Learning how to properly fit and adjust an equestrian helmet is well worth the time and effort. After all, it could save your life.

“My ‘story’ happened not even a week ago,” a local trainer writes. “I have always worn a helmet to ride. And over the past few years I’ve begun to wear one more frequently on the ground, as well. I work with many young and difficult horses – on any given day I am dealing with horses that strike, rear, bite, kick, etc. – it only takes a few times of having a horse’s feet super close to your head to make you think twice.

“This instinct served me well – I had just finished a ride (ironically during which a friend and I were talking about the death of a young rider at a nearby barn – she was not wearing a helmet when she fell) and went outside to help someone bring in a horse they were struggling with. The horse ended up leaping past me and kicking me in the head and chest with his hind feet. Had I not been wearing one, I’m not sure I’d be writing this.

“We all hear the warnings to wear a helmet when around horses – but many riders really don’t get it until something happens to them or someone they know,” the trainer continues. “Regardless, we can all keep sharing our stories in the hopes that it will help someone, somewhere to take the time to listen to that little voice in their head that says ‘maybe I should wear my helmet today.’”

Rated for Safety

More and more equestrians are making the very wise decision to use protective headgear when mounted, and even when working on the ground around a horse. There are many styles to choose from, available in a wide range of prices, making head protection accessible to virtually everyone. It is very important, however, to select a helmet that meets ASTM/SEI approval for equestrian helmets, and then to make the commitment to wear it every time you ride.

A Good Fit

Even having a correctly rated helmet doesn’t provide maximum protection unless it fits your head and is properly adjusted. There are several important things to keep in mind when evaluating the correct fit and adjustment of your ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet.

When purchasing a helmet, start by measuring the head about 1” above the eyebrows. This will give you a starting point when selecting a size. Most helmets come with a variety of pads or other methods to slightly increase or decrease the circumference, since heads come in many different shapes, so be sure to use them to get the perfect fit.

A good fit is not so tight that it squeezes your head in an uncomfortable way, but tight enough that your eyebrows move when the helmet is pushed up and down. The helmet should stay on your head when bending forward without the chinstrap fastened. It is important to position the helmet correctly, with the visor parallel to the ground or straight out to the front.

Once the helmet is correctly fitted and in the right position, it can be adjusted. Many chinstraps have a Y strap on the sides. The slide should be right below and very slightly to the front of the bottom of the ear. This will help keep it in the correct place on your head. The chinstrap should be adjusted so that it will hold the helmet firmly on the head, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable. There should be room for about one finger between the bottom of the chin and the chinstrap. If you open your mouth as far as you can, you should feel the helmet pull down on your head.

Every Ride, Every Time

You should not wear your helmet over another hat, such as a stocking cap or visor. And remember that if you change your hairstyle, you might need to readjust your helmet. Make sure it fits perfectly every time you place it on your head. Keep in mind that using someone else’s, or loaning yours out, might lead to an incorrect fit. Keep your helmet clean, and if it sustains a blow, it should be replaced to maintain maximum protection. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for how often to replace your helmet.

For more details, visit the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) website at cha-ahse. org/store/pages/212/CHA-Horsemanship-Videos.html to see a video on how to correctly fit a riding helmet.

Enjoy your riding – and remember to wear a properly fitted and adjusted ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet every time. It’s one of the most important things you can do!

Polly Haselton Barger is the Program Director for the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA). The purpose of CHA is to promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of the entire horse industry by certifying instructors, accrediting equine facilities and publishing educational resources. You can visit their website at CHA-ahse.org for more information or search CHAinstructors.com to find a certified instructor in your area.