FAQ Gear Horse Care Riding

Why so many western riders STILL don’t wear helmets

Written by Horse Rookie

Western riders should wear a cowboy hat instead of a helmet, right? WRONG!

Though many Western riders wear cowboy hats, baseball hats, or no hat at all, more and more riders (across all disciplines) now understand the importance of “protecting their melons.”

After all, we ride because we love the sport or need to partner with horses for our work. Head injuries can keep you out of the saddle — for a while, or forever. #mindyourmelon

Unfortunately, many Western style equestrians choose not to wear helmets while horseback riding, even though you can get a certified helmet at Amazon for less than a typical show entry fee. Common excuses for not wearing a helmet include: 

  • Perceived fashion
  • Peer pressure to fit in
  • Lack of safety concerns
  • Heat intolerance and/or shade
  • Comfort and fit

Your health and safety, and that of your friends and family, must be top priority. How you look, what other people might think, and a fingers-crossed mentality should never factor into your decision about whether to wear a helmet.

See 5 of our favorite helmets in Safe vs. Sorry: How Often to Replace Horseback Riding Helmets.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Horseback riding has risks, there’s no denying it.

Luckily, safety research, technology, and design have advanced, and a few simple choices (like wearing a helmet) can help mitigate those risks.

Here are a few key statistics gathered by BrainLine that underscore the risks associated with horseback riding:

  • “The most frequent cause of death and serious injury for mounted and dismounted horse activities is head injury.”
  • “Head injuries are associated with approximately 60% of all equestrian deaths and 18% of equestrian injuries.”
  • “80% of horse-related injuries take place while a rider is in the saddle.”
  • “The majority of horse-related injuries occur while riding for pleasure.”
  • “Aside from death, brain injury survivors may suffer personality changes, intellectual and memory impairment, or epilepsy.”

As if these weren’t enough to give you pause about reaching for that old cowboy hat, consider this BrainLine takeaway:

Lifetime costs for acute head injury can be over $3 million dollars.

Despite all that, BrainLine reports, “Only 20% of equestrians wear protective headgear every time they ride.”

Yikes. Something is really wrong with this picture.

See our top 10 horse riding helmets for activities like dressage, jumping, trail, and more.

Times, They Are A Changin’

Though equestrian sports have a long way to go, (luckily) times are changing. Riders of all disciplines have watched their friends get hurt, or worse, and are coming around to the benefits of wearing helmets.

Click to see Fallon Taylor Troxel helmets at Amazon

English riders (e.g. dressage, jumping, eventing) have it easier when it comes to safety perception. It now looks out of place to see an English rider without a helmet at any reputable show or training barn.

Body protectors and inflatable air vests are also becoming commonplace in English arenas, which is a huge step forward.

Western arenas are another story. Shows and rodeos don’t require helmets, and the cowboy hat culture is very much alive and well.

(Wish we could say the same for Western riders who’ve sustained head injuries.)

Oftentimes, you may be the only Western equestrian at a show or on a trail ride wearing a helmet. And you have to be OK with that.

western horse rider wearing helmet

Photo provided by Angie Misaghi (@angisaghi)

The good news? High-profile Western riders like World Champion Barrel Racer Fallon Taylor and 7 x World Champion Header Jake Barnes have become vocal helmet advocates.

Check out Fallon Taylor’s line of Troxel helmets at Amazon. Her fun designs make safety “cool” for Western and English riders.

Watch the short video below to learn about Fallon’s history and why she swapped her cowboy hat for a helmet.

In a profile piece on HorseTrainer.com, professional team roper Jake Barnes said:

It was unnatural for me to wear one but now that I’ve got used to it, it doesn’t bother me at all. I wish this had happened to me when I was 25-years-old and winning my first world championship because it could have helped set a trend that would have people wearing helmets now. Hopefully I’ve still got enough gas left in the tank that I can do something significant enough that kids will look up to me and think, ‘Wow that’s cool, I’ll wear one too.’

Thank goodness for positive role models!

Horse Riding Helmets Infographic

You’re welcome to use this infographic on your own website *as long as you link back to horse-rookie.local.*

Feel free to share on Pinterest, as well by hovering over it and clicking the Pinterest icon. #knowledgeishorsepower

Horse Riding Helmets 101 Infographic

Every ride, every time, every rider should wear a helmet!

Bottom Line: Safety First

Whether you ride English or Western, whether you’re a beginner or a professional, whether you’re a man or a woman, you should always wear an equestrian helmet that meets ASTM standards and is SEI certified. Period.


A cowboy hat won’t help protect your head in the event of a fall. A helmet will.

Will your cowboy or baseball hat:

  • Protect your head from being cut by sharp objects like hooves?
  • Reduce the force of an impact on your skull?
  • Help your head slide across the ground instead of drag across it?

If you’re looking for a new helmet, check out our favs on the Horse Rookie Must Haves Amazon List.

Safety is smart, and you have the opportunity to set a good example for riders all around you by wearing a helmet. (You can put your cowboy hat right back on once you’re done!)

You life isn’t worth risking for for that Pinterest-perfect photo or to avoid a few warmup pen stares.

Real cowgirls and cowboys wear helmets!

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to: 


Love it? Share it!

About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!