The Western Hat

Western Hat


A quick work out ends in tears

Early on in my riding career, I went down to the yard one summer evening for a quick workout with George. Not planning on doing anything strenuous, I’d left my western hat at home. It all went smoothly enough and the last thing I remembered before I woke up in hospital was that we had been walking quietly back to the stable – giving the boy a stroke of the neck for a good session. To this day, I don’t know what happened but I had obviously landed on my head/face because I was concussed. My face was a mess (well, it was never a picture, but could do without the scars and third eyebrow that now give it “character”).

It was a hard way to learn a lesson and I was lucky it was not worse. But, on the odd occasion since, when I have managed to leave my hat somewhere else, I’ve simply not mounted up.

And, horses being the unpredictable creatures they are, there have been a few more occasions when I’ve ended up in the dirt. The last time, I was riding my friend’s horse doing a solo penning class. Somehow the safety pin securing our competition number to the saddle pad had come undone. So, while we were quietly (very quietly) pushing our cow out to the pen, the horse suddenly erupted and I went skyward. I executed a fair imitation of a half pike and came back to earth landing almost squarely on my head. This time though, I picked myself up, dusted myself down and walked out of the arena.

Western hat did the job

As on all occasions since my first accident, I was wearing my western hat and it did its job. We call them “Stetsons” in the same way that we call a vacuum cleaner a “Hoover”. However, as with all cases where a market leader gives its name to a product, the name gets abused to describe something that isn’t  the quality of the original. I’ve never owned a Stetson as such but a have a number of good beaver felt hats of at least 5x quality and they’ve preserved what’s left of my face and head.

Now, many years on, I often wear a hard hat just in the yard working with Peanut. He’s improving daily but still apt to be a bit petulant and throw his feet about in the air. Catch one of those on the side of my head and I’ll know about it.

Not that I’m about to give up my western hats but you must think about what you’re doing and take appropriate care. 

Pros and Cons

So? What are the pros and cons? Firstly, in relation to the western hat,  we’re not talking about a hat that you might see the average line dancer wearing. Or a hat you may see at the seaside with “Kiss me Quick!” written across the front. The real thing is made of animal (beaver or rabbit) fur treated to felt. Its quality is described by an x-rating (5x, 10x , 20x or whatever) but be aware that one manufacturer’s 5x can be another’s 20x.  There is no universal standard. But, made that way, they are pretty solid.

What sets a Western hat apart from other forms of protection is that, firstly, it has a deformable brim. This, apart from keeping rainwater from running down your neck, can protect your face. Provided, that is, it hasn’t got a “roper’s roll” in it. Furled up against the crown of the hat, the brim is next to useless.

And that brim going all around, it doesn’t have a peak at the front that can provide leverage to twist your neck the wrong way in a rolling fall. The crown of a real western hat is hard but deformable as well so that it can absorb an impact directly to the top of the head. Motorcycle crash hats deform in their absorption of a blow and so do many designs of riding hard hat. But there’s an awful lot of riding hats out there that don’t and whilst they may prevent a broken skull, they don’t stop your brain from rattling around inside.

You don’t need one to “ride Western”

But, truth to tell, Western hats are only good for our purposes in the controlled environment of a show arena.  There, it’s a forgiving surface and our horses work at something for which they’ve been precisely trained. In the UK, some of our associations stipulate a proper western hat as part of appropriate western wear for their competitions. Increasingly, this requirement is falling by the wayside.

More and more, western competitors are wearing hard hats. Of course, they don’t have such a stylish look about them. But, for me, you should be judged by the way you and your horse perform in a western riding arena. The hat you wear shouldn’t figure in a judge’s decision.

I know that thousands of cowboys working in one of the most safety conscious countries in the world cannot be wrong. However, they are working in a particular environment with a western horse who knows his job. Put on a hard hat if you are out and about in the wider world. There, the risk of the unexpected is greater. Outside the show arena, the chance of a soft landing is virtually negligible. Then,  you have to leave your western hat at home and put on a hard hat…

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