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Having the right safety gear plays an important role in feeling confident around horses and when riding. In this article (part one of two), we get top advice from Champion on hats, essential for riders of all levels.

Choosing the right hat

The most important piece of safety kit advice is purchasing a correctly fitted riding hat that meets one of the current safety standards. Standards now available, which are commonly used in the UK, are:

  • PAS 015 2011
  • Snell E 2001
  • Snell E 2016 (see image 3)
  • VG1 (see image 7)

There are also hats in the marketplace with alternative standards, such as the American ASTM F1163-15 and the Aus/Nz 3838 2006.

There are four main areas of testing for riding hats/skulls to ensure they meet the performance criteria laid down in current standards and meet the basic health and safety requirements of the European PPE Directive 686/89 (changing to PPE Regulation 425/16 from April 2018). This allows manufacturers to use the CE Mark (see image 5).

Most standards tests include the crush test, penetration test, shock absorption test, and retention strength. Not all standards test all of these areas and some test more than the above, so be sure to choose a hat which passes a standard that has tested at least these four areas.

In addition, a credited British Kitemark is awarded to those riding hats which regularly undergo batch testing. A Champion riding hat is tested every day of the year by The British Standards Institute.

There are four types of Quality Mark:

  • British Kitemark, which requires regular batch testing (see images 6 and 7)
  • IC mark, which requires annual testing (see image 8)
  • American SEI mark, which requires annual testing (see image 9)
  • Australian SAI mark, also requires annual testing (see image 10)

Always check riding association rules. BHS Approved Centres require all hats to carry a standards mark and a quality assurance mark. The exception is the Snell Standard, where a quality mark is not required, but may be offered in addition by manufacturers.

In addition, all hats should also display a CE Mark. The CE Mark is neither a quality mark nor a standard in itself, but a mandatory declaration under EU law by a manufacturer to show compliance with essential requirements of all relevant EU directives.

A guide to fitting your riding hat

The following steps will help you when getting your hat fitted:

  • First, it is important to consider what you will be using your hat for and when/where you will want to use it, as this will determine whether a skull hat or riding hat would be more suitable. For example, fixed peaked hats are not permissible for cross-country under many riding association rules
  • Your fitter will measure the fullest part of your head with a tape measure and refer to a size chart in order to get your hat/skull size. The hat/skull is then fitted by rolling it onto your head from the back to the front, placing it in the correct position about 5-8mm above the eyebrows. It is important to be aware that the hat/skull may feel more snug than your current hat; over time the foam may have compacted, making it looser than a brand new one
  • You should be able to feel the top of the hat on the crown of your head. If not, then the hat/skull may be too small (perching) and you may need to try the next size up
  • Your fitter will then test to ensure the hat is a snug close fit all around by rocking the hat back and forth, and checking for gaps around the bottom edge to assess correct hat shape for the shape of your head
  • The harness then needs to be adjusted to ensure a close fit under the chin and finally any nape adjustment should be secured at the back
  • A final check again should be carried out to ensure the hat is stable. Maximum movement must be limited to 10-15mm and should not move forward into your eyes or onto the nose. A loose harness under the chin or rear adjustment may cause this to happen (see image 11)

There are many different mould shapes used for producing riding hats and skull hats. If you are struggling to find one that fits comfortably, try another model or style or an alternative brand.

Always remember that a head measurement of 56cm will not necessarily be the same as a hat measurement of 56cm, consider a square peg in a round hole! Always try different models for the best fitting shape to your head. Each manufacturer has different mould shapes from model to model, as well all manufacturers have different shapes to each other.

Caring for your riding hat

It is very important to take care of your riding hat to ensure it can offer you the maximum level of protection over its lifetime. Dropping the hat, or allowing it to roll around in the car etc. can cause damage. This damage may not be visible on the outside, but can cause damage to the shock absorbing polystyrene liner.

Your riding hat should be stored in a cool environment and not be exposed to direct heat for drying or placed in direct sunlight under glass, such as the back shelf of the car. Heating your hat to 70°C and above will break down the protective materials used in construction of your riding hat, especially the polystyrene liner. This will gradually reduce the level of protection it offers.

A protective hat bag is the ideal way to store your hat when not being used, to ensure the right conditions are maintained and provide cushioned protection.