Helmets are arguably one of the most important pieces of safety equipment a rider can invest in. Disciplines like dressage are now showcasing top-level riders with helmets instead of the classic top hat, normalizing the use of helmet no matter what your FEI ranking is. But not much is talked about helmets beyond the fact that they’re highly suggested, if not required, for riders to wear in lessons, on trails, and in the show ring. We talked with SmartPak about when helmets should be replaced.

Two major factors you come into play when you’re considering replacing your helmet. First, have you fallen? “Because the protective portion of the helmet is largely invisible from the outside,” a SmartPak representative explained. “You can’t see if a fall damaged the protective padding. So if you ever have a fall where your helmet makes contact with the ground – no matter how minor – you should replace your helmet.” According to Riders4Helmets, an organization that specializes in brain injury education and promotes helmet awareness, “a properly fitting helmet…absorbs the impact of the head, provides cushioning to the skull, and reduces jarring of the brain against the skull.” If you’ve suffered a fall in your helmet, there’s no guarantee that, should you fall again, your old helmet will be able to protect you the same way it has in the past.

Time is the other thing you want to consider when you’re deciding if it’s time to get a new helmet. SmartPak says, “A good rule of thumb is to replace your helmet every five years to ensure that all the pieces and parts…haven’t degraded over time.” When SmartPak says five years, they mean five years from the manufacturer’s date, not the date you bought it. Not only can the material in your helmet be degrading, but helmet technology is also changing. The helmet you bought years ago may not be as effective in protecting your head from a fall as a new helmet will. With how important this issue is, many manufacturers and retailers, like SmartPak, participate in Ride4Helmet’s International Helmet Awareness Day and offer their helmets at heavily discounted prices.

If you’re not sure if you need a new helmet, SmartPak has advice: “Because your helmet is so important, we always go by the better safe than sorry rule and recommend that riders err on the side of replacing their helmet if they’re unsure.” When in doubt, always choose to protect your melon.

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