As many of you know (I hope), this week is helmet awareness week. Today, in fact, is helmet awareness day. In its honor, I thought it would be a perfect time to post a helmet article (and please share with your friends!).
Your helmet is the single most important piece of equipment you will purchase and use in your riding career (READ: you WILL use). It offers the safety no other equipment or tack can. It protects your head, after all. I am, however, surprised at the increasing number of risks I see taken by riders (and their parents) with helmets. Here are a few of the more important notes regarding helmets, their fit and their use.
The first, and most important, point (if you hear nothing else, hear this) is to WEAR your helmet! Use it. Do not feel stupid, do not feel weird and do not feel ashamed to wear your helmet. Don’t copy what other riders do (or don’t do). This thing can save your life. Horses are unpredictable creatures – and they can act out in their best interests, without considering a rider or handler. They are also bigger than we, humans, are (in case that fact escaped you ;)) and as such, are inherently dangerous. If you are new to horses, wear your helmet at all times – yes, even on the ground – until you get used to their mannerisms, habits, general reactions and behavior. In all honesty, it’s really not a bad idea to just wear your helmet all time, regardless of your experience with horses. Please, please, please (and I know people who haven’t done this in the past and wished they did, or who always do and are thankful they do) ALWAYS wear your helmet while mounted. It really can save your life – this is proven. Over and over again. If you’re working with a new, young or unknown horse, I’d recommend wearing your helmet both on the ground and (of course) while mounted. If you’re ever in doubt about a horse and its behavior, again, I’d recommend wearing a helmet. It is not worth the risk not to take the few extra seconds to put on your helmet. By the way, it doesn’t count as wearing your helmet if it is not buckled properly, so buckle your helmet. Bottom line here: do not risk your safety or your life by choosing not to wear your helmet.
The second, and almost equally important, point for you today is: DO NOT EVER (seriously, ever) purchase a used helmet. Don’t do it. Did you know that helmets are only made and intended for one time use? Once a helmet has been through a fall and the wearer has hit their head, the life of the helmet is over. Thank it for doing its job and retire the darn thing. Give it a proper burial if you need to. No judgment here. If you drop it on the ground, its done. It is not as safe as it was prior to the drop. A helmet’s integrity is severely compromised once contact is made with it and a hard surface with any amount of force. Let’s face it, that’s what it is intended to do – work once, cushion the blow, break the fall. After that, it cannot (and is not made to) work again in a life saving manner – the interior has “broken” on contact. So, why do I say never to purchase a used helmet? Because, you cannot guarantee that the seller/previous owner took the right kind of care of that helmet. They can say that it never came out of the box. They can say it was only used once and is still in pristine condition. They can be offering a fancy helmet for a steep discount. It. does. not. matter. This is the one time I say NO. This is NOT the place to skimp. Your life is more important than saving a few dollars. And, I guarantee that potential hospital bills, and those subsequent therapy and recovery bills (if you’re so lucky in an accident), will make you wish you’d spent the extra dollars up front. Besides, there are affordable, safe, new helmets on the market today that cost less than $100. You can afford to purchase a new helmet on which you can count to do its job. If I’m being brutally honest (when am I not?), if you cannot afford to purchase a new helmet for $60 or $70, you cannot afford to ride…so save your bucks until you can. As a note to those of you selling your helmets: I ask you, please don’t. I’m not being rude or mean. It’s just not worth it. Please do not give someone the opportunity to take that risk. This is no reflection on you or the kind of care you take of your equipment. There are those who do not know or understand the risks involved and I’m asking you to remove the option from the market. To reiterate as well: do not get careless with the care of your helmet (this will increase the amount of money you spend in this area). Do not drop your helmet to the ground – this is contact that can and will compromise your helmet’s ability to cushion your head in a blow. Set your helmet down gently. Wear it around until you have the time and hands to take it off and place it where it goes (preferably off the ground where it cannot be kicked or hit by you or others). If your helmet does get dropped or kicked or smashed (even when not being worn), guess what? It’s time to replace it.
Following up on the previous point, you should replace your helmet every two to three years, regardless of use and wear and tear. The materials will begin to be compromised as the years go on and general wear and tear will occur. Again, this is to minimize your risk with our big, beautiful animals. It does not matter if you’ve taken pristine care of your helmet and never had a fall or hit your head (or been hit in the head) – it is in your best (and safest) interest to replace your helmet regularly. Remember, you can purchase helmets for less than $100. Split over a few years, I’d say that’s a pretty affordable investment when we’re talking about something that can help to save your life. Safety standards are also improving on a regular basis and minimum safety requirements are always changing. Helmets that were the best of the best when purchased will no longer meet safety standards after a few years. On that note, when purchasing a helmet, make sure it meets the minimum ASTM/SEI safety requirements. (Truthfully, anymore, this is difficult not to do as the majority of retailers are legally required to sell equipment that meets these requirements – if you’re ever curious what those minimum requirements are, you can visit the ASTM website). If you’re purchasing from a small, local tack shop, I’d perhaps double check that you’re getting a helmet that does meet those requirements, as it’s possible they may be selling older inventory.
My final point (promise) is this: get a helmet that fits properly. A helmet cannot do its job properly if you purchase one that does not fit. Parents of younger children: this (again – do I sound like a broken record yet?) is not the place to try to save money. Do not purchase a helmet that is too big for your child, thinking that they can grow into it. A helmet that is too big can slip around and not protect your child in the right places; it can increase the amount of concussion in a fall or blow as it will move more and can add to the contact or not absorb the initial blow properly; and it can even cause additional injury by being so big it falls off all together. Associates in the tack stores should know how to properly fit a helmet and can and will assist you with choosing the right fit. A helmet should be snug (but not too tight/small that it does not cover you properly), should sit a bit down on your head and should be fitted so that the strap will hold it in place and not allow it to slip or come off. Since there is so much information on how to fit a helmet available out there, I won’t go into much detail here, but I’d suggest you visit a site like this one for more information (this is not an affiliate link). There are also videos out there, too, that will show you how a helmet should fit and move (or not move) on your head.
Working with horses can be so rewarding, despite the inherent dangerous involved. Take part of the worry out of the equation and choose a safe, properly fitted helmet – take care of it and replace it every few years. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments, or ask them on our Facebook page or message/email us. Five Star is always happy to help you. We’d love to hear your helmet stories, too! Happy and safe trails!
Sharon and Five Star