When choosing a horse riding helmet, factors to consider are:

  • Protection. An equestrian riding helmet should protect the head. In particular, from a blow to the head should one fall off a horse (especially if the head hits a hard object or surface) or from being hit by a hoof (either due to the horse kicking or simply an accidental collision which can occur during or after a fall from a horse). As such, the helmet should have a very strong outer surface (able to resist a strong blow) with internal padding (so that the force of the flow is distribute and absorbed, rather than being transferred to the skull).
  • Legal requirements. Just as various countries and states have made wearing car seatbelts a legal requirement, so various countries and states are moving to making wearing a helmet while riding a legal requirement, where failure to do so can result in fines (in the case of children riding without a helmet, the responsible adults may be fined instead). Check local regulations to determine the requirements.
  • Competition requirements. Various competitions and shows require riders to wear helmet hats. Depending on the competition, the helmet may need to meet specified safety standards or it may need to have a specified appearance (e.g. size, shape, color, material) or both safety and appearance requirements.
  • Style. Many of the traditional horse riding hats are designed largely for appearance, with features such as black velvet covering which are attractive but have no functional purpose (i.e. for appearance sake rather than safety protection). Many people continue to wear these helmets for aesthetic reasons, although they do give some protection. Alternatively, a number of new high-protection helmets are make to look like traditional helmets. In some cases the choice of style is a personal decision, although certain shows and competitions do require a certain style of helmet to be worn.
  • Fit and comfort. Aside from the actual design of the helmet, it must be the correct size and fit. Before buying a helmet, one should also check that it is comfortable to wear, as an uncomfortable helmet is like likely to be worn. In any case, if a helmet is uncomfortable, this is an indication that it is not a correct fit, in which case it will not protect as well as it should. Different brands often have slightly different shapes and fits, so if you find that the correct size is still uncomfortable, try other brands to see if they provide a better match for you. Remember that not everyone has the exact same shape of head, so the best-fitting brand for one person is not necessarily the best-fitting brand for another. 
  • Activity. In many cases, the type of riding you do will determine the type of helmet you require. For example, helmets designed for endurance or long-distance riding often have ventilation holes, to allow sweat to evaporate and excess heat to disipate. Show events (such as dressage) typically require (or at least expect) a helmet which meets certain style requirements, whereas very physical competitions (e.g. jumping) place greater importance on the helmet meeting the safety protection standards. Consequently, a good approach is to check  which helmets are acceptable for the type of riding you will be doing, then choosing from this selection a particular helmet which meets your personal requirements (e.g. appearance, fit and comfort).

There are a number of official safety standards for helmets. For example, in the USA, helmets should be marked as certified by  ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) to show that they meet current safety requirements. Before buying, discuss with the seller the current national standards and which of these the riding hat meets.

Fitting a Horse Riding Hat

Once you've chosen a style and brand based on the above criteria, you need to get the correct size. Here are some tips on how to do this.

  1. Measure the circumference of your head with a tape measure, at a point about one inch (2.5cm) above your eyebrows.
  2. Using a size chart (the shop selling riding hats should have this), select a helmet based on the above measurement. If your measurement falls between two sizes, first try the size slightly too big rather than the one which is slightly too small.
  3. Put on the helmet and fasten the chin strap snugly.
  4. If there is room between your head and the helmet, the helmet is too big so you should try a small size. Alternatively, if the helmet squeezes your head, causing discomfort, you need to try a bigger size.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you find a size that fits. If you cannot find a size that fits comfortably, it could be that this brand does not match the shape of your head, so try another brand until you get a correct fit which is also comfortable.
  6. The helmet should not press on your ears. If it does, adjust the suspension and padding so that the helmet rests above the ears. If the adjustment does not succeed, ask the salesperson for assistance, or try a different brand (starting at step 3 again).
  7. Make sure that the helmet's brim is about 1.5 inches (4cm) above your eyebrows.
  8. Once you have a hat that meets all of these criteria, make sure that it sits snugly and does not move during activity. Shake your head from side to side and also up and down. Bend over, hang you head and then straighten up. Gently press on the helmet in different directions with your hands. The helmet should stay in place and not move during all this activity. If it moves, it is either an incorrect size or incorrectly fitted.

Take your time to find a correctly fitting riding hat. Like shoes, not all brands or styles fit everyone. A poor fit will offer reduced protection and be uncomfortable as best and dangerous at worse (e.g. if it slides forward and covers your eyes while you are riding). Don't accept the assurances of a salesperson that it will adjust with time; if the helmet doesn't fit perfectly don't take it as it is your head that has to be correctly protected, not the salesperson's.

When buying a helmet for children, do not buy a helmet which is too big, on the basis that they will grow into it. Helmets are an important piece of safety equipment and must be chosen accordingly.