There’s a lot of debate over which equestrian helmets are the safest. The bottom line is that if a helmet is ASTM approved (limited research shows no correlation between price and performance), the other most important qualification is that it fits and that you wear it. How a helmet fits has a direct impact on the effectiveness of a helmet to protect your head.
That sounds obvious, right? Well I see lots of people riding in helmets that move around on their heads — either slipping down and obstructing their vision or having been pushed back at a jaunty angle.
Unfortunately, those are signs that the helmet doesn’t fit the rider well enough to protect properly. The too tight helmet is obvious as soon as the person removes it — the line across the forehead is a dead giveaway! This often happens when the helmet is not the right shape for the person’s head. In the “old days” helmets came basically one shape. If it didn’t fit your head, too bad. Now helmets come in rounder or more oval versions.
The too large helmet can happen over time. The padding inside starts to compress or you cut your hair in a new style that’s less bulky (lots of people say they can’t afford to cut their hair since they have so much invested in their helmets!). Sometimes adding shims can help take up the slack and make the helmet work but if it doesn’t then it’s better in the long term just to buy one that fits properly.
Fit has a direct impact on the effectiveness of a helmet. A comfortable helmet is also more likely to be used regularly. It is a good idea for a rider to try on many helmets before settling on one, as each model fits a little differently.
Here are some guidelines that will help you choose a helmet that fits:
- Place your forehead into the front of the helmet
- Using a rolling motion, push backwards to feel the helmet lock into the base of the skull (listen for a suction sound)
- The helmet should fit around the entire skull and sit just above the eyebrows.
- It should feel snug, but not uncomfortably tight. If the helmet is gently wiggled, the skin around the forehead should move with it.
- Run a finger around the rim of the helmet to check for gaps or loose points. If there is any movement or gaps you may need to try a different size or shape.
- All straps must be comfortably fastened with little play. Normal conversation should not be affected, but if the mouth is opened as if yawning, this should pull down on the helmet.
- If the helmet needs additional padding for a more secure fit, go with a smaller size or another model.
- If the helmet needs additional padding for a more secure fit, go with a smaller size or another model. Some helmets come with different liners which can be used to subtly adjust the way the helmet fits.
How can you tell if your helmet fits?
- You should feel snug, firm pressure evenly around your entire head
- There should be no specific pressure points or gaps (if you’re trying helmets on in a store, leave it on for at least 5 minutes to see if it remains comfortable)
- The helmet should lock onto the back of your skull, so that it stays in place even without the strap
- The helmet sits levelly on your head, covering your forehead and leaving about an inch above your eyebrows
- With the harness unfastened, the helmet should not rock forwards nor backwards
- The chinstrap should sit just under your chin and gently touch the bottom of your ear lobe, avoiding the throat
- You should be able to put a finger between the strap and your chin
- The harness laces at the back of the helmet should be secured tightly
A properly fitted, well adjusted, and correctly positioned helmet is more likely to remain in place during an accident, will give the most protection available for the design, and will be the most comfortable to wear.