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The American Medical Equestrian Institute states: "Head injuries account for approximately 60% of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. Properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmets can prevent death and reduce the severity of head injuries sustained while riding." Legacy Tack recommends wearing an approved safety helmet for all types of riding. We have put together this guide to help you select and properly fit the right helmet to suit your needs.
There are a number of official safety standards for helmets. For example, in the USA, helmets should be marked as certified by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) to show that they meet current safety requirements. Unless specifically noted as an "item of apparel only" all of the helmets on our site are ASTM/SEI Certified.
Some helmets may also carry additional certifications. For example, because they are manufactured in England, Charles Owen helmets are generally certified to British and European as well as American standards. Different certifying bodies develop their own safety standards and test helmets in different ways. One safety standard is not necessarily better than another; they just have different sets of criteria. While some safety standards may be more rigorous than others, and it is a good indicator of overall safety of a helmet if it carries more than one certification, it does not necessarily mean that that helmet is better than a helmet that carries only one certification.
Applying for certification from different authorities and having the helmets tested to different safety standards is extremely expensive for the helmet manufacturer. Some helmets may not carry a particular certification only because they were not tested, not because they were tested and failed. For example, most helmets made by American based manufacturers are only tested to American safety standards, though they may also be able to pass the tests for the European standards. It should also be noted that safety standards only ensure that a helmet meets certain minimum requirements, but it does not test whether (or by how much) the helmet might exceed the minimum requirements.
Helmet fit is extremely important for safety. In the event of a fall your helmet should stay securely in place in order provide you with the maximum protection. A poorly fitting helmet that tends to fall in your eyes or requires constant readjusting can also be a contributing factor in causing an accident. In addition to being safer, a properly fitted helmet will also look sleeker and less bulky on your head than one that is too large. All of the helmets on our site have sizing information listed that will help you determine the correct size based on the circumference of your head.
To measure your head, use a measuring tape marked with centimeters and take the measurement around the circumference of your head at the widest point above the eyebrow bone, over the bump at the rear of your head and just above the top of your ears. Use a mirror as an aid if unsure whether you are measuring correctly.
For helmets that come in hat sizes, use the following scale to determine the correct size:
49 cm = 6; 50 cm = 6 1/8; 51 cm = 6 1/4; 52 cm = 6 3/8; 53 cm = 6 1/2; 54 cm = 6 5/8; 55 cm = 6 3/4;
56 cm = 6 7/8; 57 cm = 7; 58 cm = 7 1/8; 59 cm = 7 1/4; 60 cm = 7 3/8; 61 cm = 7 1/2; 62 cm = 7 5/8;
63 cm = 7 3/4; 64 cm = 7 7/8; 65 cm = 8
Many helmets come in sizes such as Small, Medium, Large, and XL, or Small/Medium and Medium/Large. These sizes are generally universal (not specific to children or adults). Your head size is not necessarily correlated to your body size, so it is important to use your head measurement to select the correct size. A child may wear a size large and an adult may wear a size small in the same helmet. Many of the helmets with this type of sizing feature a dial system in the back that makes them adjustable to fit a range of head sizes. Others may come with additional or adjustable padding that you can use to obtain a custom fit. Helmets with a dial fit system are particularly useful for camps and lesson programs where different students wear the same helmet.
When shopping or measuring for a helmet, wear your hair the way you'll be wearing it when you ride. A ponytail, clips, headband, or other style can change the way a helmet fits (although you should not ride with your hair in a style that requires you to buy a much larger helmet, as this compromises the safety of the helmet). A properly fitted helmet should feel snug around the entire head without creating any pressure points. Shake your head. If there's no motion, that's a good sign that it fits. It should sit level on your head, covering your forehead. The visor's brim should be about 1 inch (about the width of two fingers) from your eyebrow. Wear the helmet around. If it gives you a headache, it's too tight. It should become less noticeable and more comfortable as you wear it.
When you take a fall, a certified helmet absorbs energy by crushing and extending your head's stopping time to significantly reduce the peak impact on the brain. Just think of slamming on the brakes vs. slowly applying pressure on the brake to come to a stop. Helmets are built to compress and fracture on serious impact. A broken helmet is not a sign of a faulty one - in fact, they are designed to crush or crack as they absorb the energy that could otherwise cause you serious injury.
You need to replace your helmet any time you hit your head in a fall. It could have a defect that's invisible, and if you fall on that same part of the helmet again, you won't have the protection that you should. Even if your helmet never takes a hit, it's a good idea to replace it at least every five years (or sooner if you ride often), because over time the Styrofoam inside the helmet can take a beating from all the sweat, heat, dust, and rain and may not function properly in a fall.
Warning: If a riding helmet receives a severe impact for any reason it should be destroyed and replaced or returned to the manufacturer for inspection. If you are ever unsure as to the safety of your riding helmet, please consult with your local equestrian supplies retailer or the manufacturer.
Most helmet manufacturers have their own Accident Replacement Policies which offer a discount (over 50% in some cases) when you replace a helmet that was involved in an accident within the first few years after it was purchased. For more information about replacing your helmet, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (800) 450-1559.
In many cases, the type of riding you do will determine the type of helmet you require. For example, helmets designed for endurance or long-distance riding often have extra ventilation holes, to allow sweat to evaporate and excess heat to dissipate. Show events (such as dressage) typically require (or at least expect) a helmet which meets certain style requirements, whereas very physical competitions (e.g. jumping) place greater importance on the helmet meeting the required safety standards. Consequently, a good approach is to check to see which helmets are acceptable for the type of riding you will be doing, and choose from this selection a particular helmet which meets your personal requirements (e.g. appearance, fit and comfort).
Show Helmets are pretty much what they sound like: helmets that you wear to shows. Classic show helmets are what most people picture when thinking of equestrian events. Modeled after the English hunt cap (which is basically just a velvet hat that offers no actual protection), classic helmets are darkly colored - usually black - and either covered in velvet or given a finish (or cloth cover) that resembles velvet. Unlike hunt caps, show helmets actually do protect your head, usually have some form of ventilation hidden under the surface, and strap on for a secure fit.
Modern Show Helmets are sleeker, more abstract versions of the classic hunt cap look. They also owe some of their athletic appearance to the shape of the polo helmet. Still darkly colored - generally black or dark gray - modern helmets often forgo the traditional velvet cover for a suede or matte finish. Many of them also feature a central, highly visible ventilation stripe which helps to keep the rider's head extra cool.
Skull Caps are traditionally worn by race jockeys but have become very popular for the cross country phase of three day eventing (or horse trials). Many eventers also wear their skull caps with a black cover for the stadium jumping phase.
When riding for lessons or while practicing, riders have the option to wear Schooling Helmets. Though they protect your head the same as show helmets, schooling helmets are much more informal and less expensive. This means not only can you express your personal style with one of the many fun colors available, you can also save your much more expensive show helmet from all the wear, tear, dust, and dirt of daily or weekly lessons.
NOTE: Even though schooling helmets look a bit like bicycle helmets, they're very different. A bicycle helmet WILL NOT protect you from the degree of force and damage you are likely to experience in a horse riding accident. The equestrian helmet covers more of a person's head than a bicycle helmet, fitting lower on the head, particularly at the back of the skull, and has protection distributed evenly around the head rather than concentrated in the front and back. Please make sure you purchase a proper, ASTM/SEI certified helmet that's made specifically for equestrian use.
See this chart for a comparison of Charles Owen Skull Caps.
Or visit our Help Center for more Buyer's Guides and Frequently Asked Questions.