Why Wear a Helmet?

Horseback riding carries a higher injury rate per hour than downhill ski racing, hang-gliding, football and motorcycle racing. Participants in competitions for these sports all wear helmets!

Each year approximately 70,000 people are treated in emergency rooms as a result of equestrian related injuries.

Repeated trauma to the head, even when minimal, can cause cumulative damage to the brain. Each new accident expands the original damage because the brain cannot recover fully from injury.

Medical Examiner reports show that 60% or more of horse-related deaths are caused by head injuries. Helmets can reduce this possibility by 70-80%. The American Medical Equestrian Association calculates that ASTM/SEI approved helmets have reduced all riding related head injuries by 30% and all severe head injuries by 50%.

ASTM & SEI Safety Guidelines

ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. It is a volunteer organization comprised of thousands of knowledgeable individuals such as doctors, engineers and physicists. The job of the ASTM is to set standards for the function of many types of safety equipment, including riding helmets.

The ASTM has researched and tested helmet designs and has determined the qualities that are necessary in a safe helmet. Some areas that are regulated on ASTM helmets are:

  • The amount of impact the helmet must be able to sustain
  • The security of its harnessing system
  • The areas of the head that must be covered by the helmet.

You should look for a helmet that is certified to meet the current ASTM standards.

SEI stands for Safety Equipment Institute. SEI is an independent testing laboratory that tests the helmets to ensure that they meet the standard set forth by the ASTM. SEI inspects random helmets to be sure they are meeting the standard. SEI also inspects the manufacturing process.

How to Fit a Helmet

An improperly fitting helmet can cause, rather than prevent damage when a fall occurs. There are several easy guidelines to help riders determine if their helmet is fitted appropriately. Different brand names may fit a variety of head shapes better than others. Be sure that the helmet fit is placed in a higher priority than the specific brand name.

Fitting Guidelines

  • The helmet should fit snugly, but not pinch the head. Check by rocking the helmet forward and backward on the head, and the eyebrows should move up and down with the helmet.
  • The helmet should sit 3/4 – 1 inch above the eyebrows.
  • The chin strap should be snug under the chin when buckled. Loose hanging straps can be a cause for more injury.
  • If the rider puts their head in an “upside down” position, the helmet should stay on without the chin strap buckled.
  • The side straps should meet just below and in front of the earlobes.
  • The back harness needs to be snug enough to prevent the helmet from moving forward.
For more information on helmets, check out the Equine Helmet Safety: Every Time…Every Ride instructional videos. You can also find more information about safe attire and tack in the HorseQuest Learning Lesson: Horse Owner Survival.

Authors: Jenifer Nadeau, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Connecticut, and Betsy Greene, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Vermont