Importance Of Wearing A Horse Riding Helmet: What The Law Says

Riding helmets can be quite a controversial subject sometimes with people frequently arguing over whether you should or shouldn’t wear them. Everybody’s got their own opinion on whether they should be worn or not and with it being a legal requirement in some countries but not in others this only makes the argument more controversial. I know that not everybody enjoys wearing them but when you consider the safety benefits of wearing one it’s a compelling argument.

How does a riding helmet protect your head?

Riding helmets reduce the risk of serious head and brain injury by limiting the impact of a collision on the head. They do this by acting as a barrier between the skull and whatever’s causing the impact. It then disperses the force of the impact over a wider area, preventing a concentrated impact in one area. At the same time, the helmet is absorbing the energy of the impact and therefore reducing the force that the skull and brain feel.

At the same time as absorbing the impact, riding helmets are also designed to reduce the risk of penetration by a sharp object. They have a hard outer shell that protects the head from sharp objects. This outer shell covers an expanded polystyrene lining that absorbs and disperses the impact. To work properly in a fall you must also make sure that they fit properly and that the chin strap is fastened securely.

Do riding helmets really work?

If you’re not sure whether wearing a helmet is a good idea or not you might want to consider that the most frequent cause of death or serious injury amongst horse activities (both mounted and dismounted) are head injuries with 60% of them resulting in death. That’s a scary thought and when you consider that most deaths from a head injury can be prevented by wearing a riding helmet that conforms to the current standards it’s shocking that only 20% of riders wear a helmet every time they ride.

How long is a riding helmet good for?

Just like any item of clothing riding helmets don’t last forever and do need to be replaced from time to time. There’s no hard and fast rule as to when you should replace them but most people will say that they should be replaced every five years. You might think that if you’ve not had a fall it doesn’t matter how long you keep your helmet for but there are a number of reasons why you should replace it regularly. Things such as sweat, temperature, rain and even UV rays can all help to reduce the effectiveness of your helmet over time. To make the most out of your helmet make sure you follow the care instructions that came with it.

Do I need to replace my riding helmet if I have a fall?

Absolutely yes!! Even if you can’t see any marks or cracks in your helmet you should replace it straight away. Each helmet is made up of multiple layers that aren’t all visible so a crack, no matter how small, in any of them will prevent your helmet from giving you proper protection.

What is a horse riding helmet made of?

While the original riding helmets were made of little more than felt and cork today’s hats are far more sophisticated and much more lightweight. The outer casing of the helmet is usually made from glass fiber or ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic while the absorbing inner layer is made from polystyrene. The reason polystyrene is used is because its construction has lots of air pockets that burst on impact and therefore protect the rider’s head. The polystyrene is then covered in a foam pad to provide extra comfort to the rider.

Equestrian riding helmet cross section - © Horse Factbook

How do I choose a riding helmet?

In order to get the right helmet for you the most important thing is to measure your head, while most tack shops and saddleries will do this for you it doesn’t hurt to know what size helmet you need beforehand. To measure your head use a dressmakers tape around the widest part of your head (approximately an inch above your eyebrows), this will give you a size that you can use to compare against the manufacturer’s size chart. Each manufacturer will have their own size chart and there will be some variations between them, not just with some giving their measurements in cms and others in inches.

Once you know what size helmet you need you can then begin to try them on, a correctly fixed helmet should sit snugly, cover your entire skull and have even pressure all around. There shouldn’t be any gaps and the helmet shouldn’t ride up or fall down and the brim of the helmet should be around two fingers above the eyebrows.

If you’re happy that the helmet fits properly it’s time to adjust the chin strap, it should fit comfortably under your chin and hold the helmet in place. If you do it too tight then it’ll become uncomfortable against your throat pretty quickly. Some riding helmets also allow you to adjust the harness so that it fits comfortably around your ears.

Can I borrow a friend’s helmet?

In theory yes you can use a friend’s helmet if their head measurements are exactly the same as yours although I personally wouldn’t. Not because there’s anything wrong with borrowing a hat that fits you, I just like to know exactly how my helmet has been treated. If I only wear my own I know that it hasn’t suffered any impacts and that it has been well looked after.

Can you wear a cycling helmet for horse riding?

While they may look like they offer a similar level of protection they both conform to very different standards. When horse riding you’re considerably higher off of the ground than you are on a bike and it’s this height that can make all of the difference, then there’s the speed as well. A cycling helmet will protect your head from an impact but a riding helmet will also protect the back of the head and can also withstand being punctured by sharp objects.

Different helmets are designed and tested for different purposes so its important to make sure you’re using the right helmet for the sport you’re participating in. 

Do you have to wear a helmet while riding a horse?

Every country has it’s own set of laws detailing the requirements to wearing a riding helmet around horses, to see the laws in your country or region click on the relevant link below:

FEI law

The FEI (Fédération Équestre Internationale or International Federation for Equestrian Sports) is the international governing body for all equestrian sports. To compete in one of their events you must have a helmet that complies with either the European (EN), British (PAS), North American (ASTM) or Australian and New Zealand (AS/NZ) standards.

USA law
New York

New York’s equestrian helmet law took effect in 2000.  It requires riders under age 14 to wear approved helmets when riding a horse on highways and/or private roads.  New York’s law requires those who hire, rent out horses for riding, or provide training in the riding of horses for consideration to provide helmets at no extra charge to “beginning riders” of any age and riders less than 14 years of age.  The law also requires “horse providers” to offer ASTM/SEI standard equestrian helmets to all riders along with “appropriate helmet safety information.” 

In 2013, New York’s Governor signed into law an amended helmet law [Bill No. S 2007] (amending prior helmet legislation passed in 2000), that requires minors under 18 to wear a helmet while riding a horse.  The 2013 law increases the maximum fine for violators to $250 and imposes the fines on parents or guardians.  The amended law offers a justification stating, in part:

Horseback riding is a popular recreational activity enjoyed by more than 30 million people in the United States. It has been estimated that 19 million people aged 16 years and older participating in riding activities. Horseback riding is the eighth leading case of emergency room treated, sports and recreation related injuries. Horseback riding has been identified as a higher-risk activity than automobile racing, motorcycle riding, football and skiing. Injuries occur while riding or handling horses without discrimination for age or experience level. Approximately 70,000 people are treated in emergency rooms annually because of equestrian-related injuries, while thousands more are treated in physicians’ offices. Head injuries account for approximately 60% of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents.

Wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the chances of sustaining serious injury. One of the most important pieces of safety equipment is a properly fitting helmet in order to absorb the impact to the head, provide cushioning to the skull and reduce jarring of the brain against the skull. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that wearing helmets reduces head and brain injuries by 85% and the Equestrian Medical Safety Association strongly recommends the wearing of a properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmet with the harness secured during equestrian activities.

While New York State was one of the first states to adopt a helmet law protecting children, the current law does not adequately protect all children. Currently, only children fourteen years of age and under are required to wear a helmet. Changing the age to eighteen years of age would further protect our children, prevent serious injuries and help save lives.

The law states:

 § 1265.  Wearing of helmets.

  • 1. No person less than eighteen years of age shall ride a horse unless such person is wearing a helmet meeting or exceeding ASTM F1163 (Safety Equipment Institute certified)  Equestrian  Standard.  For purposes of this section, “certified” shall mean that the helmet’s manufacturer agrees to the rules and provisions of a  system that includes independent testing and quality control audits, and that each helmet manufactured by such manufacturer is permanently marked with the certifying body’s registered mark or logo before such helmet is sold or offered for sale. For the purposes of this section, wearing a helmet means having a helmet fastened securely upon the head using the manufacturer’s fitting guidelines for the particular model used.
  • 2. Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall pay a civil fine not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars. A police officer shall only issue a summons for a violation of this section by a person less than eighteen years of age to the parent or guardian of such person if the violation by such person occurs in the presence of such person’s parent or guardian and where such parent or guardian is eighteen years of age or more.  Such summons shall only be issued to such parent or guardian, and shall not be issued to the person less than eighteen years of age.    
  • 3.(a) The court shall waive any civil fine for which a person who violates the provisions of this section would be liable if such person supplies the court with proof that between the date of violation and the appearance date for such violation such person purchased or rented a helmet.
  • 3.(b) The court may waive any civil fine for which a person who violates the provisions of the section would be liable if the court finds that due to reasons of economic hardship such person was unable to purchase a helmet.    
  • 4. The failure of any person to comply with the provisions of this section shall not constitute contributory negligence or assumption of risk, and shall not in any way bar, preclude or foreclose an action for personal injury or wrongful death by or on behalf of such person, nor in any way diminish or reduce the damages recoverable in any such action.
Florida Law

Florida Stat. § 773.06, known as “Nicole’s Law” (named for a child who died after being thrown from a horse and sustained fatal head injuries) applies to minors.  It provides, among other things, that a child under age 16 must wear an ASTM-standard equestrian helmet while riding an equine on a public roadway or right-of-way, public equestrian trail, park, or school site, or public property.  Trainers or instructors cannot “knowingly” rent or lease an equine to a child under 16 in violation of this law, and parents or guardians cannot knowingly allow a child to violate the law.  Some exceptions exist that make the law inapplicable in certain settings.  It states:

A child who is younger than 16 years of age must wear a helmet that meets the current applicable standards of the American Society of Testing and Materials for protective headgear used in horseback riding and that is properly fitted and fastened securely upon the child’s head by a strap when the child is riding an equine upon:

  • (a) A public roadway or right-of-way;
  • (b) A public equestrian trail, public recreational trail, public park or preserve, or public school site; or
  • (c) Any other publicly owned or controlled property.
  • (3) A trainer, instructor, supervisor, or other person may not knowingly rent or lease an equine to be ridden by a child younger than 16 years of age unless the child possesses a helmet meeting the requirements of this section or the trainer, instructor, supervisor, or other person renting or leasing the equine supplies the child with a helmet meeting the standards of this section.
  • (4) A parent or guardian of a child younger than 16 years of age may not authorize or knowingly permit the child to violate this section.
  • (5) A person who violates subsection (3) or subsection (4) commits a noncriminal violation, punishable as provided in s. 775.083.
  • (6) This section does not apply to a child younger than 16 years of age who is riding an equine when the child is:
    • (a) Practicing for, riding to or from, or competing or performing in shows or events, including, but not limited to, rodeos and parades, where helmets are not historically a part of the show or event;
    • (b) Riding on privately owned land even if the land is occasionally separated by a public road or right-of-way that must be crossed; or
    • (c) Engaged in an agricultural practice or pursuit.

Before this law took effect, a few Florida municipalities passed helmet ordinances, including Wellington, Plantation, Davie, and Parkland.  All provided, in various ways, that minors must wear ASTM-standard equestrian helmets when riding in public areas.  Parkland’s ordinance applied to riders under age 18, while the other Florida ordinances applied to riders under age 16. 

Bainbridge Island, Washington Ordinance

Bainbridge Island, Washington, passed a helmet ordinance requiring that people who ride a horse in a public area shall wear a helmet unless the rider has an appropriate note from a Washington-licensed doctor excusing the use of a helmet.

Norco, California Ordinance

Norco, California passed a helmet ordinance in 2008.  It states that those under age 18 who ride horses in public areas must wear properly fitted and secured helmets that are ASTM-standard (or any other nationally recognized helmet standard). The helmet must be worn regardless of whether the rider is controlling the horse.

Information kindly provided by Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney and Shareholder with the law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC.
Canadian law

Canadian law states that all riders under the age of 18 are required to wear an approved riding helmet when riding. While not a legal requirement it is advised that all riders, especially those new to riding, should wear a helmet too.

All riding helmets must be ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) approved.

UK law

UK Legislation covering riding hats states that all riders aged 14 and under must wear a hat conforming to current regulations when riding on the public highway. Beyond that, various health and safety requirements apply to staff working with horses including within the racing industry.

Different riding associations have different rule requirements when it comes to hats. For example, British Dressage allows the EN1384 2017 hat as do the Showing Council whereas under the British Eventing Rules you must wear the PAS015 kitemark hat. The British Equestrian Trade Association website provides a very useful table, which shows the rule requirements for each riding discipline.

When choosing a hat and the standard it complies with, this will largely depend on the type of riding activity the rider takes part in and it is best to check each discipline’s rule book before purchasing a hat.

Information kindly provided by Jacqui Fulton from Equine Law UK.
European law

Riders under the age of 14 must always wear a riding helmet when riding in public. It is also advised that all riders wear a helmet when riding but this is not a legal necessity.

Australian law

The EA (Equestrian Australia) General Regulations, Article 122.2: Dress and Salute state that all riding helmets must meet with the current approved standards. Those standards are AS/NZS 3838, ARB HS 2012, SNELL E2001, PAS 015 or VGI.

It also states that unless where sport rules allow otherwise, riders and drivers competing must wear an approved riding helmet with a fastened chin strap at all times. This is also advised for horse riding at any time.

New Zealand law

ESNZ (Equestrian Sports New Zealand) General Regulations stipulate that, as of 1st August 2017, all competing riders must wear a riding helmet that has met with the approved safety requirements.

A brief history of riding helmets

If you’ve ever wondered when we first started to wear riding helmets you might be surprised to know that the riding helmet as we know it today is actually just over a hundred years old. That’s not to say that riding hats of sorts weren’t used before then, in fact as far back as 1797 all hats with flat crowns and broad brims were widely used. Sometimes called ’toppers’ this style of hat is no longer used for riding today unless you’re competing at advanced level dressage. 

It wasn’t until the invention of the derby hat or bowler hat some fifty years later that the design of the riding hat changed again. Created for a British soldier and politician, the derby hat, had become extremely popular in the United Kingdom. The riding hat we know today began life at the start of the 20th century when hat makers Charles Owen started to make cork helmets for the military, this cork helmet was later covered in harder material and the riding helmet was born.

Do I need a special riding helmet if I want to compete?

If you’re wanting to compete, especially internationally then you’ll need a helmet that conforms to the latest standards. The chart below shows the latest standards that are allowed for competition.

United States & Canada ASTM F1163
United Kingdom PAS 015, BS EN 1384, ASTM F1163
Europe EN 1384, EN 14572
Australia & New Zealand AS/NZ 3838:2006

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

Recent Posts