Helmets are key to preventing head injury while horseback riding.
Approximately 10-30% of injuries occur while horseback riding is head injuries, and equestrian sports are the most common source of traumatic brain injury in adults (1).
Equestrian helmets have safety ratings to ensure they help prevent injury, but what are the safety standards for horseback riding helmets?
Equestrian helmets have safety ratings, including ASTM/SEI, PAS015, and VG1.
These helmet safety ratings ensure enough riding helmet features to prevent head injury and keep you safe.
Each standard has rigorous testing that a helmet must pass to be approved.
Horseback riding safety is always an important topic.
So, read on to learn more about equestrian helmets and how this horse riding equipment is designed to prevent major head injuries.
Table of Contents
- Equestrian helmets have safety standards in place to ensure they help prevent head injuries. These standards include ASTM/SEI, PAS015, and VG1, which are internationally recognized.
- When choosing a riding helmet, it’s important to consider factors like helmet type, fit, price, weight, and ventilation. You should also look for a helmet that has been certified for at least one of the safety standards.
- Properly fitting the helmet is crucial to ensure it provides the necessary protection. It should fit with even pressure, be balanced on the head, and not move in any direction when the chin strap is unbuckled. You should also look for a helmet that matches your head shape, whether round or oval.
What Are the Safety Standards for Horseback Riding Helmets?
According to US Equestrian and Charles Owen, the three core safety standards used not only in the US but internationally are the ASTM/SEI, PAS015, and VG1 (2).
Let’s review each of these testing standards performed on equestrian helmets.
The ASTM or American Society for Testing and Materials, is the world’s largest standards organization, which issues standards for all kinds of products, including protective headgear like riding helmets.
The specific standard for equestrian helmets is ASTM F1163.
There are several tests performed on helmets for this standard.
These include specific head coverage details, impact tests performed with anvils, retention system tests to see if it can withstand jerking and keep the helmet on the rider’s head, and general consumer information.
The SEI or Safety Equipment Institute, is the certifying organization for equestrian helmets and other protective gear.
One of their auditors will compare a riding helmet against the standards of ASTM F1163 and decide if it should be certified (3)
PAS015 is a British riding helmet standard created by the British Standard Institute. PAS stands for Product Approval Specification, and standards are reviewed every two years for updates.
Testing procedures to meet this standard include linear impact tests, penetration tests, lateral deformation tests, harness retention tests, and stability tests.
Each test looks at a specific aspect of horseback riding safety. For example, the stability tests assess whether a helmet can stay on when dropped and when pushed off (4)
The British Standards Institute also created this standard. A helmet must pass similar tests to the PAS015 standard to be certified.
For example, for penetration tests, the spike or anvil must be dropped from a height of 50 cm. One out of every 200 helmets is tested, and if one does not pass, the entire batch is scrapped (4)
Comparing the Standards
Each of these helmet safety standards includes a similar application and testing process for certification. ATSM/SEI is the only standard based in the US.
However, PAS015 and VG1 are reputable, and many riders buy helmets from overseas if they have these extra certifications.
Protecting your head while horseback riding is crucial, so be sure to check out our articles on “do I need to wear a helmet when horseback riding” and “what is the safest helmet for horse riding” to ensure your safety.
6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Riding Helmet
There are many riding helmet features, such as helmet ventilation and helmet weight that riders need to consider when buying their first equestrian helmet or a replacement.
A short list of things to keep in mind when shopping include:
- Helmet type
- Helmet fit
- Helmet safety features
- Helmet weight
- Helmet ventilation
Let’s explore each of these points in more detail in the following sections
1. Riding Helmet Styles
Choosing a riding helmet is no easy task, especially with so many helmet designs. Usually, the style of helmet you use is dictated by the discipline you ride.
Premium helmets, the standard helmet, are used for everyday riding, showjumping, dressage, and trail riding. They have a fixed peak that gives them an elegant look.
Jockey skulls are used for horse racing and high-speed sports like eventing and hunting. Traditional velvet helmets are used predominantly in the hunter and jumper rings.
There are even helmets designed specifically for polo athletes and kids that meet the needs of growing little ones.
2. Riding Helmet Fit
A properly fitted equestrian helmet is essential. If a helmet does not fit properly, it cannot provide proper protection for the skull and brain and is not safe.
To get a helmet that is the right size for your head, measure it by wrapping a tape around it ¾ of an inch above your eyebrow, just above your ear.
Take the measurement a few times for accuracy.
A helmet should fit with even pressure and not be too tight on any part of the head. It should be firmly locked on the back of the skull.
It should be balanced on the head and not move in any direction when the chin strap is unbuckled.
The chin strap should be snug enough to fit a finger and your chin. The right fit also involves getting the right helmet shape to match your head shape.
Helmets come in round and oval. While most people fit the oval shape, those with rounder heads need the round shape.
Here is a video that shows how to fit a riding helmet properly:
Price is one of the riding helmet features that have little to do with the helmet itself, but it is still important to consider.
Helmets come in multiple price points to suit different budgets. You can find some for as little as $50 and as much as $300.
A good rule of thumb is to buy the safest helmet that meets your style and other criteria, and is durable but still within your budget.
4. Riding Helmet Safety Features
Always look for a helmet certified for at least one of the safety standards mentioned above, but the more certifications the better.
If your helmet has not been certified and or safety tested, the higher your risk of concussion and or serious head injury.
5. Riding Helmet Weight
The weight of a riding helmet is a feature that is not given much attention but is still important.
A too-heavy helmet will be uncomfortable to wear and cause more injury in the event of a fall.
Lightweight materials also allow for vents and other features to improve comfort. Some riders are concerned about the durability of lightweight helmets.
However, lightweight helmets are often lined with extra padding and other materials to withstand multiple drops and other situations.
6. Riding Helmet Ventilation
Vents are a key feature of modern equestrian helmets. Vents help airflow through the helmet from front to back and keep you cool while riding, which minimizes the risk of heat-related illness.
The number of vents varies from helmet to helmet, with as few as 2 to as many as 7. More vents mean more airflow. Choose the number that feels right for you.
Ventilation is also important because when humans are too hot, it can impact their decision-making skills.
Vents can help you stay in the optimal temperature range of 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit and have a better ride (5)
Riding Helmet Maintenance and Care
Caring for your helmet and taking part in riding helmet maintenance will help it last longer and allow you to make the most of it.
Proper helmet care includes checking the helmet regularly for damage and wear, as well as cleaning and storing your helmet in the right place.
Inspecting Riding Helmets for Damage
Equestrian helmets can get damaged easily by accidental drops and other general rough handling.
Each time a helmet hits the ground, the polystyrene on the inside becomes damaged, negatively impacting the protective abilities of the helmet.
Because of this, helmets should be checked for damage after every impact. To do this properly:
- Check if the peak of the helmet is stable and has not collapsed
- Check if the vents are intact and have not moved out of place
- Push the shell of the helmet inward; if you hear a cracking noise or it moves easily, it has been damaged
- Check the inside of the shell for cracks and look for holes in the helmet lining
If there is damage to any part of the helmet, you need to replace it to protect your head.
As a rule, riding helmets should be replaced every 5 years to ensure maximum protection.
Cleaning and Storing Riding Helmets
Cleaning an equestrian helmet properly is a skill that increases its lifespan. When cleaning, start with the outer shell of the helmet and work your way to the inside.
Use a wet cloth to wipe the outer shell or a brush to remove debris collected on it; always use a dedicated helmet cleaner when cleaning the inside of the helmet.
Helmet liners are typically wiped down using a damp cloth or deodorizer spraying. Allow the helmet to dry in a cool place before storing it.
Helmets should never be stored in a hot place or direct sunlight because the protective polystyrene layer will melt. Always keep them in a cool and dry place.
Here is a short video showing proper helmet cleaning
Helmet Care Tips
Here are some tips to get the most out of your helmet.
- Avoid dropping your helmet as much as possible
- Keep it clean
- Store it properly when not in use
- Avoid using solvents on your helmet
- Replace the liner often
If you keep these tips in mind, your helmet should keep you safe for years.
How do I know if a helmet meets safety standards?
Most helmets will have the logo for each standard they meet on the back of the shell. Online listings for helmets also give the certifications they have.
Do all horseback riding helmets meet safety standards?
While modern helmets meet safety standards, vintage equestrian helmets or those that are used do not.
What should I look for in a helmet to ensure a proper fit?
Always get your head measured or measure it yourself before looking for a helmet to purchase to ensure proper fit.
How often should I replace my riding helmet?
Helmets should be replaced every 5 years.
Are there any additional measures I should take when riding a horse?
Work with a horse that matches your skill level, always check your girth before getting on, wear a protective vest when jumping, and have reflective gear on when trail riding.
What are the safety standards for horseback riding helmets? The most recognized are ASTM/SEI, PAS015, and VG1. Each standard has tests that helmets must pass for certification.
When choosing a riding helmet, consider the type of helmet, helmet fit, price, safety features, helmet weight, and helmet ventilation.
Helmets need to be inspected, cleaned, and maintained regularly so they can last.
1. Mastellar S. Equestrian Injury Statistics [Internet]. ohioline.osu.edu. 2021. Available from: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/19
2. Equestrian Helmet Fitting and Safety [Internet]. US Equestrian. [cited 2023 Mar 3]. Available from: https://www.usef.org/media/equestrian-weekly/equestrian-helmet-fitting-safety
3. What is SEI? [Internet]. Available from: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0885/0464/files/Troxel_SEI_Certification_Sheet.pdf?v=1585858199
4. Guerin G. How riding hats are tested to meet the standard [Internet]. Horse & Hound. 2021. Available from: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/plus/features-plus/how-riding-hats-are-tested-741616
5. Kaye L. Craniology, Part II: Ventilation, Helmet Replacement and Future Technology – Eventing Nation – Three-Day Eventing News, Results, Videos, and Commentary [Internet]. eventingnation.com. [cited 2023 Mar 3]. Available from: https://eventingnation.com/craniology-part-ii-ventilation-helmet-replacement-and-future-helmet-technology/
Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
Follow on INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK
Read her Latest articles
Learn more about HER