Helmet Fit - how to choose a helmet!

We are so lucky to have a helmet fitting expert share with us the basics of finding a safe and reliable helmet!  (Or "brain bucket" as I like to call them!)  This guest blog is written by our friend Emily Wigley, and here is what she shares with us:
 

"I've recently concluded up several years as a US Pony Club parent and instructor, an ARIA certified instructor and boarding manager at our family's stable in the Seattle area. I've fit a lot of helmets for riders ages 5-65, boarders, myself, my husband and our daughter. We had a barrel of "I forgot mine" loaner helmets, but I wanted everyone to take responsibility for their own head safety and take pride in having helmet and boots from the beginning!

 

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Even BNT's wear brain buckets!


There is more awareness than ever about helmets and the need to wear them. This article will not attempt to convince you to wear a helmet, it is written from the point of view that you will wear one because:

1. You are wise and practical.

2. People in your life would be very sad if you were to have an irreversible accident.

3. Your helmet is part of the gear you wear when riding, driving, or lungeing horses. Some wear helmets for grooming, turning out/catching, trailer loading or unloading, and bandaging.

A horse's head and neck weighs around 250 lbs.; and the power of a 30-50 mph kicking hoof's impact is potentially devastating.

 

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How to Choose and Fit a Helmet!

If it's a certified equestrian helmet, it's safe, but your best bet is to talk to the helmet seller and be sure the helmet is right for what you are doing when you wear a helmet. Price does not dictate quality for certified safety helmets. Helmets come in many styles and colors -- and the most important thing is fit! Find one that is safe, then choose the style and color you like. Find one with a certification standard number and a manufacturing date printed on the label inside the helmet. Certification standard reflects the helmet's testing and standard of safety. Helmets for different use and different sports have different certification standards.

Multi-sport, skate boarding, lacrosse, football and bicycle helmets each protects the wearer from different types of impacts, and wearing the one made for your specific activity and sport is important. Wear an equestrian safety helmet, tested for safety in typical equestrian impacts. There are multiple safety standards in different countries (US and GB being the two biggies), so be sure to work with your retailer to purchase what's best for you! 

Choose a helmet made within 6-12 months of purchase. This manufacture date is important because technology changes and materials degrade over time. Never buy a used helmet -- you don't know if it's had a fall and is damaged - often invisible - and you want to start safe.  It has to fit to stay in place and protect the rider's head during a fall, so please look and try on helmets until you find one that fits. Some heads are round, some oval, some "tall" some "short." There is a helmet out there for you... act like Goldilocks and keep trying them on until you find the one that's just right! Buying online is quick and easy, but having a helmet you know fits is peace of mind. Try it on in person so you know it's the right one for you. If you know that Brand X, Model Y helmet in size Z fits you after exhaustive trying, that's the model for you! Measure your head just above your eyebrows, around your noggin with a soft tape measure parallel to the ground. Translate this measurement to the helmet size chart in the tack shop, online or on the helmet box. Put it on, level with the ground. If it adjusts, open it to the biggest, then adjust to fit after it's on.

When you put on the one that feels good -- snug, not tight, not loose -- try these fit tests:

• Lean over (with your hands out to catch the helmet). If it stays still or barely moves it fits.

• When you move the helmet it should move your head, not just the helmet, when it fits well.

• Put your pinkies up into the helmet near your ears - if you can not fit pinkies in, it is probably a good fit. Pinkies in = too loose.

Keep trying until you get one that works. Let it sit up there for a few minutes. Choose the one that is snug enough to stay in place and does not hurt. It's like good running shoes in the way it should feel - a few minutes to get used to, but no breaking in. This is protective gear, not new boots! If the padding is what keeps it on and makes it feel like it fits, it's not the right helmet. The padding should just offer a little comfort, not make it fit. If the padding compacts or breaks down, you have a helmet that does not fit and you need to replace it. The best advice for fitting a helmet is loving how it fits and feels from the beginning, knowing it will stay on straight and snug if and when you have an unplanned dismount.

 

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Adjusting the Helmet, Harness & Chinstraps

If you find that an adjustable helmet is best for you, adjust it so it is snug but not tight. Each time you dismount and are ready to take it off, loosen the adjuster on the helmet before pulling it off. Your wallet will thank you -- the adjuster (dial or pinch mechanism) will suffer stress and potential breakage if you take it off without loosening it first.

Harnesses come in a few different styles - some do not adjust, some adjust in one spot on each side, some adjust in the back and on each side. However it adjusts, please become familiar with it, ask the helmet fitter for advice and assistance, and check it each time you put it on. You check your girth or cinch before mounting and a few minutes into your ride, right?  Do the same with your helmet.

• If your harness has sliding adjustments on the straps, be sure these sliders are up under your earlobes. These sliders keep the harness in place so if you fall your helmet stays up on your head, not sliding around on the sides.

• If your helmet adjusts in the back with a strap or a lace-up, make it snug and comfy but not tight.

• If your helmet has an adjustable chin strap, adjust it so 1-2 fingers fit in there. You check your horse's throatlatch when you bridle him/her, right? Do the same on your helmet harness! One finger is great if you are a child or have a small chin, 1-2 fingers if the strap feels good that way, but isn't going to slip off your chin and get away!  

One more thing about that chin strap.... leave it buckled until you get off your horse! There was some mumbling during the London Olympics about riders gleefully unclipping their chinstraps as they left the arena. I think the FEI's and most other organizing bodies' rules dictate chinstraps clipped while mounted (The FEI and USEF vary on their rules for helmets depending on the discipline, check the rules before you go to a show.).  I may be splitting hairs here, but please, keep it buckled properly until you're standing on the ground.

 

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Hair

Hair is a sensitive subject, and one I know I'll get some blow back for!  Back in the day, riders with long hair braided it, folded it in half or thirds, banded it at the nape of the neck like a horse's mane braid. Today, most hunter/jumper riders, some dressage, and lots of breed show competitors put their hair up in their helmet at shows.

Please don't do this, as it alters the fit of your helmet.  Know and accept the fact that your brain is more important than your hairstyle, and leave your hair out of your helmet! Your trainer may not like this; he/she thinks you should look like everyone else in the ring. Keep your head safe; keep your hair out of your helmet.  

There are tons of ways to do a tidy bun or knot at the base of your neck that allow your helmet to fit properly and create a great picture in the ring. Skip the clips and hair pins, which might poke and injure a rider in a fall. Elastics work securely to make a pretty 'do under a helmet.

It's simple: find a helmet that fits. Make sure it fits every time you ride or lunge, and wear it!"

 

Thank you Emily for your great insights into helmet fit!!  Emily is also working on another article for us - about cleaning and care of helmets.  

 

A note from Pro Equine Grooms here, too - while we encourage and support comments on our articles, this is not the forum to get into a "Yes Helmet or No Helmet".  Please feel free to ask questions on helmet fit or share stories about helmet fit.  Thanks everyone!!