Helmets—and whether or not to wear them—can be a topic of controversy in the horse world. Being a TBI patient, recovering from a horse related incident, I'm not even going to discuss the option of not wearing one. In my humble, brain-bruised opinion, helmet wearing should be non-negotiable.
Can I Wear a Bike Helmet?
I get asked a lot by parents if their child can wear their bike helmet or other types of an athletic helmet for riding lessons. The answer is simple: no.
Riding helmets are made and tested specifically for optimum safety in a riding incident. Other types of helmets are not made for the same conditions, which means they will not be as effective as a riding helmet in the event that you hit your head.
I have heard the excuse "but we already have a bike helmet" many times. A basic approved riding helmet can be purchased at a very reasonable price. You don't have to spend a lot to get a good helmet. If you or your child fall and hit your head, you will be glad you sprung for the second helmet. It will be totally worth the money.
My Friend Gave Me an Old Helmet
This is something else that I hear rather frequently. I also hear about finding one for a couple bucks at a flea market or yard sale, which sounds harmless enough, right? It's not.
For one, safety standards and technology are constantly changing and improving with time. The old helmet you are given or buy may not be up to the current certification standards. So if you want to be as safe as possible, spend the money on a new one.
The Other Problem With Second Hand Helmets
It is not just the concern of the helmet not being up to the current standard of safety technology. The other concern is that helmets are only made to sustain one impact. In other words, they are meant to protect you ONE TIME when you hit your head. After that, they need to be replaced.
It may sound ridiculous that helmets are only able to absorb the impact of hitting your head once. But that one time, they do their job. They are one hit wonders! If you hit your head, you need to throw your helmet away, even if it doesn't look damaged. Just because it is not outwardly cracked or dented, it doesn't mean that it is safe to ride in.
That being said, when you ride in a helmet you got from a friend or on a yard sale table, you don't know whether or not that helmet has sustained an impact. It is possible that you can hit your head and have no visible damage to your helmet. That means that, unbeknownst to you, you could be riding in a helmet that is not able to protect your head in the event of a fall.
A properly fitting helmet should sit level on your head, not rocked backward on slipping down over your eyes. Your helmet should fit your head snug enough that if you wiggle it with your hand it moves your eyebrows. It should be a comfortable snug fit.
The chin strap should also be snug but comfortable. If you can fit more than a few fingers in between your chin and the strap, that means it's too loose!
Dial Fit Helmets
They have recently started making helmets that have dials on the back to adjust them. This appeals to parents of children who are growing and might outgrow a helmet fairly quickly.
I have no problem with these helmets. They are manufactured to the same safety standards as helmets that are not adjustable. I have many students who are able to get a good fit in an adjustable helmet.
The only thing I will caution you about is that the dials don't always withstand the test of time, especially if they are adjusted frequently. The dial will stop working properly and loosen as you ride, so that is something to keep in mind if that is the type of helmet you decide to buy.
Helmet brands differ slightly in the way they are shaped, meaning not every brand will be an ideal fit for every rider. Just because your friend wears a certain "trendy" brand doesn't mean that brand will work for you.
It's function over fashion people! If you shop in a local tack shop, they should have someone there who can help you find the perfect fit.
There are so many helmet manufacturers out there these days that you are sure to find something that meets your function *and* fashion standards. I have seen helmets in all different colors and designs and even sparkly helmets for kids!
Don't forget, you can always get a helmet cover if you can't be content with the color or look of your helmet on its own. Helmet covers are inexpensive. They are also fun for kids or those who get bored and want to change the way their helmet looks often.
Take It From Me...
I'm almost 10 months into TBI recovery from an accident with a horse. I was on the ground with the horse, and I wasn't going to ride. I didn't have my helmet on. Obviously, there no way to know if things would have been different if I had a helmet on. It certainly couldn't have hurt. Wearing your helmet when you are grooming and tacking up is something I would strongly consider, though I know that is not the norm, so some may be opposed to that.
As someone who has had more than one bad fall where I cracked helmets, wearing one when mounted is a no-brainer. I literally have one that cracked in half like a watermelon. To think that would have been my head had I not had that helmet on is a scary thought.
So, wear a properly fitted helmet, and encourage your friends and family to do so as well. It is better to be safe than sorry.