Riding a horse involves a certain amount of risk. Therefore, wearing the right equipment to mitigate that risk is key. Many beginner riders wonder if they need to wear a helmet when horseback riding and some seasoned riders forget the reasons why they should.
So do you need a helmet to ride a horse? Wearing a helmet is highly recommended and often compulsory when riding a horse. In the event that a rider falls off the horse, a riding helmet offers the best possible protection for the head from hard impact with the ground or being struck by the horses’ hooves. It can be lifesaving.
Why Do You Need a Helmet When Riding a Horse?
Head injury is the leading cause of hospitalization for horse riders and 80% of incidents happen when the rider is on the horse. This fact alone clearly illustrates why wearing a helmet is so important. Accidents can happen to any rider at any level and in fact, statistics show that riders with more than five years of experience have a higher chance of injury than beginners. Adding to that, more experienced riders will typically also engage in riding activities that involve higher speed and risk.
But what if you know your horse really, really well?
The things is, even the best trained horse is still an animal with natural instincts that can cause it to make sudden movements such as kicking, biting, take flight from perceived danger or make an unexpected avoidance maneuver. Horses, for instance, have great hearing but are not quite as good at locating the source of sounds. This can cause them to get startled by the noise and scared if they cannot quickly identify where it came from.
So, whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, situations like these can catch you completely off guard and sometimes lead to a fall where your head gets bumped. And if it does, a helmet can be the difference between a slight headache and a fractured skull. Just saying.
Beyond safety-related reasons, wearing a helmet is often mandatory at equestrian centers and in horse-riding competitions. At international horse riding events, it is now mandatory to wear a ‘properly fastened protective headgear’ (source). It is increasingly becoming an accepted truth (especially in English riding environments) that wearing a helmet is the best policy and if you book a riding lesson or a holiday it is very likely you will be required to wear one.
If you want to know what to look for when buying a helmet or need recommendations for what to buy, check out our product pages here.
How Does a Horse Riding Helmet Protect You?
A horse riding helmet is specifically made to protect a rider’s head during a fall, in particular against hard impact and penetrating objects. It shaped differently from helmets in other sports by covering more of the back of the head as well as having evenly distributed protection across the head. The importance of aerodynamics is less in equine sports, which also impacts its design.
So let’s look at how the helmet is built and how the different features will protect the head during a fall.
The Outer Shell
The outer shell is hard, event and usually made from plastic. More traditional helmets sometimes have a decorative plush cover on the shell. During a fall, the other shell protects the skull against penetrating objects such as branches or poles and object that may cut into the skull such as the hoof of a horse. The smooth surface also allows the helmet to slide easily on most surfaces, which adds to the stopping room in a fall.
The Interior Shell
The next layer of the helmet consists of mainly shock-absorbing foam. This layer is crushed on impact and is what protects your skull.
Helmets have a soft and padded interior for the rider’s comfort and fit. This is also what regulates the ventilation of the helmet.
Most helmets will have a small brim at the front, which serves to protect the rider’s face from the sun, branches, etc. The brim comes off easily in the event of an impact during a fall.
The helmet is secured to the riders head with adjustable straps that are attached to both the front and rear part of the helmet on either side.
All horse riding helmets should have a safety certification label to show that they have been inspected and approved by an authorized organization. These entities and certifications vary depending on your location, but the most common ones are:
- ASTM/SEI F1163 (United States)
- PAS 015 (Great Britain)
- AS/NZ 3838 or ARB HS 2012 (Australia)
- CE-certification (many European countries use this)
How Long Is a Horse-Riding Helmet Good For? Do Helmets Expire?
A helmet should be replaced every five years or after each fall. There are a few different reasons why helmet manufacturers and retailers recommend replacing riding helmets every five years:
- Normal ‘wear and tear’ degrade the safety of the helmet
- Hair oils, cosmetics, cleaning products, and other materials can all contribute to degrading materials which in turn degrades the performance of the helmet itself.
- Usually, within a five-year period, advances in technology, materials or design will have improved the quality and safety of helmets overall.
Additionally, if a helmet has been exposed to a fall, the shock-absorbing foam in the interior shell has been compressed at the area of impact and will no longer be as effective in protecting the head on subsequent impacts. It is important to realize that often the internal damage to a helmet is not apparent on the outside shell. Regardless of if the damage is visible or not, a helmet should always be replaced after a fall.
I love this video because it busts so many of the myths about helmets and their importance. I encourage you to watch it.
What Do Helmets NOT Protect Against?
It is important to be aware that although a helmet can provide critical protection it will never be completely safe to ride a horse and head injuries can still occur despite wearing the correct safety equipment.
In particular, there are two things helmets to not protect you against:
If you or someone you know experience a fall, it is very important to look out for signs of concussion such as headache, dizziness, nausea, double vision, sleepiness and drowsiness, emotionality and depressive symptoms. If any of these symptoms occur, go see a medical professional right away.
Here is a helpful video explaining how to identify symptoms of concussion.
If a helmet has hit the ground or an object resulting from a fall it should always be replaced as the shock-absorbent material no longer provides full protection.
As someone who has hit my head against the ground multiple times and seen others do the same, throughout my horse riding career, I cannot stress enough how important wearing a helmet is! Please be diligent about wearing proper safety equipment so you can enjoy horse riding with more confidence and focus on having fun!
Other Related Questions
Are Bike Helmets Safe for Horseback Riding?
Bike helmets are not safe for horse riding because they do not provide the appropriate protection in the event of a fall from a horse. A riding helmet sits lower, covers a larger area of the head (especially the back) and has shock-absorbent material distributed evenly throughout the shell.
How Long Do Horse Riding Helmets Last?
It is standard practice and recommended by riding helmet manufacturers and retailers to replace a helmet every five years. After five years, normal wear and tear and substances such as hair oil, cosmetics, and cleaning products may have degraded the materials in the helmet, which in turn can compromise its performance.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute diagnosis, prognosis, treatment or any type of medical advice for humans or horses. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.