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Horse Riding Helmets: Types, Features, Safest Styles

Last updated: February 24, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Many people don’t wear helmets when horse riding, which is a mistake. Whether you’re a casual rider or a competitive equestrian, a helmet can help protect you from some severe head injuries in the event of a fall. But there are different horseriding helmets, so how do you know which one is right for you?

Horse riding helmets come in four primary types – traditional velvet, premium, skull cap, and polo. They all offer a level of protection, but certain features make one type more suitable than another for specific riding disciplines. The determining factors are the risk of injury and competition rules.

Looking to buy a new horseriding helmet but not sure where to start? In this article, we’ll explore the different types of helmets, their features, and their benefits, as well as provide tips on how to choose the safest style for your needs. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned rider, read on for all you need to know about horse riding helmets.

What Are The Different Types Of Horse Riding Helmets?

There are different types of horse riding helmets for a variety of reasons. Some helmets are designed for different disciplines, such as dressage or jumping. Others are made with varying safety features and shapes.

Picture of a velvet finish dress horse riding helmet.
Picture of a vented horse riding helmet.
Picture of a carbon riding helmet.

Dressage and showing disciplines have a much more conservative look compared to show-jumpers. But cross country and jockeys need different types of helmets due to the risk involved in jumping fixed obstacles and high-speed racing.

So there are various horse riding helmets to choose from because there is no one-size-fits-all regarding horse riding safety. It would be best if you found the helmet that is right for you and your equestrian activity.

Note: Each riding discipline has its style of helmet with different features and safety standards to guard against the risk involved. Riders who pursue more than one discipline often have a helmet for each riding type. The four primary types of riding helmets are:

  • Traditional velvet riding helmet
  • Premium riding helmet
  • Skull cap
  • Polo helmet
Picture of a rider wearing a traditional velvet horse riding helmet.

Traditional Velvet Riding Helmet

Modern velvet riding helmets keep the traditional style of the old riding hats that were part of the hunting attire; however, they’ve come a long way from their unapproved counterpart; the original velvet helmet was merely there to finish off the look and offered very little in terms of safety.

However, this is no longer the case. Modern velvet riding helmets complement your riding attire and conform to helmet safety standards such as ASTM F1163-15.

It is a conservative, rounded hat covered in velvet with a small fixed peak with either black or tan chin straps, often used in disciplines such as Dressage, Showing, and Hunting.

Picture of horse saddle being adjusted for dressage or jumping.

Premium Riding Helmet

These helmets are popular for show-jumpers, general-purpose, long-distance, and lower-level dressage riders. Over the years, the riding hat has changed in appearance for more comfort and versatility, bringing a modern flare of different stylishness for personal expressions.

These helmets can be designed with different finishes, such as a smooth finish, either matt or shiny, covered in velvet or suede, and some sporting a leather finish. Premium helmets are available with fixed or flexible peaks that range from small to brimmed peaks to shield your eyes from the sun and rain.

Most are fitted with a removable lining to help make cleaning of the padding easier to prevent odors. They often have accessories such as ventilation, adjustable drawstrings at the nape of the head, or dials for easy adjustability.

Picture of a race horse with rear leg wraps.

Skull Cap

Skull caps for cross-country and racing disciplines are prerequisites due to the higher risk of injury. Skull caps do not have built-in peaks to prevent the hat from being forced down onto the bridge of the nose or pushed back into the nape of the neck in case of a face fall.

Skull caps can be customized with silks that cover the hat with a small peak to your preferred colors or to match the jockey’s racing silks.

poloplayer edited

Polo Helmet

Again, evolution has brought new styles to this category, bringing certain modernized features to the helmet, such as ventilation, modern flair, and adjustability. Due to the style, this helmet is generally specific to the polo rider, with its broad peak to help shield your eyes from the sun.

Polo helmets also come with fixed or adjustable face guards that protect the rider from stray balls or accidental injuries from mallets.

Picture of our two year old running

What Are The Safest Horse Riding Helmets?

While many different types of horse riding helmets are out in the market, some offer better protection than others. However, the safest ones go through rigorous testing and are designed using the latest technology.

The safest horse riding helmets are certified by one of the equestrian governing bodies and include MIPS technology. MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System and is a leading-edge safety feature that helps to reduce the risk of brain injury in the event of a fall.

MIPS technology has started to be used in equestrian helmets and will soon become the norm. This technology uses a slip-plane system that rotates inside the helmet, mimicking the brain’s protection system. It slows the impact of the force down and reduces the energy of the impact on the head.

Approved riding helmets must meet specific safety standards and can differ depending on your region and country. The most recognized standards are:

  • The United Kingdom – PAS 015:2011
  • The United States standard – ASTM F1163-15
  • European –BS EN1384:2017

To earn certification, each manufacturer must produce top quality and comply with the above international equestrian safety standards.

Helmet regulations are the norm for organized riding events to ensure everyone is wearing the safest riding gear. The safest riding helmet for you should be certified and conform to your equestrian discipline and associated risk.

So, buying a riding helmet that meets the standards that your equestrian society enforces for competition and casual riding is essential. Above is a picture of a training jockey during morning work; he is wearing an ASTM F1163-15 certified helmet and safety vest, which is required while riding on this private track.

1. Charles Owen Halo Lux Helmet With MIPS

Charles Owen Halo Lux helmet with MIPS offers ASTM F1163-15, PAS015:2011, VG1 01-040 2014-12 safety standards and is considered the next generation of riding helmets.

2. ONE K Defender Helmet

ONE K defender helmet is ASTM certified with moisture-wicking headbands and the choice of sizes for oval or round-shaped heads.

3. Tipperary Sportage Hybrid Equestrian Helmet

The Tipperary Sportage is an excellent general-purpose helmet with ventilation that you can adjust to easily fit your head, with a contoured drop-back shell for extra protection. The ASTM F1163-15 / SEI Certified helmet is lightweight with a high-density ABS shell and ESP foam for extra shock absorption.

4. IRH IR4G XLT Matte Helmet, Rose Gold Vent

IRH makes high-quality riding helmets, and their IR4G XLT Matte Helmet is my favorite model. This helmet has a fashion-forward design that is sure to turn heads at shows. The helmet’s interior features superior comfort and fit with front, top, and back ventilation ports to keep you cool.

Each helmet comes with 2 moisture-wicking machine washable liners in 2 different thicknesses to find your perfect fit. Meets or exceeds ASTM F1163-15 standards.

Picture of a black race horse

What Are Essential Features Of Horse Riding Helmets?

Essential safety features of the riding helmet include:

  • Outer shell
  • Fiberglass or plastic shell
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS)
  • Headband
  • Flexible peak
  • Harness or chin strap

Outer Shell

The outer shell is the decorative part of your helmet. Apart from looking pretty, it protects the fiberglass or plastic shell beneath it by allowing the rider’s helmet to slip off the surface, diffusing the impact of the fall.

Fiberglass Or Plastic Shell

The curved fiberglass or plastic shell allows the impact force to be dispersed over a larger bearing surface area before reaching the EPS layer. This layer often takes the brunt of the shock and can prevent skull fractures.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

Expanded polystyrene is crucial in protecting the brain against bruising and concussions. The microscopic air bubbles in this layer absorb the impact by bursting the beads that disperse the energy and slow down the effect of the force on your head.

That’s why it’s so important to prevent your helmet from falling and why replacing it after a fall is recommended. Once the microbeads have burst, they can no longer offer the same protection in the case of a fall.


Headbands mimic the scalp’s natural ability to move across the skull, which minimizes the force of brain shear while adding that last layer of cushioning to protect the head from the impact.

Flexible Peak

Peaks help protect your eyes and shield them from sun and rain, but they are made either flexible or collapsible to prevent any injury to the bridge of your nose or the nape of your head.

They are designed to break on impact with any surfaces to reduce the possibility of the hat pushing down onto your nose or in the event that the force would push the hat backward, causing hyperextension of the neck vertebrae.

Harness Or Chin Strap

Harnesses are adjustable and should fit comfortably yet fixed firmly to ensure that your riding helmet remains on your head at all times.

The Importance Of Horse Riding Helmets

Horse riding helmets are an essential piece of safety equipment that protect riders from head injuries in case of a fall or accident while riding. A helmet helps to absorb the shock of an impact and reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries.

It is important for all riders, whether beginner or experienced, to wear a properly fitting helmet that meets safety standards. Wearing a helmet is not only crucial for personal safety but also sets a good example for others and helps promote a culture of safety within the equestrian community.

Horse riding helmets are vital whether you are riding or doing groundwork with your horse. Working with horses can be dangerous at any given time, whether a fall or a kick to the head.

Hospitals treat approximately 70,000 horse-riding-related head injuries a year. Horse riding is closely compared to high-head injury-rated sports such as downhill skiing, football, hand gliding, and motorcycle racing. Wearing a safety-graded helmet can reduce the rate of head injury by at least 30%.

In any riding discipline, the rules and regulations state that the rider must wear a safety standard helmet. The force you can hit your head can cause mild to severe concussions that may have cumulative adverse effects on the brain.


Riding helmets are a vital part of the horse rider’s safety gear and are not just there to complete the ensemble but perform a critical role in protecting the rider’s head.

Today hats need to conform to strict safety measures, and with technology improving and new safety discoveries, the riding helmet has evolved into sophisticated and much more striking protective equipment.

Below is a helpful YouTube video showing how to fit a horseback riding helmet.


How long do horse riding helmets last?

Picture of the inside of an old horse riding helmet.

Horse riding helmets are critical safety equipment for any rider, but they don’t last forever. Most horse riding helmets have an expiration date of about 5 years. After that, the helmet may no longer offer adequate protection in the event of a fall.

Should kids wear helmets on horses?

Yes, horse riding helmets can significantly reduce the risk of head injuries in children. The University of Queensland looked at data from horse riding accidents involving children and found that where the child was wearing a helmet, it reduced the risk of sustaining a head injury by nearly 70%.