Helmet head might be unflattering, but is it worth risking vegetable brain? No matter what the riding discipline, wearing a helmet is one of the best ways to plan ahead to minimize the chance of a brain injury. Safety starts before a foot even goes into the stirrup as 20% of accidents that result in head injury happen while the person is on the ground. It is not uncommon for an incident to occur while mounting, and no discipline is without risk when it comes to falling off. The excuse “I ride western” or “I ride dressage” just does not hold water.
According to the Dressage rule book, wearing a helmet is mandatory at all Equine Canada shows, sending a clear safety message:
"All athletes, regardless of age or level of competition, must wear properly fitted and fastened safety approved protective headgear at all times when mounted at any EC-sanctioned Dressage competition at the event location."
“Regardless of age or level of competition” brings to mind an old, but true, adage that beginner riders fall off; experienced riders get launched. Your level of experience matters not when you are dealing with an unpredictable animal possessing a fight or flight response. Although speed and height (i.e., jumping fences) can add impact, a hoof skipping across your cranium if your horse spooks and you slide off at a walk can be every bit as damaging. Everyone hits the dirt at some point, and the purchase of a correctly fitted riding helmet that carries a safety rating, is a wise investment.
The Right Fit
First of all, purchase a new helmet. You cannot tell if a used helmet has been damaged just by looking at it. If you have long hair, wear it in a low ponytail. Trying to shove all your locks up into the helmet will not give you a secure fit. Show bows attached below the helmet create a tidy appearance.
- Measure the circumference of your head to find your helmet size
- Holding the straps out of the way, put the helmet on from front-to-back
- Push down all the way on the rear of the helmet, forcing out all the air until the helmet is touching the top and back of your head
- If the helmet feels right, bend forward and shake your head from side to side; if the helmet stays in place then it fits properly
- Adjust and buckle the straps to fit snugly for a finished product
Make sure the visor is parallel to the ground when trying on your helmet, and pick one that is right for your head shape. Shapes vary between styles and brands. They are also customized for different disciplines giving the rider many options for comfort and style. Pick a helmet that is specific to horse riding--protection ratings and fit vary between sports. Consult with the helmet fitting specialist at the store where you are purchasing the helmet for assistance in choosing the right helmet.
Do Helmets Have Expiry Dates?
It is not printed on like a milk carton, but YES helmets expire! The materials inside them degrade and replacement is recommended every 4-5 years or after an impact. This includes dropping it from a shelf, so be sure to store and handle helmets carefully.
So play safe and put your head in a helmet when working around horses. Set a good example and take steps to minimize your risk of becoming a statistic.
Download Equine Guelph’s Helmet fitting information sheet complete with diagrams at http://www.equineguelph.ca/pdf/courses/trainer_kit/helmet_fitting_infosheet_final.pdf.
To learn more about safety around horses by understanding equine behavior, sign up for Equine Guelph’s two-week online eWorkshop Horse Behaviour & Safety offered February 23-March 8, 2015.