It’s given, that when you engage in an activity involving a large domestic animal, there are and will always be safety risks involved. Luckily, the helmet has continued to evolve with our changing needs, both functionally and fashionably. Modern helmets not only provide paramount safety features, but come in a wide variety of colors, styles, and personalized details. If you’re going to need to wear a bucket on your head, you may as well look good doing it!
My experience has been largely under 4-H, Open, and Quarter Horse helmet and attire rules, but in a quick online search for AQHA, FEI, USEA, and USEF rules, I find they all tend to be worded very similarly, nobody wants to see loose hair or a ponytail, they all require the hair to be “neat and kept” either under a net or braided. If you’ve got short hair, you’re ahead of the curve. When I had a bob style cut, my hair was just long enough to pony up, but I still didn’t care of the casualness of it, so I bought a fake bun in a net to fasten over it, creating a more finished look.
Personally, I think less is more when it comes to “helmet hair.” Keep the style simple and subdued, use nets and pins that match your hair color, rather than your clothing, and get as much of it as you reasonably can under the helmet. If you have long hair, I like a secure bun, over the snood or long braids. Any time you give something the option of movement, particularly when riding, it’s going to move around, and maybe attract unwanted attention. If your hair is flopping around, it can make the smoothest ride look sloppy. I’m not familiar with Pony Club rules, but I’m still seeing photos of little girls with long braided pigtails, and giant (competitive cheerleading-style) bows at the ends, and it drives me crazy. I don’t want to see those bouncing up and down while a little girl trots her pony, and I don’t understand why that look would trump simple and sleek. To each their own I suppose…
As far as rules and regulations, it would take too much space to share each organizations, and I’d surely miss some, so my advice is to refer to whoever the governing party is of your area of showing for specific requirements about helmets and the riders appearance.
When purchasing your helmet, fit and function are the most important factors. Again, referring to your rulebooks to determine what kind of helmet is required for your activities, take them with you to your local task store to start shopping. If you’ve never shopped them before, try to do it in person, rather than online, you need to try them on and choose. Buying used will put you at risk of purchasing a damaged helmet without even knowing, and most helmet companies offer a free or low fee x-ray service if the helmet has been in a crash, to ensure it still meets all ASTM/SEI requirements.
Ideally, a well-fitted helmet will stay securely in place without benefit of the harness being fastened. When it’s sitting correctly on the rider’s head, it should fit around the widest part of the skull, just above the brow (not back off the forehead). A good fit would allow the rider to bend over and gently shake their head without feeling that the helmet will fall off, but not so tight that it’s cutting off circulation. Helmets generally come in two sizing structures, often depending on whether it’s considered a schooling helmet or a show helmet, either small/medium/large/extra, or by hat sizes 6-3/4 to7-5/8. Fitting by a hat size will usually give a more accurate fit, but if you’re outfitting a young person, who may be going through a growth spurt, the more general sizing might be better, because the inner harness will allow for a little more adjusting.
Once you’ve found the correct size, take into account how the rider will be wearing their hair. Braids and hairbands take up valuable real estate under a helmet, so a trial run at home is a good idea to make sure everything works together. Ideally, a well-fitted helmet with appropriate hair style will become less and less noticeable to the rider, the longer they have it on.
Lastly, you can think about the more fashionable features of your helmet. For showing, consult your rulebooks, but in most cases black, brown, or another dark color are your big options, with minimal if no embellishments. Otherwise, pick something that appeals to you, or make sit easy to pick your helmet out of a group. New colors, materials, patterns, and details are available all the time. And if you want to dress up an older helmet, try a cover. Think of them like phone cases for your head, one helmet, lots of outfits! My personal favorite is a monogram, it’s a timeless design that can still look modern and fresh. Safety can still be fun when you add your own individual touch