While your head isn't the only point of concern when planning to protect yourself in the event of a fall, it goes without saying that head injuries are serious business when they do occur.
It has long been estimated that horse riding carried a similar risk level to motorcycle riding. However official studies have long since disputed this, with some estimating the risk level of horse riding to be 20 times greater than that of riding a motorcycle ( Firth JL. Equestrian Injuries. In: Schneider RC, Kennedy JC, Plant ML (eds) Sports Injuries. Mechanisms, Prevention, and Treatment Baltimore, Maryland: Williams & Wilkins, 1985, pp 431-449.).
Further to this, studies show of all accidents accounted for in their research that up to 60% of admissions were due to head injuries, with the majority of those riding for leisure rather than competition ( Strickland C. Equine related human injuries. The Horse Interactive October 2000 www.thehorse.com/0010/basics.html.).
So, what happens if you choose not to wear or buy a riding hat? Answer: Nothing good.
The 'best' outcome of a fall and resultant head trauma is a concussion. Not to be taken lightly, concussive events (especially from horse riding height) can have serious consequences.
One common misconception is that those who buy riding hats aren't in turn buying protection from a concussion. While it is true that riding hats have limited ability to prevent a concussive event, this is somewhat missing the point.
A concussion is caused by the shaking of the brain inside the skull, it is true that someone wearing a horse riding hat can still have their brain shaken, however the presence of a riding hat drastically decreases the amount of impact absorbed directly by the head.
Further to this, foreign objects encountered on the ground should also be considered. Damage sustained from direct impact with rocks, logs or even the ground itself can be what cause fatalities and life long injuries - While a riding hat won't necessarily prevent a concussion, it can prevent direct skull injury from what may meet you on the ground.
2. Skull/Exterior Head Injury
As detailed above concussions may at times be unavoidable if an accident occurs, but exterior head injury or the introduction of foreign objects direct to the skull/head can and should be avoided. The human skull, by comparison to other body parts, is durable and protective, however it will not withstand impact with everything. A quality riding hat which passes current safety standards will protect in these instances.
Research any leading riding hat brand and you will find a wealth of information which demonstrates the rigorous testing involved in assessing whether the piece of equipment is safe or not.
For one example look no further than Charles Owen. Those of us that buy Charles Owen riding hats do so safe in the knowledge that their testing is rigorous and studious and leaves no stone unturned, for an insight see the below video:
Imagine now if you will, what the difference in outcome may have been had this Charles Owen helmet been a human head. Scary, isn't it?
Lastly and most tragically, death is a vastly high outcome should you be in a riding accident without proper protection. Studies have demonstrated that over 100 deaths a year can be attributed to equestrian activities with a high percentage of those deaths occurring due to head injury (NEISS data - http://www.riders4helmets.com/equestrians/).
It is unknown how many of these deaths involved a rider without proper protection, but one thing is certain - Not being properly protected severely increased the chances of death or serious injury should an accident occur.
Riding hats (thankfully) have received support from excellent campaigns in recent years, with many groups working to highlight the importance of owning proper horse riding equipment. Here at The Equestrian Store, all of our riding hats are fully certified and tested and we stress the importance of buying a proper riding hat to every customer we meet.
If you would like to know more about the hats mentioned in this article, feel free to browse our selection of Charles Owen Helmets here: