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How often should horse riding helmets be replaced?

Most horse riders know that a riding hat or helmet should be replaced after a fall.  This is because there can be damage to the internal structure of the hat which is not always visible externally.  But riding hat manufacturers also recommend that you replace your helmet every five years or so even if you haven’t fallen off in that period – lucky you! 

Most hats are subjected to the odd accidental drop from height and a lot of wear and tear and sweat from the rider’s head can cause deterioration over time to the internal materials.  This means that five years or so down the line, the hat is not going to do its job as efficiently as it might have done when you bought it.

Young riders have different requirements

Children and teenagers are growing and their head size may increase, even if it doesn’t their head shape could change quite dramatically.  Fitting a new hat to replace a helmet every other year is not uncommon.

Hats designed for children so in the manufacturer’s junior range are often different in shape to those by the same maker for adults; this is to reflect the different requirements for a child’s head which is still growing and developing.  Sometimes, adults with small head sizes will buy a child’s version of the range that they like because riding hats for children do not attract VAT and therefore are cheaper.  But they may well also be a different shape and not fit your head as well as you think.

Fit for purpose

There are some lovely rigid peak hats for dressage which are not permitted for other disciplines such as cross country because of the impact they might have on the rider’s neck in the event of a ‘face first ‘ fall.  Many riders have hats for different disciplines.  Using a cross-country skull cap will allow you to wear ‘colours’ which is usually a matching set of silks and a hat silk rather like a racing jockey.  Some owners have their own dedicated colours and so the rider can change their hat cover depending on the horse they are competing.

Most sporting disciplines sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to rider safety but always check the rulebook and make sure your hat complies with the latest regulations for your sport.  Hats are checked at certain events like British Eventing and riding club championships.  They are then tagged on the strap with a coloured tag on the day of the competition so that stewards and officials can see the hat has been authorised and does comply.  If the kitemark inside the hat has been worn away through wear and cannot be discerned then your hat will not be passed as safe to wear and legal for that event.

What are the most up-to-date hat safety regulations?

Not all riding hats and helmets on sale will have the correct regulatory approvals so do check your sporting discipline if you plan to wear the hat for competition.  And not all riding hats on sale will necessarily have a currently accepted hat standard so don’t make this assumption when you go to buy one at your local saddlery.

The current standard for UK hats is PAS 015 (1998/2011) with a BSI kitemark.  There are lots of pictures online to demonstrate what this should look like and it appears on the inside of the hat on the silk in the crown.  PAS015 is a safety standard for riding hats which is controlled and managed by the British Standards Institute or BSI.  Hats are tested for shock, absorbency, penetration and retention i.e. their ability to stay on.  The standard is reviewed every two years and hats are continuously subjected to random batch testing by the British Standards Institute testing facility.

The CE mark also appears and this is on all hats sold in Europe to demonstrate compliance with the European Directive 89/686 EEC on Personal Protective Equipment.  The CE mark is not a hat safety standard so should not be viewed as an alternative to the BSI kitemark.

Fitting a riding hat

As well as selling hats with the most up-to-date safety standards and approval, also check that your hat is going to be fitted by someone with the appropriate BETA training.  You should always have your head measured and your hat fitted properly when you replace your helmet.

Different hat brands may suit some people’s head shape more than others and that’s why many people stick with one hat maker during their adult life.  Most riding hats do vary in shaping but that means if one manufacturer doesn’t suit your head or feel comfortable then another will.

Looking after your riding hat

A riding hat is probably the most important item of your equestrian wardrobe so it is important to take good care of it when it is not on your head.  Try not to leave it lying around or just on the ground as it is much easier for the hat to become damaged.  When you take it off, always have a safe designated place that you keep it both on the yard and when you are out with your horse at shows and events.  Look after your hat as well as your look after your horse – store it safely away and out of direct sunlight – remember, it could save your life

Top Tips

  • If you buy a very expensive show hat then just keep it for best – it’s tragic to have to replace it because you fell off on a quiet hack
  • Velvet hats look beautiful if you use steam from a just-boiled kettle to lift dirt and tiny particles of dust, perfect for a competition in the show ring
  • Never buy a second hand hat and don’t borrow a hat even for a short time – you don’t know its history and it has not been fitted to your head
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