Why We Don’t Provide Riding Helmets

It’s one of the most common questions that we get: “Do you provide riding helmets? ” The answer used to be “yes” but now it’s “no.” Here’s why our policy has changed.

REASON #1. HELMET FIT.

The fit of a riding helmet directly affects its ability to prevent injury. If the helmet is too big,  or too big in places (on the sides, in front, all around, etc.), when the helmet strikes the ground during a fall, the rider’s head has a secondary ricochet reaction inside the helmet. This can be really bad news. Sometimes ill fitting helmets also ride up and expose the rider’s forehead, leaving the front of the brain unprotected during a fall. If the helmet doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work.

Fitting a riding helmet is not as straightforward as you may think. Riding helmets come in an endless array of sizes. In addition to standard hat/helmet sizing, which measures the circumference of your head, the helmets also come in a number of different shapes, like “oval”, “long oval”,  and “round”. Additionally, each brand of helmet has a slightly different shape and size. For instance, I may wear a 7 1/8 narrow Charles Owen helmet, but a 7 1/8 Troxel may be too big/small/narrow.

When we used to provide helmets, we had about 15 for riders to pick from. Everyone wore a helmet that fit “pretty well.” But “pretty good” protection just isn’t good enough when it comes to the safety of someone’s head. If you or your child is going to ride a horse, you want a helmet that fits REALLY WELL.

If you’re located in the Chicago area, it’s best to visit a quality tack shop like Saddler’s Row or Barrington Saddlery, and let them fit you. The people who work at these stores are experienced and completely professional, and can help you find a helmet that fits propertly.

REASON #2. DEFORMATION REACTION.

A helmet is a little bit like an airbag in a car. Both are designed to protect you against one major impact. If you fall off a horse and hit your head, the exterior of the helmet may be completely unharmed, but the interior padding will condense like the bumper on a car in order to shield your skull from the impact. They call this the “deformation reaction.”

Sometimes this damage is impossible for us to detect. Other times, the helmet may just seem a little bit loose after an impact. Many of the major manufacturers of ASTM/SEI approved helmets have a program that allows you to mail them a damaged helmet after a fall, and they will send you back a coupon towards the purchase of a new one. They like to study the ways that the helmets absorb shock and impact in order to make their products better year after year. It is really important to replace your helmet if at any point you believe its integrity may be compromised.

This is interesting, you may be thinking, but what does it have to do with loaning helmets? A while back, a rider’s little brother threw a riding helmet across the room during a tantrum. It hit the wall, before falling down onto the concrete floor. The parent picked it up, and put it neatly back into the pile of helmets. It’s impossible to know whether this impact was significant enough to affect the safety of the helmet. We soon realized that we really can’t vouch for the safety of the helmets that sit on a shelf in the tack room at the barn, no matter how much we may want to.

REASON #3. THEY’RE NOT THAT EXPENSIVE

You can buy a good ASTM/SEI certified riding helmet for as little as $50. A helmet that is not ASTM/SEI certified is not guaranteed to provide any measure of safety or protection–they are decorative items only, like the hat someone might wear on Easter. DO NOT BUY ONE OF THESE HELMETS.

Many parents tell us they just want to borrow a helmet for the first few lessons, and then if their child decides to “stick with” riding they will buy their own. If the $50 or $150 investment to get a helmet is really a financial strain, postpone the first riding lesson and use the money that would have gone towards the lesson to buy the helmet. If the idea of being wasteful is a concern (buying the helmet and then only using it once), there are many ways to sell used helmets. Yes, you will buy several different helmets if your child decides to ride through many years of growth. You will probably end up throwing a couple of these away, or giving them away instead. Maybe you’re resourceful, and you’ll post an ad on Craigslist or on eBay.

But whatever you do, don’t skimp on the helmet.