Do Horse Riding Helmets Expire?


Recently, I went with a friend to pick up his daughter from the Pony Club. While we were waiting for her to gather her belongings, her riding instructor came over and told my friend that he should be giving some thought to replacing his daughter’s horse-riding helmet as her chin-strap was a bit frayed and could break if she had a fall.

girl riding horse

Good advice I thought. Then we got into a discussion with the instructor as to whether a horse riding helmet in good condition could be worn forever, or whether horse riding helmets had a use-by date. Bob, my friend, and I decided to do some checking to find out for sure whether horse riding helmets expire, or not.

The Snell Foundation recommends 5 years, which seems to be the general consensus, even if your helmet appears to still be in good condition. Not only that, but it seems that all kinds of helmets are only good for one major fall and then need to be replaced irrespective of their age. Of course, safety first should always be observed particularly when you consider the reason why we wear helmets. No point in taking unnecessary risks and continuing to use a damaged helmet for the sake of saving a few dollars.

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Why Replace A Helmet After 5 Years?

If you’re anything like me, your trusty horse riding helmet, now well past its 7th year of alternating hot and cold weather, getting stored on an old hat-stand in the garage, been dropped numerous times and suffered a fall or two, looks just fine. Well, superficially at least. In fact, I’ve never given it any thought that it might possibly have a use-by date. But, as stated, it looks fine, why would I want to replace it?

Actually, it not a matter of ‘would’, but more correctly ‘should’ replace it. While the inner linings, chin straps, outer shell and everything else looks fine on the surface, it’s what is happening within that dictates why we should replace our horse riding helmets every 5 years or so, for the sake of ongoing safety standards. Nothing lasts forever, not even horse riding helmets and the components that go into making a horse riding helmet.

The glues that hold things in place, the stitching that binds the lining or holds the buckles on the chin strap, the composition of the inner polystyrene liner or the outer shell, all these things can deteriorate over time. From major elements like the sun’s UV rays to rain and snow, body heat and sweat, all of these things have an impact on the overall condition of your horse riding helmet.

vector image of girl riding horse
Horse Riding Vectors by Vecteezy

And it’s not just the natural elements that have an effect on the condition of your helmet, but also the chemicals that we spray or rub onto our body that can react adversely with helmet components, like sunscreen and DEET (insect spray) can degrade the foam and possibly the shell. If you use sunscreen or bug spray while wearing your helmet, you would be well advised to wash them afterward with a mild detergent and warm water. https://helmets.org/substancetest.htm

How Do You Store Your Riding Helmet?

We are not all the same. We all do things differently, and the way in which we use our horse riding helmet is different from each other.

Some people will usually be riding in hot, dry or hot, humid conditions, while others will be riding in cold, dry or cold, wet conditions. Some people will leave their helmet in the car or horse trailer during extremes of heat and extremes of cold weather, while others will always take their helmet inside the house where the temperature is better regulated.

Some people ride and wear their helmet every day, while others might just wear their helmet once a week. And then, some of us are a little clumsy and drop our helmet from time to time, sometimes on the grass, and other times on a concrete path or road.

The point being that determining when to replace your helmet cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ rule, simply because your helmet and my helmet are experiencing different environments and conditions. This is where common sense needs to prevail.

Is This Just A Ploy By Helmet Manufacturers?

A cynic may suggest that the only people saying we need to replace our helmets every 5 years are the people who sell us helmets. Of course, the Marketing Department of helmet manufacturers would want to encourage us to replace our helmets regularly, but it’s not just them. The Snell Foundation, which makes Safety Standards for all sorts of helmets, including equestrian helmets, has this to say in their “2016 STANDARD FOR PROTECTIVE HEADGEAR – For Use in Horseback Riding”:

Snell Foundation recommends that equestrian helmets be replaced after five (5) years, or less if the manufacturer so recommends.

Snell Foundation

Click on that link to read or download a pdf copy of the Snell Standard.

One Major Fall And It’s Replacement Time

I mentioned above that ‘all kinds of helmets are only good for one major fall and then need to be replaced irrespective of their age’. You’re probably wondering why that is.

The reason is that your horse riding helmet most probably has a polystyrene foam liner inside the helmet. Polystyrene is that white foam that takeaway food and drinks come in. It’s also used for packaging in boxes for most appliances, and also in bean-bags. You may have noticed that this type of foam can get squashed pretty easily, and once it is squashed it remains squashed, forever. It cannot and will not spring back into its original shape.

It is for that reason that all types of helmets can only take one major fall. If your horse bucks and you take a heavy fall with your helmet taking the brunt of the force, the polystyrene foam will squash as it takes the impact. It will not be safe when you suffer another impact from a fall. You must replace your helmet. Even if your helmet looks fine, it probably isn’t.

riding helmet on ground
Image by kropekk_pl from Pixabay

When Does My Horse Riding Helmet Expire?

First off, it expires immediately after a heavy fall. Even if your helmet looks fine.
Other than that, it should be good for around 5 years. Inside your helmet there should be a tag which will show the date of manufacture, it might just say ‘MFG date’.

But, what if the manufacture date is six months prior to me buying the helmet? Do I have to replace it in 4 years and 6 months? Once again, I would say that common sense will prevail and you will take into consideration how you use your helmet, how often you use your helmet, how you store your helmet, and many other factors. As stated above, there can’t really be a ‘one size fits all rule’.

Also worthy of note is that many manufacturers of horse riding helmets offer a replacement service for helmets that experience a major impact. Some only for one year, others for up to 3 years. You need to contact your helmet manufacturer for more details, if necessary.

Keep Safe And Check Your Helmet Regularly

Your horse riding helmet will only be as good as you make it. So, take care of it. It’s insurance against brain damage!

  • Store it in a safe place in a controlled environment.
  • Keep it out of direct sunlight for extended periods.
  • Don’t leave it in a hot car or horse trailer.
  • Keep it clean. Use a mild detergent and warm water to clean inside and out.
  • Physically inspect the helmet for chips or cracks.
  • Check the chin-strap is not frayed, and the clip is secure.
  • Also, check for discoloring of the outer shell.
woman sharing carrot with horse

A Gem Worth Sharing:

For those of you who think along these lines, “I’ve been driving for 20 years and never had an accident, so I don’t need insurance”, consider this:

Barbara on September 17, 2017 at 12:36 am said:

I’ve worn a helmet for 20 years without incident. Last year I was bucked off my new horse and landed in a rock bed, on my head. I was unconscious for 45 minutes and had a severe concussion. My helmet was cracked in 2 places inside. The doctor said the helmet saved my life!
Wear your helmet, every ride, every time!

Heads don’t bounce. Wear a helmet!

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