The single most important part of equestrian equipment has got to be the riding hat. No matter what level you are or what discipline you do, riding hats are crucial to horse riding and horse rider safety. No matter how tempted you might be to ‘just hop on’ or take the, ‘it won’t happen to me’ approach, it simply isn’t worth compromising your life for the sake of one piece of equipment!

Horses are flight animals and this makes them unpredictable. Even the most quiet and docile of creatures can spook or react in an unexpected way. Combine this with the fact that when mounted, a rider’s head is high above the ground; it makes horse riding a significantly risky business. In fact, horse riding is considered to be more dangerous than downhill skiing and motorcycling. It makes sense, therefore, to take every precaution that you can to ensure that, in the event of a fall, you are fully protected with the right riding safety equipment.

Different disciplines pose different levels of fall risk, however statistically, experience does not play a part in any horse riding accident. Research suggests that there is no correlation between skill level and the chances of injury so professional and experienced riders have the same level of risk as amateur riders.

Understand the safety standards

Over the years, safety standards for riding hats and riding safety equipment have become stricter, and we think this is something that should be celebrated. It does mean though, that there can be some confusion around which hats to purchase! The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) offers an excellent resource here to help you understand which standards you should be looking for, but in a nutshell, your riding hat must be fitted with an integral adjustable nylon harness and must conform to a minimum of EN 1384 standard. This is an indicator that the hat has passed the required riding safety tests. If you are competing with affiliated organisations, or the Pony Club, it is worth checking the safety levels they require to ensure you will be able to compete in your chosen discipline.

Things to bear in mind

Head shapes vary, so it’s advisable to try on your riding hat in a tack shop or on a trade stand at a show and get it correctly fitted by a suitably qualified person. This will enable you to try on a range of different styles and shapes to find out what is comfortable for you and what suits your head shape. By getting professional advice you can be sure that the fit of your hat will optimise your horse riding safety.

If you have a fall and hit your head, or your hat is dropped and suffers from an impact, you should replace it immediately. Even if you can’t visibly see damage to it, there could be damage to the internal structure, which could compromise the level of protection it offers. It’s also a good idea to avoid buying a second hand riding hat as you simply don’t know the history of it and it may not protect you during a horse riding accident.

Even if you haven’t had a fall in your hat, it is suggested that you replace it every 4 – 5 years. Not only from a riding safety point of view, but also from a hygienic angle as sweat, dirt and bacteria can build up over time, which can lead to unpleasant odours and cause damage to the liner.

For optimum riding safety, make sure you always fasten the harness of your riding hat. There is no point in wearing one at all if you do not do the harness up correctly. If your hat comes off your head before you hit the ground then it will not offer any form of protection. When putting on your riding hat always make sure the peak is parallel to the ground and don’t be tempted to tilt it back on your head as it won’t offer such good protection.

Five reasons to wear a riding hat – that aren’t safety related!

  1. The peak can keep the sun out of your eyes, which is perfect for early morning and late evening hacks. On really hot days, when the sun is strong, a riding hat can also offer cover for your head and reduce the chance of sunstroke, providing extra horse rider safety.
  2. During the winter nothing keeps your head warmer than a lovely, cosy riding hat. For even more cosiness consider adding Helmet Ears to your headwear!
  3. With all the different styles and designs, whether it is a funky hat cover or sparkly diamante detail, riding hats have a fashionable element to them and can help create your individual riding style!
  4. Historically it was considered bad form to ride bareheaded in public. Why not keep up with a tradition that dates back many years by wearing a hat!
  5. A riding hat is the perfect piece of riding safety equipment to hide a multitude of bad hair days, and we can all relate to that!

Our fave five riding hats…

For a traditional look the Champion Classic epitomises old fashioned riding style. This velvet riding hat has a beautiful leather padded harness and brings heritage together with horse rider safety and style. Perfect for showing, jumping or just for everyday wear!

For dressage you can’t fail to recognise the Charles Owen Ayr8, as worn by the legendary Charlotte Dujardin. This helmet was one of the first to hit the dressage scene after the traditional velvet beaglers were discarded due to safety rulings. It has a classic look that works with dressage attire, yet allows you to make it a little more stylish with the possibility of coloured piping and additional details.

For cross country we love the Gatehouse HS1 Skull cap. Worn by many riders on the eventing circuit, this helmet passes both Snell E2001 and the BSI Kitemark making it conform to the highest manufactured equestrian safety helmet standard in the world. It definitely gets the thumbs up from us!

For show jumping Parkgate Equestrian make a range of fabulously customisable helmets that are worn by big names in the showjumping world, including our very own Team Animalife rider, Trevor Breen! The PROtector range means you can have a shiny, blingy and/or coloured helmet that confirms to SNELL E2001 and CE PAS015 – 2011.

For something blingy Uvex offer a streamlined and sophisticated helmet with a range of different sparkly details – including Swarovski Crystals and a glittery panel! Ventilation and a unique fitting system make these riding hats the perfect combination of practical and pretty!

Do you agree that riding hats are the most essential piece of equestrian riding safety equipment? Share your views and experiences in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.