Hat Chat...always wear a riding hat

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When I started riding (and I’m not admitting how long ago that was!) hardly anyone wore a helmet for casual riding. They were worn only for riding lessons, Pony Club and shows but even then they were next to useless as they were lightweight velvet caps with no chin strap. Then Pony Club introduced new safety measures and all hats had to be worn with an elastic chin stap, which was soon replaced by more secure detachable chin straps which did a proper job of keeping the hat in place in the event of a fall. The only time a proper helmet had to be worn was during the cross country phase of a one day event, where it was compulsory to wear a safety-approved helmet.

Other than that, neither I nor any of my horsey friends bothered with head protection when we were in the saddle, or riding our bikes for that matter. Were we stupid? Maybe, but we didn’t really know any better, it was just the norm then. Were we lucky? Absolutely....those of us that didn’t fall on our heads that is!

Facts & figures

Horse riding is considered to be among the most dangerous sports in the world, six times more dangerous than motor car racing and three times more dangerous than motor bike racing. This is due to the size and weight of the horse, combined with the height of the rider above the ground.

Around 3,000 people are admitted to hospital every year with horse-related injuries...head injuries and broken arms being the most common.

Approximately 20 Australians are killed each year from riding accidents, the majority from head injury from either not wearing a safety helmet, or wearing one that wasn’t fitted properly and had dislodged.

Girls aged 10 to 19 are five times more likely to end up in hospital with head injury due to riding accidents.

And not all accidents involving horses happen in the saddle...one in five occur on the ground and these injuries are usually more serious than riding accidents. Monash University’s Accident Research Centre recommends children in the vicinity of any horse should always wear a helmet, whether or not they are mounted.

Hat Hints

• Replace your hat every 12 months...the foam inside compacts with regular use which will leave your hat fit loose and it could dislodge in the event of a fall. The outer shell might also have suffered stress fractures which aren’t visible and could lead to the helmet cracking if you fell off.

• Always replace a hat after you’ve had a fall, no matter how minor, as the hat may have been damaged, even though this might not be visible. Don’t keep using it, it’s not worth the risk. Don’t begrudge the cost, your brain is priceless!

• Don’t like ‘hat hair’ or reckon hats make your head hot? Too bad, you’d like brain injury even less...wear a hat.

• There’s a cool guy watching and you reckon hats are daggy? There’s some cool designs and covers available, check ‘•em out.

• Don’t use a bike helmet for riding horses and vice versa.

• Should you wear a hat when swimming your horse? Yes...while there’s no doubt water makes a soft landing, a horse’s flailing hooves are hard and lethal, plus you won’t be in the water 100% of the time.

• Avoid buying used helmets as any damage may not be obvious.

• If you have regular lessons at a riding school and usually wear their hats, consider buying your own. Saddle shop staff will be able to help you with fitting.

Correct fit is important!

If your hat doesn’t fit properly, you may as well not be wearing one at all. Helmets should fit snugly all the way around your head. Wriggle it back and forth, from side to side and vigorously shake your head to check. Also bend over and shake your head. If your scalp and eyebrows move with the helmet, it’s a good fit. If the helmet moves, you need a smaller size.

Helmets can only protect the area they cover, so the brim should sit low, around two finger widths above your eyebrows but not too low or it will obscure your vision. When you’re trying on new helmets, wear your hair in the same style as you do when riding.

The chin strap should be buckled securely up against your throat and as snug as possible so you can fit one finger between the chin and the strap; make sure it’s not too loose or your hat may dislodge in the event of a fall. Do them up securely!

Top Horse recommends riders should always wear an approved safety hat.


Sure, you might have ridden your horse or pony heaps of times without a hat...maybe just short distances here or there and nothing bad happened, but it’s just not worth the risk! Here’s why...these are all real-life stories.

• "I wasn't riding, but lunging a horse when I got double-barrelled as I was un-clipping the lunge rein. I turned to put my foot in the stirrup just as the horse kicked out. The resulting injury was a completely smashed elbow and a helmet almost split in two. I needed nine staples in my head but without the helmet, I would have been dead as the hoof would have directly connected with my temple."

• "I had a fall and landed flat on my back...my head hit the ground so hard it snapped my jaw shut and I’m lucky I didn’t bite my tongue off. I had severe concussion for a week. I’d hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet."

• "I was riding my hack in the arena at home (I had a competition the next day) when something happened. I can't remember hitting the ground but my husband said I fell in and out of consciousness as the ambulance took me to hospital. Before I was discharged the next day, the doctor told me I'd hit the side of my head about 2.5cm from my temple and that if I hadn't been wearing my helmet, I could have died. It was certainly a big wake-up call and I now make sure that I ride with a helmet at all times!"

• "I went for a hack one night and thought it looked cooler for me to be on the arena without a helmet. I hopped on my horse, but since I also planned to do interval training I decided to put it on. The only time I ever fell off that horse was that night; I came off so hard that my helmet was almost completely cracked into two pieces. I often think about that fall and how lucky I was to have made that decision."

• "I got turfed off a thoroughbred–the horse exploded just as someone legged me up and I did an arc through the air onto the concrete-like bottom of the round yard face-first, then my whole body flipped over my head. At first I thought I had broken my neck, the noise was horrendous! I didn't lose consciousness but I broke my nose, fractured my jaw, lost most of the skin off my face and my teeth were loose. Without a helmet I may not have got off so lightly."

• "A friend wasn’t wearing a helmet when he came off his horse, which had flipped over backwards onto him. The neurosurgeon said his skull split like a watermelon would if you dropped it onto concrete, there was blood coming out of his ear..it was awful! He needed six months off work, a long physical recovery, and was left with lingering Bell's Palsy. He was lucky to be alive."

• "I had an ex-racehorse bolt on me one day as we were headed for home. I fully expected him to turn into our property but no, he kept going. As we were heading for an over-the-cliff experience, I tried to turn him down a laneway. It didn't work very well because although we did manage a bit of a deviation, it wasn't a helpful one and my head connected with a power pole as he swung past it. I had to buy a new helmet (and have my jodhs dry-cleaned, I can tell you!) but I shudder to think what being hit on the head by a power pole would have done to my skull if I hadn't been wearing the helmet."

Got the idea? WEAR A HAT!

Vicki Sach–Top Horse

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