NY Times Article: Black Equestrians Want to Be Safe. But They Can’t Find Helmets

Spectacularly awful responses from most helmet makers in this article including this gem from Back on Track:

But the riders’ concerns have yet to reach Back on Track, a market leader that makes equestrian products, including helmets in a variety of shapes and sizes, with removable liners. In an interview, James Ruder, the chief executive, said the company’s helmets can accommodate most riders. He added that he had “never once heard” about a Black rider struggling with helmet fit.

“If you have an ‘oddity’ — and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the people who have weird hairstyles — but if you have a hairstyle that impacts the functionality of the helmet, you might just have to change it,” Mr. Ruder said.


I couldn’t bring myself to read the article. But the online comments were pretty good. I am sorry but I think this is a nonissue. What about bike helmets? Do they accommodate big hair? It’s a matter of safety.


If I put my hair into dreadlocks, my riding helmet probably wouldn’t fit me. So I don’t put my hair into dreadlocks. Is this really a race issue?


This is an issue with bike helmets, as well, and you can find some research about football helmets and hair style, too. But yes, to me it’s an issue of safety. Physics doesn’t care what your race, ethnic background, or hairstyle preference may be.

I don’t know enough about the demands of helmet design and safety requirements to know if protective helmets can be designed to both accommodate various hairstyles and be adequately protective. I know there has been at least one long discussion here about how tucking your hair up into your helmet might impact the effectiveness of the helmet.

I mean, saying “if you have a hairstyle that impacts the functionality of the helmet, you might just have to change it” sounds pretty harsh, but I don’t think you can dismiss the sentiment just because you don’t like it. You need to see the research to find out if Mr. Ruder is correct.


Yes, it is.


As the article clearly states:
Companies that make equipment used in other sports have taken steps to adapt helmets and other gear to accommodate Black athletes’ natural hair.

Riddell, one of the leading manufacturers of helmets used by N.F.L. players, has developed a helmet with customized “precision-fit” padding, ensuring that any hairstyle will fit. And last year, the International Swimming Federation approved the Soul Cap, which accommodates thicker, curlier hair, for use in major competitions.

So, yes, helmets can certainly be designed to accommodate hairstyles and there is certainly no reason equestrian helmets can’t do the same.

And @SMF11 if you can’t be bothered to read the article I don’t know what you’re commenting on.


Please explain to me how it is a race issue. Fashion, yes. Race? Not every non-white person is compelled to have dreads.


The article is behind a paywall for me.

I would encourage you to do some reading on protective hairstyles, as well as issues in general relating to hair and race.


Here is a gift link to the article.

I wasn’t surprised to see the “get over it and change your hair” comments on the NYT comments section, but frankly I’m shocked to see them as the preponderance of comments here! Should there only be one brand of helmet available to all of us, and you’re out of luck if it doesn’t fit? If you are an oval head, should you be forced to wear a round helmet because it’s inconvenient for a manufacturer to make a more compatible shape? Of course this is a race issue, and people here supporting the idea that common Black hairstyles are incompatible with riding is one more reason there need to be very public discussions about inclusivity across equestrian disciplines.


thank you.

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I doubt there is enough market to make the additional designs and testing profit worthy for that market as sad as it is to write that. Plus the insurance liability for instructors when students are wearing improperly fitted helmet and has a major accident.

It’s absolutely an issue with bike helmets with ethnic hair and the helmet not able to provide the appropriate safety. My coworker with gorgeous ethnic hair has specific styles she wears for her bike training rides and races so her helmet fits properly.

Football helmet fits totally different than a riding helmet, they are more secure around the face and chin. Plus much larger market.


This comment is probably dead on. How much market is there for a specifically designed helmet versus the cost of the R&D? The swim cap example is not a good comparison as there is no safety issue. A safety helmet manufacturer takes a big liability risk with any new product.

The hair in the helmet issue has been around a long time. My jump trainer schools with her hair in a pony tail hanging out the back. She says her helmet fits much better that way. Now that approved helmets are the norm in dressage, maybe its time to get rid of the idea that you have to cram your hair into a hair net to look like the cafeteria lady and compromise your safety at the same time.


Sounds like the best solution but wouldn’t a larger size than you need work too? It would flatten a persons hair but it does that to pretty much everyone who wears a helmet.

I wouldn’t think the braiding takes up that much room that they need a special made helmet? I would find it extremely uncomfortable having braids and a tight helmet.

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Consider how much of the lack of market might be due to the fact that the product doesn’t exist. There are a lot of ways white people gatekeep when it comes to equestrian sports- this is one of them. Every time an instructor has told a kid/any person they can’t ride because there isn’t a helmet they can wear safely is one less potential customer for that helmet. It isn’t fair to make sure the market doesn’t exist and then say “Oh we can’t make that there’s no market”.

We have to be more welcoming and encouraging in every way- I’ll personally do my best, for example, to not support companies that make gross exclusionary comments like those made by the BOT CEO in this article, and support the ones who are at least trying to move in the right direction (for one, in the article CO is discussed as actively working on a product).


I’m white and my SO is black. We were talking about the article this afternoon and his thought was would a men’s size helmet be an option? I have a child size head and have more issues with finding something from that angle so I don’t really have any idea on how much head/hair larger or men’s helmets can accommodate.

It might be where the fit needs to be more generous though, his thought that it wouldn’t be so much more space for the top/crown of the head, but pulling a style like dreadlocks back into a pony tail could need a lot more accommodation in the lower sides/back fitting part of the helmet.

It sounded like from the article that Charles Owen is working on something more inclusive; I hope it makes it to market.


I was floored by the comments from the Back on Track representative. I’m glad that Charles Owens seems to be working on the issue. Hopefully others will follow their lead.


Yeah - I think there’s an educational component for retailers and consumers on how to fit, changes in fit due to hairstyles, and how to protect hairstyles from helmet damage.

Making a broader range of sizes, especially at the entry level price point (and making sure that beginner programs have an adequate range of shapes and sizes for loaners - hint hint manufacturers) is probable the big change that should be made - heck, I sit right on the border of two sizes, and a major hair change could result in needing a whole new helmet, depending on how I wore my hair when it was fitted.


Oh, come on. Are you seriously suggesting that designing a swim cap to accommodate different hair styles bears any relationship at all to designing a protective helmet for horseback riding?

You don’t know that. The requirements for NFL helmets aren’t the same as those for horseback riding. Like I already said, as far as I know, no one has yet done the research on whether and how riding helmets, whether horse or bike, can be redesigned to accommodate different hairstyles while still meeting the requirements for safety certification (e.g. ASTM standards).


I have textured hair and the CO JR8 is great for accommodating it. It’s not a size issue, but the CO plush liner really molds with your head, and doesn’t create air pockets that compromise safety (which I assume is the risk for braids more so than curly hair). So I’d be hopeful.

It’s an issue of researching technology and creating comfortable fits. Many years ago, because women runners were thought to be a tiny market, they didn’t make sports bras, especially for women with larger chests. Women had to sew together jock straps to DIY. Obviously, this was a big barrier to entering the sport until companies began to address the issue, rather than just saying if your boobs are too big to run comfortably in a normal bra, suck it up and find a way to strap 'em down yourself.