Up until the early 80s, British riders were pretty casual about protecting their precious heads! If worn at all, riding hats were velvet-covered shells thinly lined with cork and either had no chinstrap or were held on by elastic; they offered very little protection from injury. Meanwhile, out on the hunting field, bowler or top hats were a common sight.
In the USA today, fewer than one in eight riders wears a helmet, but attitudes have completely changed in the UK. Most leisure riders wear hats for riding that meet recognised safety stangards. To comply with safety standards, hats must be fitted with an integral three-point harness and have a non-fixed peak. Equestrian sport governing bodies set their own minimum standards for hats worn during competition. Children up to the age of 14 are legally required to wear an approved hat when riding on British roads.
Improvements in technology mean modern hats are strong, lightweight and comfortable. They consist of a protective liner covered by a hard outer shell; should you fall and hit your head, the shell diffuses the impact over a large area, while the liner increases the length of time it will take for the impact to meet your head, lessening the chance of brain injury. Although design and safety standards continue to evolve and improve, it’s important to remember that no hat can completely rule out any chance of head injury.
There is a wide range of hats on the market, from the traditional-looking velvet covered hat, to skullcaps with optional covers, to helmets. It’s important to choose a hat that fits correctly to protect your head; to be sure, it’s best to have your hat fitted by a British Equestrian Trade Association-trained professional.