For those of you that don’t know me, I am a HUGE helmet advocate. As a child, my mother, thankfully, was also a helmet advocate long before it was trendy and that probably saved my life. Just before starting 2nd grade, I was dragged 35 feet by a horse that had become uncharacteristically spooked. Thankfully, my helmet was on and correctly fitted (which the paramedics stated it likely saved my life). When you ride horses, it is only a matter of time before you experience a fall – Not “if,” but “when.” This makes helmets a necessity in my book. But it goes much further than just plopping any old helmet on and going on your merry way! There are many dos and don’ts involved in helmet fit and care of which you may not be aware.
Helmet fit has come a long way, baby! Gone are the days of ridiculously heavy and hot velvet helmets with their stiff plastic harness and uncomfortable chin cups. Now, we have vented helmets that are lighter than ever, complete with softer nylon harnesses and a chin strap that is narrow enough to not cut into your neck. There are round and long oval options to enhance safety and comfort. You can even find many options with liners that can be removed and washed, which is one of my favorite features!
Along with an improvement in comfort has come a safety upgrade. The latest technology on the market is MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. Part of what sets this technology apart is that it mimics the function of cerebrospinal fluid (natural fluid that occurs between your brain and skull) by adding a low friction layer that allows a small relative movement between your head and helmet in any direction. This is important for all of us, but in particular if you have suffered a concussion in the past.
Getting the Right Fit
In order to reap the benefits of all this amazing technology, you need to be sure your helmet fits properly. Thankfully, Big Dees has staff trained to help you achieve the best fit possible! A helmet fitter should take a measurement of your head before trying any helmet on. This will give them the information they need to gather helmets in the correct sizes for you to try. If you wear your hair up, bring the tools you use (hairnet in the style you use, elastic, clips, etc.) will help assure you get the absolute best fit possible.
A helmet should feel like it is hugging your entire head, not just the front and back. If you feel pressure only at the front and back you may need a long oval shape. Conversely, if you feel extra pressure on the sides of your head you may need a rounder shape. It is important to have your helmet fitted to the way you will wear your hair and consistently wear it that way to ensure you are protected. There are some models that come with multiple liners to adjust the fit which can allow you to wear your hair up or down, but be aware that the manufacturer does not recommend that.
Once you have your helmet on, it should sit approximately 1 inch above your eyebrows and if you grab the brim and gently tug it up or down your scalp should move with it. If it slides easily, it is too big and will not offer you the correct protection. The position of the helmet on your head is also crucial. I often see riders that have pushed their helmets up several inches above their eyebrows, this negatively impacts the function of the helmet, leaving crucial areas of your head with compromised protection.
So now you have a comfortable, well-fitting helmet. Fantastic! But it doesn’t end there… How do you properly care for your helmet so it can keep your all-important brain safe? DO NOT DROP IT. All helmets are designed to be ONE impact only, this includes dropping it (even when you can’t see damage). How do you avoid compromising the integrity of your precious helmet? Investing in a good helmet bag with padding is a great way to keep your helmet safe when it isn’t on your head, I personally love the Professional Choice Helmet Bag. This bag has padding, a solid bottom with feet and pockets to stash my hairnets and gloves.
Now your helmet is secured, everything is great right? Maybe. Are you going to toss that helmet into your back seat until the next ride? That’s a big no-no if it’s summer time as heat can cause the protective foam in your helmet to break down, causing damage you can’t see. Never leave your helmet in a hot car, or in direct sunlight when its not on your head. Ideally, we could keep our helmets in a climate-controlled room when they were not in use, unfortunately that is not always an option but you can be aware of areas that may expose your helmet to extreme heat and avoid them as much as possible. However, be aware that if you regularly expose your helmet to higher temperatures that you will need to replace your helmet more frequently.
Replacing Your Helmet
Speaking of replacing your helmet, when is it time? Helmet manufactures recommend replacing any helmet every 3-5 years. If you wear your helmet a lot (professional or have multiple horses a day) or spend most of your rides out in the sun you should probably aim for every 3 years or less. The average amateur with one horse often in an indoor can probably wait up to 5 years if the helmet is stored well. Remember, this only applies if your helmet has not been dropped or if you have fallen off your horse. If there has been an impact- go directly to your tack shop and find a suitable replacement.
Case in point: say you took a spill off your saintly horse when he tripped last week and you popped off. It wasn’t a hard fall and mostly just bruised your ego. Surely your helmet doesn’t need to be replaced, after all it dusted right off and looks fine, right? Wrong! Helmet manufactures are serious when they say ONE impact. Helmet shells are designed in a way that the foam layer compresses to absorb impact but the shell often pops back into shape. If you were to fall off again and hit that same spot on your helmet, it would serve as nothing more than an expensive decoration.
Now, I know that replacing a helmet shortly after you purchase it almost as painful as the fall itself! Did you know that several manufacturers offer a discount on a replacement helmet within a year or two? This might be something worth checking into when you purchase your helmet. I make sure to file my helmet purchase receipt in my box or with my tax information so I can find it if I need it. If you are unable to turn your helmet in after a fall, or your helmet has simply aged out, please cut the straps off so it can no longer be used. Professionals, if you have a student fall – cut their straps so they are not tempted to ride in an unsafe helmet. Your insurance provider will thank you.
After covering fit, care and expiration of helmets, what’s left? How do you keep your helmet looking and smelling it’s best? I have a synthetic suede covered helmet that definitely attracts the dust. so I keep a soft boot brush in my helmet bag to flick the dust off after I’m done riding. If you have a helmet with a smooth shell, a soft, damp cloth can restore its shine after your rides. In addition to washing my liners regularly, I throw a dryer sheet in the bag to keep things smelling a bit fresher (this comes in handy particularly in the summer)! There are also spray deodorizers you can purchase at Big Dee’s to keep your helmet as fresh as a daisy after those sweaty rides.
Written by Sponsored Rider, Sarah Freeman from Serendipity Stable