A stylish look, comfort, and state-of-the-art technology: today’s riding helmets check all the boxes for style and safety. Whatever your equestrian passion, there’s a helmet to suit your needs. And with a growing industry dedicated to continual developments in safety standards, riders can be assured of the highest level of protection possible.
What’s Hot in Riding Helmets
New riding helmets comfort features that are also elegant include faux leather harnesses for a sophisticated look that provides soft padding around the face. Many brands offer ventilation without compromising safety; these strategically-placed vents channel air flow beneath the helmet while also creating visually appealing lines. Look for anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, and Coolmax liners to help keep things fresh.
For western riders, Resistol riding helmets have a cowboy hat look, while Troxel has created a traditional helmet styled with western designs.
Be sure when shopping for a new helmet to look for one designed for equestrian use and not for other sports. Riding helmets are tested to withstand perils specific to equestrian activities, such as impacts from kicks and crushes, falls from horse height, and falls onto objects.
Guidelines for equestrian helmets published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend certification by the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI), Snell Standards (Snell Foundation), and/or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Helmets certified by the Snell Foundation have undergone the most rigorous level of testing.
More recently, you may have noticed riding helmets featuring a prominent yellow tag emblazoned with “Multi-Directional Impact Protection System” (MIPS). MIPS is an additional safety component integrated into the helmet; this layer redirects rotational force when there is side impact to the head. This technology originated with the cycling helmet industry.
Equestrian brands with current MIPS helmet technology include Armis, Back on Track, Champion, Charles Owen, Hööks, One K, Tipperary Equestrian and Trauma Void.
“The addition of MIPS to equestrian helmets has become more top of mind for riders in recent years,” says Kara Williams, merchandising buyer at Massachusetts-based SmartPak.
How exactly does MIPS work?
“In short, MIPS is a thin inner liner inside the helmet that allows the helmet to shift up to 5 millimeters in the event of a fall, thus enabling the helmet to move slightly to absorb more of the impact when you make contact with the ground,” explains Michelle Drum, e-commerce, social media, and marketing manager for Farm House Tack in Landrum, S.C.
Size Your Riding Helmet Right
Ready to get started finding your optimal riding helmet?
“The best advice I can offer to riders shopping for a riding helmet is to take the time to go to a tack shop and get fitted by a trusted professional,” says Drum. “If you don’t have access to a tack shop you trust to fit you for a helmet, find a shop that is up to date with the technology that can do a real-time head measure via Facetime or Zoom. Shopping for a new helmet can be time consuming, but consider we are talking about your head here. You only get one, so this is an important investment. Take into consideration the safety levels offered by all of the helmet manufacturers and choose the one that offers the most protection and comfort for your budget.”
To select the right size, measure the widest part of your head (about a finger’s width above your ears and eyebrows) with a soft tape measure, keeping it level around the circumference of your head. Some helmet brands are sized in centimeters and others are in inches, so take note of both measurements.
Next, consult the corresponding size chart for the brands you’re interested in. Some use universal sizing (S, M, L), while others go by traditional hat sizes (7, 7 ¼, 7 ½, et cetera).
A dial feature on many helmets allows small adjustments to customize the fit, and new on the scene is One K’s adjustable air bladder within the helmet liner, which can be inflated and deflated for discreet changes in fit.
Riding Helmet Fit
A knowledgeable sales representative can advise you in finding the best brand for your needs, as well as finding the optimal fit. Try on different lines and styles. Williams notes that different brands vary slightly in their sizing and shape, so it’s not uncommon to be different sizes in different helmet brands.
Your helmet should sit just above your eyebrows. When trying on, gently shake your head: the helmet should stay snug and not slide; it should move up and down with your skin if you lift your eyebrows, but not slip if you tip your head forward and backwards.
If the helmet is too small, it won’t fit down flush on your head and may leave you with a headache. If it’s too large, it will slide around, compromising safety.
Keep in mind that the materials around your head may loosen a bit with wear in some brands, so if you are between sizes, consider going down to the smaller size so your helmet isn’t too loose later.
You know you’ve got the right fit if it’s snug but comfortable. If it’s too tight against the front and back of your head, you may need an oval shape. If it’s too tight against the sides of your head, then you may need a round shape.
Adjust the chin strap so that one finger fits between the strap and your chin. The straps on the sides should sit just below your ear lobes.
Try on the helmet with the hairstyle you wear to ride; for riders with long hair, this means either secured in a ponytail, braid, or bun at the nape of the neck. If you wear your hair tucked up under your helmet in a hair net, try on all helmets this way.
If you sometimes wear long hair outside of your helmet, like in a ponytail, and other times tucked into your helmet, you may consider buying two different helmets. Another option is a helmet with an adjustable dial or air-fit to accommodate the slightly different sizes. Alternatively, there are brands that offer a thicker liner and thinner liner so you can wear your hair both ways, and also wash one while using the other.
Taking Care of your Riding Helmet
To clean your riding helmet, simply wipe it down with a damp cloth. Linings can be removed and washed in some cases; otherwise, they may be treated with a deodorizing spray. Extreme temperatures may weaken your helmet’s materials, so don’t store it in your car or direct sunlight.
All helmets should be replaced at least every five years or after any fall or drop. Even if you see no damage after an accident, the interior structure may be compromised from absorbing the blow. Many manufacturers offer a discount on replacement helmets after an accident within the warranty period, so be sure to save the documents related to your helmet purchase.
A Helmet for Any Rider
Drum shares a new feature she finds especially appealing.
“My favorite of the newest trends now has to be the extended brim to shield the sun from your face,” she says. “These helmets are a great option for helping to protect your skin from the sun, as well as offer protection from glare in bright climates.”
Brighter colors are hot in the jumper ring right now, while hunters can find classically styled helmets that offer the latest technology and cooling air vents.
In the rodeo sector, world champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor has made a splash with helmets featuring colorful patterns that match her tack and outfits. In an effort to entice even more riders to make helmets part of their regular routine, many retailers nationwide offer promotions on International Helmet Awareness Day.
With correct fit and a little care, today’s helmets offer unprecedented levels of protection while looking snazzy at the same time.
For educational videos and blogs about helmet fit and other helmet topics, visit both the SmartPak and Farm House Tack websites.
You can also watch “How to Shop for a Helmet” on SmartPak’s YouTube channel.
This article about riding helmets appeared in the May 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!