** Please note this blog is from 2015 and does not cover the new rulings on hat standards - we are working on a new one to cover that! **
Hi everyone, Simon from Track Right here. As part of the day to day business of the shop I fit a lot of riding hats and I want to help clear up a few of the major questions I am frequently asked.
- What makes someone a trained riding hat fitter?
- Is having a new riding hat fitted really necessary?
- SNELL, BSEN, PAS - what do all these mean?
- How do I actually fit a riding hat?
- I'm not sure my riding hat fits, can it be fixed?
Before we start, a little on my experience with fitting hats... I was professionally trained by Charles Owen, one of the most prominent British riding hat companies. After receiving my shiny certificate I was thrown in at the deep end at the 2012 Royal International show at Hickstead. Luckily I had some very experienced fitters there to make sure I was doing it right! Since then I have been fitting hats on a near daily basis in the shop which has certainly gained me a lot of experience.
1. What makes someone a trained riding hat fitter?
As I mentioned previously, I was trained by Charles Owen. Anyone who is a trained riding hat fitter will have been trained by one of the major manufacturers - whether it's Charles Owen, Champion, Protector or any of the other major brands. The training mainly encompasses being taught to properly measure a head, learning the different shapes of heads and how to tell when a hat fits. It is a very hands on approach to training and most the learning is done by fitting hats on the other people who are being trained. In essence, it's more of a foundation that's built upon by simply fitting lots of hats!
2. Is having a new riding hat fitted really necessary?
This is a question I face a fair amount - especially with the prevalence of online shopping nowadays. The short answer is "most of the time". What do I mean by that though? Well, in most cases it is advisable to get the hat fitted properly as the individual would misunderstand what a properly fitted hat feels like. Far too often do I get a customer try on a hat 3 sizes too big and say "That feels perfect!" - not only will this not offer the proper protection if an accident were to occur it could also quite possibly cause one by coming down their forehead and blocking their vision! The whole point of these hats is to protect your head if an accident were to occur and an ill fitting hat simply is just not as safe.
Adults who have plenty of riding experience should be able to tell when a riding hat fits them, although it's certainly not a rule and it's never bad to get it fitted properly. I would always advise that you get children fitted properly as they are often guilty of wearing their hats too loose if the parents let them get away with it.
3. BSEN, PAS, ASTM and SNELL - what do all these mean?
All of the above are safety standards for protective riding hats. Essentially the different standards mean the hat has passed certain impact tests that are deemed necessary for it to help in the eventuality of an accident involving a horse. This is a crucial distinction as it is why a cycling or motorbike helmet would not be of as much use to you in a riding accident - they generally don't have half a ton of horse kick them in the head with metal shoes. To attain these standards hats will have to undergo all forms of tests, including: lateral rigidity (crushing), penetration and stability.
Back to the standards though, not all safety standards are made equal. As a general rule, BSEN 1384 (or EN 1384) is seen as the minimum required and the lowest standard. PAS (PAS015) is a product of the British Standards Institute trying to second guess the European rules just before BSEN 1384 came out - they tried to create a standard that would match BSEN 1384 when it arrived. As it turns out, they made a much more robust standard - so PAS is considered a strong standard and above BSEN 1384. ASTM is an American standard that is incredibly similar to PAS but without the lateral rigidity (crushing) testing; so again PAS could be considered a better standard. SNELL (SNELL E2001) is the newest and safest standard developed by the Snell institute in America, only a few hats conform to this standard. Testing for SNELL incorporates all of PAS and ASTM while adding far more extensive impact testing.
So, to put it simply (highest to lowest from left to right): SNELL > PAS > ASTM > BSEN.
As a side note, Kitemark is NOT a safety standard. It's a quality symbol. The mark indicates that the company complies with a rigorous system of regulation and testing. Companies are required to provide the BSI with unrestricted access to their offices and factories and allow regular testing of randomly chosen samples through batch and audit testing. So while it's definitely a good thing to ensure consistency in hats it does not reflect at all on safety. SEI is essentially the American Kitemark.
4. How do I actually fit a riding hat?
So we have covered that you probably should have a hat fitted properly and which safety standards you should aim for... So now we just have to fit it, right? As I said earlier, in most cases it's best that you get it fitted by someone who has been trained. However, I will now talk you through how I fit a hat from start to finish.
The first thing I would ask a customer to do is take their hair down if it is up. Secondly (you will need a flexible fabric tape measure for this bit), I will take a measurement about an inch above the eyebrows - as seen in this example of Roy from Charles Owen:
This measurement is a rough guide on the size of hat you should be trying, I generally would go up a centimeter from what I measured. At this point it is probably best we mention the 3 main measurement scales of hats: 56cm, 6 7/8 and 1 1/2 are all the same measurement. The first is head circumference, the second is hat size and the third is jockey skull size. In most cases we use the circumference measurement of 56 centimeters, but everyone differs.
Once we have our measurement we have an idea of the size we want to try, now it's time to try some hats. I get customers every day who want a very specific hat, only to be upset when it simply does not fit them. "Surely it's just a case of finding the right size?" they say, I'm afraid not. All different brands and styles of hats are different shapes. For example, most Charles Owen hats are oval in shape and most Champion are round. Different people have different shaped heads and two 56cm people could wear very different styles due to shape alone.
You can generally tell from looking at a persons head what style they will be (although this may be an experience thing). Once I have decided what shape will suit best, I will start to try a couple of hats in that style. You will know very quickly whether the shape suits them or not. If a customer complains that the hat is pushing in on the sides of their head, the hat is too oval for them. Similarly, if a person complains their forehead and back of head are being pressed then the hat is too round. General snugness all round is what we are aiming for, although if it feels tight and uncomfortable all the way round then we should think about going up a size.
Once I have found a hat that seems to fit well - you can tell as you can hear a suction sound as you place it on the head - I tell the customer to wear it for 5 minutes. This is very important as pressure points will generally reveal themselves within the first 5 minutes of wear. General tightness will ease but pressure points will not. If after this time the hat still feels snug but comfortable then I will say I am happy with the fit.
After this point I will adjust the harness and back strap accordingly. You want to leave enough room to be able to run a finger between the chin and the harness, but no more.
5. I'm not sure my riding hat fits, can it be fixed?
So you bought a hat and after reading all this you may be unsure if it fits properly. Riding hats are known to grow as the padding inside them settles and beds down with wear - this is why we must fit them snug when new. If your hat was not snug when new, it could quite possibly be too big and just a tad wobbly now. Can we fix this? In most cases, yes. When we are trained to fit hats we are also trained to customise the fit with our own reel of padding. This allows us to tailor a fit on tricky shapes. We can also use this padding to adjust the fit of a hat that has grown too much as is now too big. It is important that the hat was somewhat close to your head size originally though, I cannot make a 59cm hat a 56cm. Certain brands and styles feature hats with removable liners - in this case you can simply buy a new liner to fit.
If you are unsure, the best thing you can do is take your hat to a trained hat fitter to be checked. In most cases this is completely free. In our shop we not only check, but also re-pad and alter free of charge.
So there you have it, I hope I have answered the major questions outlined above. There is plenty more information out there regarding riding hats, such as the BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) guide to riding hats which can be found by clicking here. Please also note that certain organisations require certain standards, such as the Pony Club and Riding Club. BSEN 1384 must also have a Kitemark as a minimum with these organisations - PAS and SNELL are both fine.
Feel free to ask questions in the comment box below and I will do my best to come back to you.