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How to Select a Safe Helmet or Hard Hat for Horseback Riding

Rena has been a freelance writer since 2006. She often writes about animals and is currently owned by one dog and two goldfish.

Hard hats are essential for any level of rider.

Hard hats are essential for any level of rider.

Horseback riding is great fun and helps give you self-confidence. However, it is also a dangerous sport. Injuries from horseback riding used to be so frequent that statistics were not kept. But in recent decades, the number of head injuries due to horseback riding accidents plummeted thanks to the development and use of horseback riding helmets, also called hard hats or hunt caps.

The Early History of Riding Helmets

Wearing protective headgear while horseback riding is a relatively new concept. For thousands of years, you jumped on a horse and took your chance. If you fell off while the horse was galloping and received a head injury, that was just too bad. In 1911, this outlook changed. Hats specifically designed for the cavalry began to be made with cork linings and a hard shell.

In ensuing decades, hats were made to survive larger impacts and came with chin straps to help keep them in place. It was not until 1986 that a horseback riding helmet was designed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). By 1990, the hat they developed was sanctioned by major national and international horse sport organizations.

Major Sporting Events Require Riding Helmets

Riding helmets not only protect the head from falls or blows but are approved by the ASTM, the Pony Club, and the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). Helmets are now required for all competitors in major horse sporting events like the Olympics.

Good riding stables or even those offering trail rides will insist that their customers wear hard hats before getting on their horses. Buying a hard hat is a small investment to make to save your life and keep you riding.

How to Tell If a Hard Hat Is Good by Checking the Label

Many riding helmets made before 1990 are still often used by pleasure riders or sold on online auction sites or flea markets. You will not save any money by purchasing these hard hats if you then wind up in the hospital. The easiest way to check if a hard hat is safe is by looking at the ASTM/SEI label located inside of the hat. Only some manufacturers make ASTM/SEI-approved hard hats, including:

  • Troxel
  • International Helmets
  • Australian Holdings
  • Equine Science Marketing, Ltd.
  • Del Mar Helmet Comapny, Inc.
  • Lexington Safety Products, Inc.
  • Charles Owens & Company, Ltd.

For Customers in the UK

The labels are different if you live or purchase a hat from a UK manufacturer. In this case, the label may read EN 1384 or BSEN 1384. This means the hard hat has passed all safety tests under European Union or British rules.

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This rule, however, was changed in January 2017 as a result of Brexit. Now labels for new hats appear in a variety of codes. The British Equestrian Trade Association has a chart of these codes.

What Makes a Riding Helmet Safe?

What Makes a Riding Helmet Safe?

What Makes a Riding Helmet Safe?

You’ve found a hard hat with the right label. Now how do you choose whether or not to buy it? Here are some tips for finding the right riding helmet from Horse and Hound magazine:

  • It must have an adjustable chin strap to keep the helmet on during riding (e.g. during heavy bouncing). Riding helmets that seem tight at the beginning of a ride can easily become loose (and fly off) when the rider is sweating.
  • It should not be so tight that you start to get a headache.
  • If it seems to fit, bend your head. If the hat tips into your eyes, it is too loose for you.
  • It should firmly grip your head in a vacuum fit but not enough to cause a headache.

Tips for Buying a Hard Hat

Hard hats vary in cost considering whether it's new or used or if you buy it in person or have to pay shipping charges. It is highly recommended that you try a hard hat on in person to make sure it fits properly rather than ordering a hat online and then immediately sticking it on your head and going for a ride. Here are some additional tips:

  • The cost of a pleasure-riding hard hat, also called a schooling hat, is usually less than $60. (Hard hats made for pleasure riding cost less than those made for horse sports like show jumping or racing.)
  • The cost of a show-quality hard hat is about $100.
  • The cost of a hard hat for horse racing will be the most expensive because it is the epitome of lightness and strength. If you can find one for under $500, you’ve found a bargain. They can run as high as $2,000.

Maintenance, Cleaning, and Safety Tips

Horse-riding helmets need little in the way of maintenance or cleaning, but there are some things you need to be mindful of. Here's how to make sure your riding helmet stays in good condition:

  • A splash of water cleans off a plastic-covered hard hat while velvet-covered hard hats need brushing to remove accumulated dust and dirt.
  • Always check your helmet before and after a ride. Look for dents, strange bulges or splits in the shell. These splits are not to be confused with the air vents in schooling helmets. Any damage to the shell or hard parts of the hard hat is a huge indication that the hat needs to be replaced.
  • Dip into your horse emergency fund to purchase a new hat if necessary. If buying a used hat, check it carefully for dents or other damage to the shell. Tears in the inner lining are okay and can often be repaired, but damage to the hard outer shell cannot.
  • Keep the hard hat out of extreme heat or sunlight which can cause it to warp or melt. Whenever possible, store it in a cool, dark place. Never store a hard hat in a car trunk, attic or any place that gets unbearably hot.

How to Choose and Fit a Riding Helmet

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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