tack stores to keep your helmet clean, fresh and bacteria-free.
    • Never put your helmet in a hot environment such as the back window of a vehicle or near a direct heat source to dry. This will destroy the Styrofoam over time.
    • Never drop your helmet or put it in a place that it may fall.
    • It’s best to store your helmet in a suitable bag or container to protect it from elements.
    • Once a helmet has protected a head from a blow, it must not be used again. It should be discarded, regardless of how recently it was manufactured.
    • Some helmet manufacturers will issue a discount to riders who need to replace their helmets. Keep all receipts and purchased information in a safe place in case you need to use this offer.

    More information - Safety Up on Equestrian Helmets fact sheet
    How to choose an equestrian helmet that's right for you

    Alberta Farm Safety Program
    Email: farm.safety@gov.ab.ca
    or toll-free: 310-FARM (3276)

    Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Farm Safety Staff:
    Janice Donkers, Youth Coordinator: janice.donkers@gov.ab.ca
    Kenda Lubeck, Awareness Coordinator: kenda.lubeck@gov.ab.ca
    Raelyn Peterson, Coordinator: raelyn.d.peterson@gov.ab.ca
    Sharon Stollery, Manager: sharon.stollery@gov.ab.ca
    Blair Takahashi, Specialist: blair.takahashi@gov.ab.ca
Share via AddThis.com
For more information about the content of this document, contact Kenda Lubeck.
This information published to the web on March 8, 2011.
Last Reviewed/Revised on November 5, 2018.