December PSA: Is it Time to Replace Your Helmet?

The Tipperary Titan. Photo courtesy of Phoenix Performance Products.

Last night marked the first hard freeze in Northern California, and with the drop in the temperature, it has finally started to feel like December. December is one of my favorite parts of the year —  not for Christmas, but for New Years. I love the way that New Years puts a marker on the calendar where everyone takes a moment to not only stop and reflect, but also to dream.

December is a fantastic time not only to consider your riding goals and your upcoming show season, but it’s also a fantastic time to do a safety check on all of your gear. If in your checking you find anything in need of replacement, you can always throw it on your holiday wish list. One of the most important things to check this season is the manufacture date of your helmet.

Generally speaking, helmets have about a five-year lifespan assuming they haven’t had any falls or shocks. Once your helmet has been involved in a fall, it needs to be replaced, as its ability to provide protection has been severely reduced. Riders4Helmets has some information from specific manufacturers about their recommendations on helmet replacement.  [Riders4Helmets]

Recently, Vanessa wrote in to ask the EN staff about helmets:

“Do you think there is a big difference between ASTM-approved helmets? I’m personally considering the Charles Owen J3 (which I have now but is 10 years old) or the Tipperary Titan, which has the fabulous covering at the back of the head that people are talking about more and more and is lovely and light. I actually do fit both, so that’s not an issue. What is the best way to decide which is best for me?”

I did some research, and from what I’ve read, the the testing process is a pass-fail sort of thing. The ASTM has set out specific testing rules and thresholds that a helmet must meet in order to be certified. Helmets designed for equestrian use are tested in scenarios that intend to simulate the kind of trauma and shocks that one would be most likely to see in an equestrian-related context, such as a kick to the head. This is part of why a bicycle helmet isn’t an appropriate substitute for a riding helmet. The testing checks how much force the helmet protects against, as well as the integrity of the harness.

While correct fit and wearing it every ride is something that is discussed frequently, the need to replace a helmet after a fall is very often overlooked. As beautiful as some of the $300-400+ helmets are, I can’t help but wince at the notion that I could fall off on my first ride in my new super fancy mega-expensive helmet and have to replace it straight away. I have sadly seen this exact scenario play out with some of my friends that still ride hunters. They’ve spent tons of money on the new helmet that is all the rage on the circuit, and when they take a spill, they opt to continue to ride in a compromised helmet because it was so stinking expensive to purchase in the first place.

I’ve been lucky that the helmets that fit me best tend to be some of the less expensive ones as well. I had a Tipperary Sportage that I wore for about two years until I hopped on a pony that no one bothered to tell me was very cold-backed. Because the Sportage is relatively inexpensive, replacing it was a non-issue. I didn’t find myself hemming and hawing over whether or not to just keep riding in my now damaged helmet.

When it comes to safety, any ASTM-approved helmet must meet the specified standards in order to bear the designation. Many people assume that a more expensive helmet is going to be safer or somehow better than an less expensive one. This isn’t necessarily the case. The best and safest helmet for you is one that fits properly, is worn every ride and is replaced when it suffers a blow. 

This December, check your helmet’s expiration date. Consider buying a back-up to have at the barn in case you take a spill. You only get one brain, and we’d like to keep filling it with EN silliness.

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