Bike Helmets are Not Suitable for Equestrian Sport

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.



One of the biggest differences you can see between a youth 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.



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.

Dean Moran, Program Manager of the Safety Equipment Institute (An Affiliate of ASTM INTERNATIONAL) says: 

“The ASTM committee members work hard to develop standards that provide protection for specific sports use. The equestrian helmet committee includes equestrian professionals, end users, manufacturers and test lab personnel. The equestrian helmet standard is developed specifically for horse riding events and the testing is specific for hazards that may be encountered during horse riding. Of course, no helmet can protect against every possible hazard that may be encountered.

“The main differences are the helmet head coverage and the type of test anvils. Based on the test line in ASTM F1163, equestrian helmets need to provide more head coverage, especially in the back of the head. Bicycle helmets are mainly designed to provide protection during a forward moving event, so there is more protection for the front and side of the head. Equestrian helmets provide the same forward and side protection but also lower protection to the rear of the head for a rear fall, which is likely during a horse riding event. The equestrian helmet standard includes a hazard anvil test, which would simulate a horse’s hoof or a sharp rock. The hazard anvil is very sharp, and is the reason most equestrian helmets have a harder outer shell as opposed to the micro shell on most bicycle helmets. Most bicycle helmets may not survive a horse’s kick, but may break apart.”


Wearing a helmet while riding is one of the best ways to stay safe while enjoying your time horseback riding. Riding helmets provide more head coverage and use different test anvils than bicycle helmets to provide protection against hazards that riders may encounter while riding. So next time you go for a ride, make sure you are wearing a properly fitting riding helmet!