Riding Hats Buyer's Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Riding Hats

Looking for the right riding hat to keep you safe and comfortable while performing at your best? Not sure which is the right protective headwear for you?

Whether you are just learning to ride, participating in pony club events, or will be competing in horse shows, the wide variety of styles, brands and price points available in riding hats means there is something for everyone and every budget.

But, having all that variety can also be confusing when choosing this essential piece of equestrian equipment.

This guide covers the main types of riding hats and helmets, which type of riding activity each option is best suited to, and how to get the correct fit.

Product Types



Riding hats or helmets

Skull caps



Choosing a product



Riding Activity

Head Shape

Measuring yourself

There is also some practical advice on how to look after your riding hat to make sure it looks its best and performs well.

Do You Need To Wear A Riding Hat?

When it comes to horse riding, there is not more serious consideration than wearing a quality, well fitting horse riding hat. It should be the number one priority of every rider regardless of age, gender or riding discipline.

Whether riding for pleasure or in competition, wearing a correctly fitting riding hat when handling or riding horses is key to avoiding head injuries. It is the law for children under the age of 14 years to wear a securely fastened riding hat when hacking. And, it is highly recommended that riders of all ages follow this advice.

The helmet is specifically designed to protect your head and help reduce the chance of injury. Even with all the built in safety features, your riding hat can still have a fashionable, even trendy, look.

Many riders do not realise that the protective features of riding hats deteriorate with age and use. It is recommended to replace your hat at least every 5 years. Even more often with higher usage. If you drop your hat on a hard surface or you take a fall from your horse, you should replace your hat straight away.

Modern riding hats are lightweight, ventilated and comfortable to wear while still meeting the rigid safety standards of equestrian sport governing bodies.

New technology used in equestrian protective headgear gives a wide selection of variously shaped and sized headgear that is comfortable, lightweight, smart and even colourful. So, you can express your style and personality while keeping yourself safe from head injury.

Whether you prefer an elegant, top of the range hat or a plain, less expensive one, the main requirements to keep in mind are that it:

  • meets the accepted safety standards and quality marks
  • fits comfortably and correctly
  • is appropriate for the riding discipline

How riding hats work

As one of the most important pieces of safety equipment for riders, riding hats are designed to evenly absorb and minimize any impact to your head.

With innovative advancements in technology, modern riding hats are stronger, lighter in weight and much more comfortable than the helmets of years ago.

Contemporary riding hats have an outer hard shell, generally constructed of fibreglass, composite or ABS, that absorbs and disperses the energy from an impact around the surface of the hat.

This hard, outer shell is either finished with a textured paint or covered with leather, suede, velvet, or faux leather giving the hat an attractive appearance.

Inside the hard shell is EPS, a foam layer of expanded polystyrene – imagine it as microscopic bubble wrap. This layer absorbs the remaining energy or an impact reducing possible concussion or chance of concussion. Once a riding hat has suffered an impact, the bubbles of this layer cannot puff up again which is the reason your hat should always be replaced after it takes an impact.

Inside the riding hat is a fabric liner, and in some models additional padding, that helps keeps the hat in place, makes it comfortable against your skin, and, in some cases, forms part of the sizing. In some riding hats, this liner can be removed and is washable.

The brim of a riding hat is designed to keep the sun out of your eyes. It should be flexible so that it gives way immediately should you take an awkward fall and land on your head.

Finally, either a 3 point or 4 point nylon or leather harness with an adjustable chin strap prevents the hat from sliding forward or off your head.

Modern riding hats are designed to provide ventilation so make sure they do not get too hot in the summer.

A riding hat keeps you warm in winter, while vented variations are available for summer shade and coolness.  

Safety Standards

Be sure to check the standard of a riding hat before purchasing as not all will necessarily meet the currently accepted standards.

Do not be tempted to buy a second hand hat. Even if it meets the required standard, it is impossible to tell if it has been damaged.

The European Safety Standard EN1384 that had been in existence for nearly 30 years was withdrawn in December 2014.

There are currently 3 international safety standards:

  • British – PAS015
  • European - VGI
  • American - ASTM

In addition to these safety standards, look for these quality symbols:

  • British - Kite Mark which is an addition to the safety standard
  • European – CE Mark which is a declaration of compliance with the safety standard but not a quality mark
  • American - SEI Mark which is integral to the ASTM standard

Selecting The Right Type Of Riding Hat

When selecting a riding helmet, particularly for competition, it must meet the current safety standards rules set by the governing organization. Check the most recent rule book for your respective equestrian discipline, the Pony Club or British Riding Clubs to ensure your new hat will comply with the required and current safety standards.

Riding hats fall into 3 main categories:

  • traditional velvet covered hats
  • standard riding hats
  • skull caps with slide on covers

For horse riders taking part in competitions, you need to select the appropriate type of protective headwear for the discipline in which you will be competing.

Velvet Riding Hats

The traditional, attractive velvet hat   is a stylish and functional option that is best suited to competition in dressage and showjumping. They also look great when taking part in a hunt.

The Charles Owen Wellington Classic is an example of this traditional style of riding hat in a modern, chic design.

Make sure the hat meets the current safety standards and includes a leather or nylon harness.

Skull Caps

For cross country competition, skull caps are mandatory. Fixed peak riding hats are not permitted. This safety requirement is enforced by British Eventing and FEI.

Some hunts also require riders to wear skull caps. It is best to check with the hunt secretary before going out.

Skull caps are also suitable head protection when hacking out.

The extra protection built into the design and materials used in skull caps sets safety over looks.

But, with the wide assortment of colourful shells (like the Gatehouse HS1 available in blue, silver or black )  as well as high visibility hat covers available, you can easily express your personality, wear your cross country colours on course or be more visible when hacking on the road.

Standard Riding Hat or Helmet

The most common riding hat worn by many horse riders is more stylish while still being functional.

Suitable for showjumping, dressage, endurance, hacking out, and schooling as well as for new riders, the abundance of styles and options allows you to express your personal style.

The Ayr8 made by Charles Owen is available at both an entry level in micro suede for or an upscale leather version. 

Modern, innovative and lightweight, this style of helmet is designed to offer superior comfort for the rider.

Following are some examples of optional features available in standard riding hats:

  • wickable lining to absorb moisture
  • removable and washable liner and/or pads
  • shaped chin strap allowing room for a ponytail/bun
  • air ventilation strips in the front and/or back
  • customised piping or ventilation mesh colours (eg. Charles Owen)
  • fully adjustable harness with drawstring or dial system

Measuring For Correct Fit

Whether your are schooling, hacking out or competing, getting the correct size of riding hat is crucial both for your comfort and safety. Even if you have bought a riding hat before, it is always best to measure your head before buying a new one.

Also, keep in mind the shape of your head as well as its size. Because some people have round heads and others have an oval shape, not every model of riding hat will fit every head shape. Hat manufacturers design a variety of different models to ensure that every horse rider can find a hat that is the correct fit for them.

 To get the right fit in your riding hat, it is important to accurately measure the circumference of your head. Put your hair in the style you will have when wearing your hat. Clips, headbands, ponytails and other styles can change the fit.

If you wear glasses when riding, have them on when fitting your hat.

Measure the circumference of your head with a tape measure that will stay flat and even around your head. Alternatively, use a length of string and then measure that against a ruler afterwards.

Place the tape measure or string about one finger’s width above your eyebrows, skim the tops of your ears and take the measurement around the widest part of your head.

Note the measurement in either inches or centimetres then compare it to the manufacturer’s size guide.

When trying on riding hats:

A well fitting riding hat fits comfortably snug but not so tight that it causes pain or discomfort.

There should be no movement when you shake your head up and down or side to side. Nor should it tip forward onto your eyes when tapped from the back.

A correctly fitting hat sits level on the head, covers the forehead and the brim sits about one finger width above the eyebrows. When the hat is removed, there should be a feeling of suction and the eyebrows will be lifted slightly as the skin of the forehead moves.

Test the fit of the riding hat by:

  • Shaking your head. There should be no movement
  • Gently rocking the skull or hat with your hand. It should move your eyebrows slightly.
  • Flexing the jaw to expand the temples. If there is a feeling of pressure, the helmet is too tight and may cause headache or other discomfort with continued wear.
  • Roll the hat or skull onto your head from the front of your head about half an inch above your eyebrows
  • The hat should fit snugly, but without too much pressure at the temples as this can cause headaches
  • Adjust the straps so that they are comfortable
  • Feel a suction that lifts your eyebrows and skin above them as the hat is lifted from your head

The fit of the riding hat’s harness is also important. Check these areas to make sure that the riding hat harness is secure:

  • When adjusted correctly, the chinstrap should gently touch the bottom of the ear lobe and sit just under the chin not around the throat.
  • When reasonably tight, the chinstrap should have room to put one finger between the strap and the chin.
  • The rubber band on the chinstrap should lie close to the buckle. It keeps the webbing or leather strap secure and prevents it from slipping through the buckle.
  • Harness laces at the back of the hat should be tightly secured to ensure the hat hugs the head. These laces support the chinstrap and should be adjusted only after the chinstrap has been itted correctly.

Riding hat care tips

Follow these tips to ensure your hat lasts as long as possible:

  • Replace your riding hat after sustaining an impact in a fall – even if the fall is from the tack room shelf. Damage to the protective layer cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Replace your riding hat every two to thee years as the protective materials deteriorate gradually with exposure to heat and repeated use.
  • Store your riding hat in a cool, dry environment and do not expose it to direct sources of heat or light.
  • Keep your riding hat in a protective bag to help ensure the right storage conditions, protect it from strong sunlight, and provide protective cushioning when not in use.
  • Clean your riding hat or skull regularly with a soft brush, a little warm water and gentle soap
  • Allow it to dry naturally avoiding direct heat from a fire or radiator
  • Avoid transporting it loose in the boot of your car where it will be rattled and bounced about
  • Do not expose your hat or skull to petroleum products, cleaning agent, paints or adhesives.


Entry Level

Mid Range


Velvet Riding Hats

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Standard Riding Hats

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Ventilated Riding Hats

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Riding Skulls

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Still Not Sure? Just Ask – We’re Here To Help

If you require any more help on choosing the right equestrian attire for your needs, one of our expertly trained members of staff will be more than happy to assist. For online enquiries, please contact our customer service team on 01702 597833

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