A good riding helmet is one of the most important pieces of rider safety equipment you’ll purchase. While other parts of the body will mend fairly readily, head injuries can be both serious, and difficult to recover from.
Bicycle helmets and those designed for other sports, such as hockey, are not suitable for providing proper protection if you fall from a horse. And it’s imperative that you replace your existing riding hat immediately after an impact, or if you believe it’s been compromised in some way, even if there are no signs of damage. In addition, it’s never advisable to purchase a second hand helmet. It’s impossible to tell if it’s been dropped.
One of the first things you should look for is the BSI Kitemark, which confirms that the helmet has been independently tested and conforms to the British Standard of safety. All helmets which display this mark will offer the same levels of protection, regardless of price. So when you pay more for a helmet, you’re often paying for style, rather than more protection. It may be better to purchase a cheaper helmet that you can replace, rather than buy an expensive one and keep using it long after its protective capacity has diminished.
Time to measure up
It’s a good idea to measure your head every time you purchase a new riding hat. Firstly, arrange your hair as it will be when you ride, as this can make a significant difference to the fit. Measure around the widest part of your head, above your eyebrows. Once you have your size, try on helmets from several different manufacturers, as head shapes vary. Your choice may also be influenced by your riding discipline. A trained fitter can help you find the style of helmet most suited to it.
How do I know I have a helmet with a good fit?
A hat that is tilted loses its protective ability. So yours should sit half an inch to one inch above your eyebrows and be level with the floor. It should feel snug and there should be a slight vacuum when you remove it, which pulls your eyebrows up with it. There should be some space at your temples, so that you don’t get headaches, and ideally a small space at the back of the helmet too. The harness straps should do up securely and you should only be able to insert one finger between the chin strap and your jaw. Above all, it should feel like an extension of your own head.
How to test for a good fit
You almost certainly can’t find a well-fitting helmet simply by ordering the correct size online. It’s essential to try them out. Try to find a supplier with BETA trained hat fitters to assist you. Some manufacturers train their own staff, and can only offer limited advice on other ranges. Once again, when you’re trying helmets on, make sure your hair is done the way it will be when you ride. Roll the hat onto your head into the correct position from the front, so that it sits level and in the correct position above your eyebrows, and ears. It will feel snug, especially in comparison to your old helmet if the internal pads in it have become worn, so do allow for this. First, check that the back strap and the chin strap are done up securely. Then, nod your head from side to side, and up and down, as if saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The helmet should remain securely on your head with no movement. A badly adjusted back strap will cause the hat to tilt forward. Some manufacturers offer an independent adjustable internal headband system, so you’ll need to adjust this too. There should be a small space at your temples, or at least no pressure on them. Check that the harness fits well around your ears. There should be no large gaps. If you think you’ve found the right one, try to keep it on for a while in the shop, to ensure that it remains comfortable.
Keep your hat on
Once you have a good helmet, you should wear it whenever you ride or lead, and even for the shortest distance. Many riders complain that helmets can become uncomfortable, sweaty or cause headaches. If you’ve been fitted correctly, comfort shouldn’t be an issue. Look out for helmets with ventilation and with fabrics that wick away moisture in order to cut down on sweat. In addition there are helmet sprays available to de-odourise riding hats after use. Lastly, headaches can be caused by dehydration. Riding is strenuous, so do make sure that you’re getting enough water throughout the day.
Caring for your hat
It’s just as important to take good care of your hat as it is to select the right one. Do clean it with warm water and soap, and allow it to dry naturally and away from heat sources. Don’t be tempted to dry clean or apply solvents, as this can compromise it. Hats can take a battering when rattling around in car boots and trailers, if exposed to direct sunlight – on the back seat shelf of a car for instance – or even if left in a freezing unheated tack room. It’s best to put it in a rigid hat box or padded hat bag when transporting it. And a hook inside the stable where you tack up, or inside your trailer will ensure that you never put your hat down somewhere where it’s likely to get damaged.
When should I replace it?
If you’ve cut off a lot of your hair, check that your hat still fits as it should, as if not, you’ll need to be measured and fitted again. And you should replace it immediately if you’ve been in a fall, have dropped it onto a hard surface, or if it’s got under your horse’s feet. Over time, internal pads and webbing become worn, so you should aim to replace your hat every five years. With the right fit, and good care, a good riding helmet will make sure you’re adequately protected every time you ride out. And you can’t put a price on that.