From the Mar 23, 2009 Issue of Agri-News
What is your head worth? For those who enjoy riding horses and the freedom it gives, the answer is it’s priceless. Statistics prove that the single most effective way to reduce the risk of head trauma while riding a horse is to wear an approved helmet designed for equestrian activities. It’s about your head. Use it or lose it.
Design – equestrian helmets protect a rider’s head in two ways. First, they reduce penetration by sharp objects (the protective shell). Second, they absorb some of the force, giving the head a “cushion” and increasing stopping distance (the foam padding). All models of ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) approved and SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) certified equestrian helmets are tested to ensure that the helmet is up to safety standards.
Helmets intended specifically for equestrian activities are built differently than other sporting helmets. They cover more of a rider’s head and are designed to take into account possible terrain, speeds and objects specific to horseback riding. They are built to skid rather than stick over rough terrain and to absorb impacts created by sharp objects such as a horse’s hoof or rock. They are also designed to be secured properly to a rider’s head and be light enough to not interfere with a rider’s balance.
Other sporting helmets such as bicycle or motorcycle helmets either don’t provide adequate head coverage or they are too heavy and bulky to be used for riding.
Structure – because a riding helmet will absorb the force of a blow or fall, the foam padding is destructible. Once a helmet has absorbed an impact, the foam padding condenses and never regains its original shape. It will no longer provide adequate protection. A destructible impact could be a fall from a horse or simply being dropped on to a hard surface from a distance of more than two feet. For this reason once a helmet has been through a fall or direct impact of any sort, it must be replaced. It also needs to be replaced at least every five years as the foam deteriorates over time and becomes less effective.
For those helmets that have been impacted, some manufacturers offer replacements at a reduced price. This information should be contained in the box with the helmet in a “User’s Manual” or on a tag attached to the helmet. The original receipt is usually required to take advantage of this policy.
Fit – how a helmet fits the rider’s head has a direct impact on how well it protects. A rider should try on many different helmets before choosing one as each model fits a little differently. Some basic guidelines for fitting a helmet are:
- the helmet should fit around the entire skull and sit just above the eyebrows
- it should feel snug, but not uncomfortably tight (if the helmet is gently wiggled, the skin around the forehead should move with it)
- all straps must be comfortably fastened with little play (normal conversation should not be affected, but if the mouth is opened as if yawning, this should pull down on the helmet)
- if the helmet needs additional foam padding for a more secure fit, choose a smaller size or another model
- remember that the fit of a helmet will relax a little with use, so a snug fit is essential
A helmet is likely to remain in place during an accident if it is properly fitted, well adjusted, and correctly positioned. This will give the most protection available for the design and will be the most comfortable to wear.
Improper fitting helmet
Proper fitting helmet
Care and Storage – extreme heat temperatures will damage the foam in helmet. For this reason a riding helmet should not be stored where temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Celsius. This includes a vehicle during the summer.
Helmets should also be stored away from solvents and other chemicals such as bug repellent as these products can damage straps and plastics.
To clean a helmet use a mild detergent on the exterior for hard shell helmets, or use a brush on velvet. Helmet deodorizers and cleaners are available and are recommended for the inner lining. Never leave a helmet in direct sunlight or near a heat source to dry.
Horseback riding is an inherently dangerous sport. Riders accept that risk. But studies have proven that helmets can reduce risk and severity of brain injury if they are used and used properly. It’s a no-brainer.