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A Beginner's Guide to Riding Helmets

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

Start them off young!

Start them off young!

Can I Wear a Bike Helmet for Horseback Riding?

I get asked a lot by parents if their child can wear their bike helmet or other types of athletic helmets for riding lessons. The answer is simple: a big fat no!

Riding helmets are made and tested specifically for optimum safety in a riding incident. Other types of helmets are not made for the same conditions, which means they will not be as effective as a riding helmet in the event that you hit your head.

I have heard the excuse, "But we already have a bike helmet" many times. A basic approved riding helmet can be purchased at a very reasonable price. You don't have to spend a lot to get a good helmet.

If you or your child fall and hit your head, you will be glad you sprung for the second helmet. It will be totally worth the money.

Wear a helmet, and tell your friends to wear one!

Wear a helmet, and tell your friends to wear one!

"My Friend Gave Me an Old Helmet"

This is something else that I hear rather frequently. I also hear that someone found one for a couple of bucks at a flea market or yard sale. Sounds harmless enough, right?

It's not. For one, safety standards and technology are constantly changing and improving with time. The old helmet you are given or bought may not be up to the current certification standards. Don't you want to be as safe as possible? If so, you should spend the money on a new one.

Even on trail rides!

Even on trail rides!

The Other Problem With Secondhand Helmets

It is not just the concern of the helmet not being up to the current standard of safety technology. The other concern is that helmets are only made to sustain one impact. In other words, they are meant to protect your head one time when you hit your head and then be replaced.

It may sound ridiculous, I know. The way that helmets are made to absorb the impact of you hitting your head, once they have sustained the impact, they have done their job. They are one-hit wonders! If you hit your head, you need to throw your helmet away, even if it doesn't look damaged. Just because it is not outwardly cracked or dented doesn't mean that it is safe to ride in.

That being said, when you ride in a helmet you got from a friend or on a yard sale table, you don't know whether or not that helmet has sustained an impact. It is possible that you can hit your head and have no visible damage to your helmet. That means that unbeknownst to you, you could be riding in a helmet that is not able to protect your head in the event of a fall.

Oliver thinks he is cool in his riding helmet!

Oliver thinks he is cool in his riding helmet!

Look for a Helmet With a Proper Fit

A properly fitting helmet should sit level on your head. Not rocked backward or slipping down over your eyes. Your helmet should fit your head snug enough that if you wiggle it with your hand, it moves your eyebrows. Look for a comfortable, snug fit.

The chin strap should also be snug but comfortable. If you can fit more than a few fingers in between your chin and the strap, that means it's too loose!

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Proper helmet fit for you is just as important as properly fitting tack on your horse!

Proper helmet fit for you is just as important as properly fitting tack on your horse!

Dial Fit Helmets

They have recently begun to make helmets that have dials on the back to adjust them. This appeals to parents with children who are growing and might outgrow a helmet fairly quickly.

I have no problem with these helmets. They are manufactured to the same safety standards as helmets that are not adjustable. I have many students who are able to get a good fit in an adjustable helmet.

The only thing I will caution you about is that I have found that the dials don't always withstand the test of time—especially if they are adjusted frequently. The dial will stop working properly and loosen as you ride. So, that is something to keep in mind if that is the type of helmet you decide to buy.

Helmet and body protector. Better to be safe than sorry!

Helmet and body protector. Better to be safe than sorry!

Different Brands

All different helmet brands are slightly different in the way they are shaped. Meaning, not every brand will be an ideal fit for every rider. Just because your friend wears a certain "trendy" brand doesn't mean that brand will work for you. It's function over fashion, people! If you shop in a local tack shop, they should have someone there who can help you find the perfect fit.

There are so many helmet manufacturers out there now that you are sure to find something that is a proper fit, as well as a look that you can be satisfied with. I have seen helmets in all different colors and designs. Even some sparkly helmets for kids!

Don't forget you can always get a helmet cover if you can't be content with the color or look of your helmet on its own. Helmet covers are inexpensive, but they are also fun for kids or those who get bored and want to change the way their helmet looks often.

There I'm wearing my helmet again!

There I'm wearing my helmet again!

Take It From Me

I'm almost 10 months into TBI recovery from an accident with a horse. I was on the ground with the horse, and I wasn't going to ride. I didn't have my helmet on. Obviously, there are no guarantee things would have been different if I had a helmet on. It certainly would have only helped. Wearing your helmet when you are grooming and tacking up is something I would strongly consider. Though I know that is not the norm, so some may be opposed to that.

As someone who has had more than one bad fall where I cracked helmets, wearing one when mounted is a no-brainer. Literally, I have one that cracked in half like a watermelon. To think that would have been my head had I not had that helmet on, that's a scary thought.

So wear a properly fitted helmet, and encourage your friends and family to do so as well! It is better to be safe than sorry!!!!

Look at those good-looking school horses and helmet-wearing students!

Look at those good-looking school horses and helmet-wearing students!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Ellison Hartley (author) from Maryland, USA on December 27, 2018:

Thanks so much! I agree it definitely is!

Carrie Kelley from USA on December 27, 2018:

Great job on this article. It's such an important topic for riders.

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