Riding Hat Buying Guide
It’s no exaggeration to say that a riding hat could save your life. For all riders, it’s the single most important piece of kit that that you will ever buy. So here is the EQUUS Buying Guide on everything you need to know about buying the best riding hat to suit your needs.
When do I need to wear a riding hat?
Always wear a hat whenever and wherever you ride. If you work or handle a horse on the ground, you should also wear a hat as it’s very easy to get kicked in the head if a horse misbehaves. It’s a requirement for grooms at some livery yards, racing stables and studs to wear hat when turning out or bringing in or even putting a horse on the horse walker. Handlers of young horses’ wear hats as youngsters are often not in complete control of their ‘arms and legs’ as it were or their behaviour!
Wearing a hat carries no disgrace and it’s certainly not a reflection of ability.
Do I have to wear a riding hat by law?
Currently there is no legal requirement for adults to wear a hat when riding. However, Rule 49 of the Highway Code states: Children under the age of 14 MUST wear a helmet which complies with the Regulations. It MUST be fastened securely. Other riders should also follow this advice. See Law H (PHYR)R.
How does my riding hat work?
A lot of riders believe that it’s the hard, outer shell of a riding hat that protects their head if they fall and hit their head. However, this is not the case. It is actually the protective liner that does all the work of protecting your head. The liner is made of high grade polystyrene which is a bit like microscopic bubble wrap! On impact, the hat does two things. Firstly, the shell diffuses the impact over the whole area. Then the liner reduces bruising to the brain by increasing the length of time it takes for the shock to meet your head and you to stop. The bigger the impact the more layers of bubbles will burst. So it’s the hat liner that collapses, not your head. Now you can see why if the hat suffers a severe impact, even dropping it on the concrete floor of the yard, it needs to be replaced.
What does a riding hat consist of?
A riding hat consists of four parts.
|Part of riding hat...||What it does...|
|An outer shell made from ABS plastic or glass fibre||
The outer shell serves two purposes:
|A polystyrene liner||The polystyrene liner absorbs the energy from the impact as outlined in detail above.|
|Foam padding||The foam padding provides comfort for the wearer.|
|An internal fabric lining||The fabric lining that goes against your head simply makes the hat look neat and tidy on the inside|
Riding Hat Dos and Dont's
Do replace your riding hat immediately if it suffers an extreme impact.
Do buy the best riding hat you can afford and never compromise safety.
Do throw away a hat that has sustained a significant level of impact is thrown away even if the damage isn’t visible.
Do report any accidents you and your hat are involved in to the British Horse Society as they maintain records of how hats perform.
Do replace your riding hat every 3 years - because the padding compresses with wear and factors such as sunlight can break down its construction.
Don't get on a horse without a riding hat on.
Don't buy a second hand hat as you do not know what has happened to it before you.
Types of horse riding hats
Headgear falls in to two broad categories: riding helmets or hats and skull caps. What type you need, depends on what sort of riding you plan to do. Skull caps are mandatory for eventing as they don’t have a fixed peak. Some hunts also insist on skull caps too – check with your Hunt Secretary before you go. Skull caps are also worn by jockeys. They can be personalised with coloured silks. These are peaked covers in bright colours which fit over the cap.
Riding helmets or hats are typically more widely used than skull caps. They usually come in dark colours.
Materials of horse riding hats
Once upon a time horse riding hats were only made of velvet but nowadays different materials are widely available. Velvet, vinyl, leather-look, suede-look and plastic are all options as long as they include the correct safety rating. For competitions, check the requirements beforehand to ensure your hat meets the required criteria as you may be eliminated.
Measuring for a horse riding hat
Measuring for a riding hat is probably one of the most important safety tasks you’ll ever undertake. So taking time and good care are vital to ensure that the measurement is taken correctly.
Step 1 – Measuring your head
Before you measure your head, remove all clips and slides and then do you hair how you’ll be wearing it when you wear your hat. This is important as a ponytail, clips, headband, or other style can change the size of the hat you require.
If you wear glasses when you ride, put these on for the hat fitting.
Using a flexible tape measure or a piece of string that you can measure against a ruler afterwards. You can do it yourself or ask a friend to help you as it is important that the tape stays flat and even around your head for an accurate measurement. Place the tape measure one finger’s width above the eye brows, skim the tops of the ears and take it round to the widest part of the head.
Once measured, you should have a measurement in inches or centimetres. This will give you a measurement that is purely a guideline of your size. Compare your measurement to the size guide and select the size that you think you need. If you’re unsure which size to choose, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Watch our video on how to measure your head for a riding hat.
Step 2 – Finding the correct size
To be effective, the hat must fit firmly but comfortably. It should be a snug fit but with no undue pressure on any point of the head as this may cause discomfort and result in headaches for example. Equally if it’s too loose, it may move as you ride and its ability to protect your head will be greatly reduced.
Shake your head. If there’s no motion, that’s a good sign that it fits.
Equally you’ll know that you’ve got the right size as when you remove it, there should be a feeling of suction, as it is lifted off, also a lifting of the eyebrows as the skin above them moves.
If there is a tough choice between two fits, pick a closer fit as opposed to a loose fit. This is because the lining will compress in time due to the heat of your head and will probably fit very well in time!
Step 3 – Fitting the hat
The hat should be rolled on to the head from the correct position at the front of the head, which is about half an inch above the eyebrows.
It should sit level on your head, covering your forehead. The visor’s brim should be about one finger above the eyebrows.
As you place the hat on your head, listen for the sound of air being displaced. It should:
- Be a snug fit
- Not be uncomfortably tight
- Not rock from front to back or side to side.
Points to remember:
- Don't guess your size, it’s not worth it!
- The hat that fits your friend may not be the best for you, even if you look like the same size and you love it!
- Don’t be tempted to buy a ‘one’ size riding hat that’s offered by a well-known UK supermarket even if you’re on a budget.
The table below shows which English and Jockey hat sizes you'll need depending on the measurement you take of your head.
|English helmet size||Head circumference (cm)||Jockey sizes|
Choosing your riding hat
There are two genres of riding hats: single size and adjustable. Choosing between them depends on your discipline and riding ability.
These type of riding hats are most commonly used. The benefits of this type of hat are:
- It’s individually fitted to the rider
- Great selection and range of styles
- Some models offer greater protection around parts of the neck and head
- When it’s well-fitted, it’s very comfortably and secure.
The disadvantages of this type of hat are:
- It takes effort to identify the style and size that gives the best fit
- Children will need to replace their hats as they grow. This is normally until they’re 11- 12 years old.
There are a number of benefits of the adjustable riding hat. These are:
- They can be adapted to fit different sizes of heads. This is great for riding establishments and also children as it means that they can keep the same helmet for several years.
- They fit both rounder or more oval-shaped heads.
- they are very light and well ventilated. This because the adjustable riding hat is a fairly recent invention so they tend to incorporate modern features such as good ventilation.
- the interior is often detachable and machine washable.
A disadvantage is that if they’re not adjusted to fit correctly, they’re not as secure as they need to be.
Style of the Hat
The style of riding hat you choose needs to compliment the sort of riding you do.
- If you’re doing dressage, show jumping or hacking, a standard riding hat is the most common type used by riders. These come in many designs and colours, so you’ll have a good selection to choose from to create your own look and co-ordinate with your equestrian clothing.
- A skull hat or helmet is recommended if you’re hunting and essential if you’re eventing. These tend to cover more of the head along the back and sides. Plus there’s no solid brim which could cause significant injury should the rider fall. Skull caps are not for the fashion conscious as they promote safety over looks!
- A traditional velvet riding hat is the choice of many riders who do showing.
If you’re in any doubt about the style that you need, consult your instructor or governing body for the discipline, such as British Dressage, and they will advise you accordingly.
Shape of your hat
As well as ensuring that you have the right size, you must also choose the right shape of hat for your head as brands of hats come in several shapes to fit different shaped heads. For example, it’s generally accepted that Charles Owen hats tend to suit oval shaped heads, while Champion favours round heads. If you’re in any doubt, experiment with different brands to find the most suitable for you. If it squeezes your forehead but rocks easily sideways, it is too round for your head. If it fits the sides comfortably but rocks front to back, it’s too oval for your head.
Ensure that there is some space in front of the temples as a little room at this point will prevent headaches from occurring particularly if you wear your hat for long periods of time, i.e. longer than an hour.
Riding Hat Safety Standards
What’s changed Current Hat standards for 2016 and beyond?
All horse riding hats all over the world are governed by a set of strict safety standards.
Many horse riders will know that these standards changed in 2016-7. The reason for this is outlined in detail below.
Why have the hat standards changed?
Safety standards for hats are typically reviewed every 5 years but not every review results in the same amount of change as we’ve experienced over the last year. The BS EN 1384 standard, that has been in place for 20 years, has been withdrawn by the EU Commission. The Commission has been forced to take this step because the European working group responsible for the hat standard, have failed to reach consensus during the review.
Which standards are affected?
Both EN1384 1996 / BSEN 1384 1997 are affected by the changes. These two standards are identical. The only difference being that one is prefixed by the initials of the country testing it, i.e. the ‘BS’ prefix symbolizes that the hat was tested in Britain.
These standards represented a significant step forward from their predecessors as they offered ‘bottom edge protection’ for the first time. It was possible to claim this as when the hat was impact tested, it was done from almost right on the bottom edge of the hat whereas before this testing was only carried out 75mm up from the bottom edge. This meant that the protective liner has to extend all the way down to the rim. This change came about because it was found that in 25% of falls, the rider fell on the sides, front or back of their head and not the top.
So what does it mean if my hat is BS EN 1384 certified?
It depends! If you use your hat purely for hacking, schooling etc., then this change does not affect you. You can continue to use your hat for the same activities - just because BS EN 1384 has been withdrawn, it doesn’t make your hat any less safe than it was before. So you can carry on using it with confidence!
It you use your hat for competing, it does affect you. From 1 January 2016 you can only compete with a BS EN 1384 standard hat in British Dressage events and this is only until 2017. After this date you will not be able to compete in it and you will need to buy a new hat that meets the new safety standards outlined below.
So what are the new standards?
The table below shows what and where the new standards apply:
|Britain||PAS 015 1994, PAS 015 1998, VG1||Must be Kite marked*|
|Europe||VG1||Must be Kite marked*|
|America||SEI ASTM F1163 04a onwards, SNELL E2001||-|
|Australian & New Zealand||AS/NZS 3838 2003 onwards||-|
*See the section ‘Quality Symbols’ below
So what do I need to know about the new standards?
For competing in the UK, your hat must meet one of the following standards:
‘PAS’ stands for Product Approval Specification. This was developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) as it had concerns about the time it was taking to develop what would eventually become the EN1384. BSI formulated the first version of PAS by taking the highest option from the draft EN 1384 standard while it was still being developed.
After the official publication of the EN1384 in 1997, it became apparent that certain differences existed between it and PAS015. This led to the 1998 revision of the PAS 015 to remove those differences and address new areas of protection, such as crush resistance and protection against injury when landing on an edged surface. As the test line for this is lower at the front, it tends to lead to slightly bulkier helmets. It includes a stability test to limit excessive movement during wearing or a fall.
This is the newest standard, developed in America by the Snell Institute. It is the highest performance standard which includes all aspects of ASTM and PAS 015 but with a sharper horseshoe anvil to replicate a horse kick or impact with a sharp surface, higher impacts and an additional hemispherical anvil to represent an uneven but not sharp surface such as a tree, fence or cobbled surface.
This is the American standard for riding hats and is similar to PAS015:1998 although it does not include a lateral rigidity or ‘crushing’ test nor a penetration test. This is because these hats often have quite large ventilation holes or slots. There is much debate about the ventilation holes and whether they do help to cool the head or put the rider at more risk of penetration type injuries.
This Australasian standard is comparable to the EN1384 but testing includes the hazard anvil from PAS 015 but doesn’t include a penetration test.
The big question
I guess what most of us want to know is: ‘Are some hats safer than others?’ The answer Snell E2001 provides the highest level of protection as it includes a unique test that simulates a rider falling into a fence rail or having a secondary hit by a horse’s hoof.
The purpose of quality symbols, such as the Kitemark, is to demonstrate the products quality, reliability and safety. For the best part they’re well understood and familiar to many consumers.
This is the registered trademark of the British Standards Institute(BSI) and can only be affixed to products certified by them. When you see a product with a Kitemark, it means the BSI has independently tested it and it has confirmed that the product conforms to the relevant British Standard, and has issued a BSI license to the company to use the Kitemark. It’s worth noting that this is on top of the riding hat complying with the requirements of the relevant standard, PAS 015 etc. Companies that use this symbol on their products are required to provide the BSI with unrestricted access to their offices and factories and allow regular testing of randomly chosen samples through batch and audit testing. Kitemark certification is voluntary and the manufacturer pays for this service and for their product to be tested. The manufacturing process is assessed at regular intervals and the Kitemark can be withdrawn at any time. Manufacturers are not legally required to display a Kitemark on their products, but many everyday products and appliances such as fridges, electrical plugs and crash helmets have them.
The Kitemark is a symbol that gives consumers the assurance that the product they have bought really does conform to the appropriate British Standard and should therefore be safe and reliable.
All safety products sold in European countries must carry the ‘CE’. The letters ‘CE’ are the abbreviation of French phrase ‘Conformité Européene’ which literally means ‘European Conformity’. It was introduced to allow government officials a way of ensuring that products entering a European Country met the basic safety requirements of Europe. Under the Personal Protective Equipment Directive all safety equipment must bear the CE mark showing compliance with the appropriate European safety standard. The Mark serves as proof that they meet the basic health and safety requirements of the Directive. It’s neither a quality mark nor a standard in itself.
So in terms of safety standards, products with this reference do not go through as rigorous testing as they do, if they carry the Kitemark.
Are there any other standards that are no longer allowed?
The following standards below are also obsolete: BS3686, BS6473:1984 and BS4472:1988. These standards preceded the first European standard and were all withdrawn in 1997. They are no longer viewed as suitable by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Get your hat checked
Regardless of the all the new standards, you must get your hat checked. You need to be aware that if you’re planning to ride at a Pony Club, British Eventing or British Riding Club (BRC) event or competition, your hat needs to be ‘tagged’. Your hat will be ‘tagged’ when the Official Stewards on duty has established that your hat complies to the required safety standard outlined above. From 1 January 2016 all hats must be checked and will be ‘tagged’ with a new ORANGE BRC hat tag. The hat tag is usually attached somewhere on the chin strap so that it is easily visible. If your hat does not meet the accepted standards, it will not be tagged and you will simply NOT be allowed to ride anywhere at the event.
Follow the four simple steps below and you’ll avoid disappointment:
1) Check that your hat clearly displays one of the accepted standards
2) Check that the standard also shows the correct corresponding date
3) Check that your hat also displays the correct corresponding safety standard mark
4) Make sure that you do not remove any labels from inside of your hat which may hold the relevant information as a hat will not be tagged without all of the required information permanently visible.
The final point to make on horse riding hat standards is that whilst the standards outlined above are recognised and fully accepted as the current standards, the standards will continue to evolve as a result of improvements in technology and developments in methods of testing together with greater understanding how riders fall and the injuries that they sustain. We'll keep this guide updated so bookmark this page and check back regularly to keep up-to-date with riding hat safety standards.
Features of a riding hat
The features that you require of your riding hat depend on what sort of riding you plan to use it for. This decision will be difficult your hat will be dual or even multi-purpose. So you may need to draw up a list of your requirements using a MoSCoW or priority rating system:
M – MUST have
S – SHOULD have
C – Could have
W – Won’t have.
The finish of your hat
So once you’ve identified your size and the brand of hat that suits your head, you then need to decide the best finish that appeals to you most for the type of riding you do. This decision will be difficult, almost impossible, if you need your hat for everyday use and for competing. If you can’t decide upon one, it maybe that you need two hats with different finishes.
The choice of finishes nowadays is fairly extensive but not all finishes are available in all styles. Some examples are:
- Carbon fibre
- Crocodile effect
- Glass Fibre
It’s probably fair to say that all finishes are prone to scratching or marking to some degree simply due to wear and tear. Surprisingly this is even the case with more modern finishes. So don’t assume, for example, that a carbon one will remain forever in pristine condition as this may very well not be the case!
To find the finish you’re after simply use one of our handy filters to hone in on the one you’re looking for.
The Retention Harness
The chin strap is often overlooked despite being a key part of the hat. It needs to be easily adjustable so that it feels comfortable. The purpose of the chin strap is to ensure that the hat does not move and that it stays in the correct position on your head whilst you’re riding. It should always be securely fastened under the chin and you should only be able to get one finger under it when it’s on. If you can get two fingers, side by side under the strap, the strap is not tight enough. Adjust the chin strap before you adjust any of the other straps or dials if the hat has one.
The straps at the back and side of the hat come if several different designs but all serve the same purpose: to stop the hat from tipping forwards. Fasten them equally.
Hats either have a 3- or a 4- point harness. The ‘3’ and the ‘4’ simply relate to the number of places it can be adjusted. Obviously a 4-point harness is more desirable as it means that you’ll be able to adjust fit in the maximum number of places for the best fit without compromising on safety.
There’s much talk of hats being ‘low profile’ but what does this actually mean? Low profile hats tend to be sleeker and less bulky than other hats but are still designed to provide the same level of protection. This means that when you’re riding in it, you so you won't feel like you are riding around with a giant football helmet.
A Removable Liner
Who’d have thought – a removable lining for a riding hat? Whoever invented it deserves a gold medal! There are a number of benefits to riding hats with this feature. The liner:
- can be taken out of the hat, washed and then put back in.
- can be replaced when the padding in it becomes worn and tired meaning that you don’t have to buy a new hat
- comes in different thicknesses, so if a hat is slightly too big you can make it smaller by swapping the liner it comes with to a thicker one.
Some of these liners are attached via Velcro while others are attached via tiny poppers.
Consider buying a ventilated hat if you have a ‘hot head’! From the safety angle, if you’re concerned about whether a vented hat will provide the same level of protection as a non-vented one…be assured that it will. Vented riding hats go through the same rigorous testing process and having vents does not reduce the level of protection. A good example is the Gatehouse RXC1 Skull Cap. It’s the most protective riding hat we sell. It has vents and yet still has the greatest level of safety certification, i.e. Snell E2001 and PAS: 015.
From the aesthetic angle, if you’re concerned about how the hat will look when you’ve got it on, the vents are incorporated in to the overall design of the hat giving a modern look which is incredibly popular.
An Adjustable Size Dial
Designed to be at the back of the hat, an Adjustable Size Dial has a few benefits worth mentioning. It means that:
- your pony tail can be accommodated without affecting the fit of the helmet
- you can wear a head band or a balaclava under your hat in the winter for additional warmth
- it can be used for different sized heads if need be.
Caring for your riding hat
After you’ve spent time and money choosing your riding hat, you’ll want to keep it clean and look after it well as it really merits the best attention. So here are some tips to help you. Read these carefully as that way, your hat will last a long time and won’t suffer from regular wear and tear so easily.
Cleaning the exterior of your riding helmet
The exterior of a riding helmet is fairly easy to keep clean. Clean it according to its finish:
- Velvet or velveteen hats – brush dust and dirt with a soft pile brush after any wet patches have dried. Clean stubborn stains with a damp cloth, rub gently to avoid destroying the pile or finish and then brush again afterwards.
- Leather-look or plastic – wipe with a damp cloth.
Don’t use solvents on your hat as these could break down the materials used to make the hat.
If you’re in any doubt about how to clean your riding hat, check the manufacturer’s instructions that it came with when you bought it.
Cleaning the interior of your riding helmet
Some manufacturers recommend that you can wash your helmet with mild soap and water. However, riding hats were not designed to cope with harsh soap and hot water coursing through their insides! Remember your hat is largely made of foam, plastic and fabric held together with glue. You don’t want to do anything that might weaken any of these materials.
Regular hat care will remove the unwanted odours caused by perspiration and grease from your hair. There are some great products for you to choose from at EQUUS that will do this.
- Charles Owen Hat Cleaner removes dirt and hair grease from the interior surface of your helmet.
As mentioned earlier, it’s now possible to buy a riding hat with a removable lining. You can find a selection of hat liners in our riding hat accessories collection.
Storing your hat
Always store your riding hat in a cool dry place that is out of direct sunlight. If you keep it in the car, bear in mind that even allowing it to roll around in the car can cause a degree of damage. Whilst this damage is not visible to you on the outside, on the inside, the polystyrene liner will have crushed ever so slightly meaning that it will not completely protect the wearer as it would have done had this not happened to it.
Keep your riding hat in the manufacturer’s neat drawstring carry bag or box that it came in as this will protect it from bumps and scratches. Alternatively treat yourself to a padded hat bags or ask for one for Christmas, such as this Charles Owen Hat Bag.
If you’re putting your hat down for a few moments, make sure you put it top down as this prevents the brim from getting bent if you have one.
Other useful care tips
If your hat gets wet, allow it to dry naturally and slowly. Don’t put it on a radiator or in the tumble dryer! Also don’t dry it in front of an open fire.
Never dry clean your hat.
Don’t expose it to petroleum products, cleaning agents, paints or adhesives.
Don’t expose your hat to extremes temperature. Leaving it out in the sun or in an unheated tack room in freezing conditions will not be good for it.
Your riding hat, the most essential piece of your riding kit that will protect you, will last longer and look nicer if you follow these simple tips.
Best hats by discipline or riding type
Best hat for Eventing
The best-selling riding helmet from Gatehouse, the RXC1 Skull Cap, would be the first choice of many eventers. One of the most protective riding hats available, it’s both SNELL E2001, PAS015:2011 cerified.
SNELL E2001 is the highest manufacturer equestrian hat safety standard in the world and includes a unique test that simulates a rider falling into a fence rail, or having a secondary hit by a horse’s hoof.
It features a top quality leather four-point harness and Gatehouse Airflow lining which can be removed and washed. It also comes with a free padded storage bag.
Best hat for Show Jumping
If Ellen Whitaker’s choice of hat is anything to go by, try the Charles Owen Wellington Professional Hat. It combines fashion and safety with its low profile, contemporary design. Kite marked to PAS015:2011 and certified by SEI to ASTM F1163, it has extra adjustable padding at the base of the skull too for that little bit of extra protection.
Best hat for Dressage
An extremely popular and affordable hat for dressage is the Gatehouse Chelsea Air Flow Pro Riding Hat. It combines that polished look that's required for dressage with a modern twist. Available in black and navy in three different finishes means that it'll suit most dressage riders.
Best hat for Hunting
Velvet riding hats or caps, as they’re commonly known within the hunting fraternity, are typically worn in the field as they look incredibly smart. We like the Charles Owen Wellington Classic Hat, particularly the neat padded soft leather harness
Do bear in mind the age old tradition that surrounds traditional velvet hats when worn in the field; when bought these hats usually have ribbons on the back that hang down. Only Masters, Hunt Officials and Hunt Staff should have their ribbon-ends hanging down. This is so that members of the field know that riders with their ribbon ends down are actually part of the Hunt Team. So everyone else needs to sow their ribbons up or remove them.
There’s nothing wrong in wearing a skull cap, if anything it’s probably safer than a hat with a fixed peak. If you really want the riding hat that offers the greatest protection, go for the Gatehouse HS1 Jockey Skull. It holds the highest manufactured equestrian helmet safety standard - Snell E2001.
Do make sure you choose a suitable cover like a velvet one if you can. Try the Champion Stretch Velvet Helmet Cover, it looks smart and comes in three sizes.
Best hat for riding in hot weather
If you’re ‘hot headed’, the best riding hat for you in the warm or hot weather is most certainly a ventilated one. Centre front, right and left vent ports create the maximum air intake and optimal air flow cooling your head.
Best hat for riding in cold weather
For riders who suffer from the cold, the best riding hat to look for is one with an Adjustable Size Dial as hats such as these can be adjusted to accommodate layers underneath without compromising on protection. It’s probably best too, to go for a style without vents so as not to let any cold air in!