Many budget-friendly parents new to the horse world might think their child’s bicycle helmet can double as a riding helmet, instead of having to pay the additional cost for a certified equestrian helmet. But when it comes to the health and safety of your rider, it’s not a time to pinch pennies.
The Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and the American Society certify many different types of safety equipment, such as helmets. The institute uses detailed studies that correlate the types of head injuries to each particular sport, such as bicycling and horseback riding. They then certify the equipment in relationship to that particular sport.
Riding helmets are subject to design specifications and standards specific to equestrian sports. Each helmet design must pass a set of tests in order to provide adequate protection for the rider’s head. For those budget minded individuals, it is important to note that the more expensive the helmet does not equal the greater protection. If a helmet is SEI/ASTM certified, then you know you’re purchasing a certified helmet, no matter the cost. The price differences come when you look at decorations, materials or different types of padding.
Comparing the Helmets
One of the biggest differences you can see between a horseback riding helmet and a bicycle helmet is in the shape.
Equestrian helmets tend to cover more of the skull, especially providing greater protection to the lower portion and back of the head—the most common area for horse-related head injuries. Falls from horses can happen in all directions, so protection for the sides and the back of the head is most important for an equestrian helmet. Riding helmets are made to sustain much harder impacts, such as a fall from a tall horse or a kick to the head, whereas a cyclist is generally much lower to the ground.
Bicycle helmets are designed to protect the top and front of the head more, due to most falls from a bicycle occurring going forward.
Safety certification studies (like ASTM F1163) use anvils to test the strength of helmets, and each sport has its own type of anvil. The standard for equestrian helmets include what is called a hazard anvil test, which simulates a horse’s hoof or a sharp rock. This anvil is very sharp and is the reason why most equestrian helmets have a much harder outer shell. The lighter shell found on bicycle helmets would most likely break apart if it came to contact with a horse’s hoof.
The Flip Side
Of course, no helmet can protect against every possible hazard, whether it be astride a horse or a bicycle. However, wearing a certified SEI/ASTM equestrian helmet can reduce the rate of riding-related head injuries by 30 percent, and severe head injuries by 50 percent.