Why Don’t Western Riders Wear Helmets?

Whenever you see people horse riding in the countryside, or at a horse show, you’ll notice that they always wear stylish equestrian helmets to protect their heads. Yet, Western riders very rarely wear riding helmets.

What’s the deal and why aren’t they protecting their heads?

In this article, we’ll dive into Western riding culture and try to discover the reasons why don’t Western riders wear helmets.

We’ll also explain why this needlessly puts riders at risk and what they should do about it.

Young man wearing cowboy hat and twirling lasso riding brown horse.

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Why Don’t Western Riders Wear Helmets?

The reason why Western riders don’t wear helmets is a cultural, traditional thing. At heart, Western riders prefer to stick with a cowboy hat rather than wear an equestrian helmet because of the image and traditions that surround Western riding.

That was the polite answer. The alternative answer is something like this: The reason why Western riders don’t wear helmets is caught somewhere between tradition and stubbornness. Something to do with “real men don’t wear helmets.

You see, if it really was just about culture and tradition, Western riders could very easily wear a cowboy hat helmet. These are helmets that are disguised as a cowboy hat. Cowboy hat on the outside, protective helmet underneath, hidden from the prying eyes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

And, to be fair to the Western riders, they would look kind of weird lassoing a bull at the rodeo while wearing a modern horse riding helmet. But, they would certainly fit in wearing a cowboy hat helmet.

Their choice to not wear a helmet puts riders at risk, though, so a small but smart population of young riders are starting to wear helmets.

Do Cowboys Wear Helmets?

Close your eyes and imagine a Western rider. Odds are you imagine a cowboy sitting on the back of a horse wearing a signature rodeo or cattleman hat. It’s a simple choice but it says a lot about the rider—mainly that they identify with the Western riding culture. It may come from peer pressure but links the rider to their culture.

Video: History of the Cowboy Hat

Courtesy National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum on Youtube

Also, some riders prefer to not wear a helmet out of comfort. Wearing a cowboy hat is, without a doubt, cooler and more comfortable than wearing a hot and heavy helmet. Cowboy hats have a wide brim that keeps the sun off your face and can even be used as a fan on a hot day.

Western riding culture also embodies the rough and tumble image of a cowboy—an invincible and heroic youth who rides off into the sunset as a victorious do-gooder. This culture can encourage some young riders to live up to that image by shirking a safety helmet.

Man on horseback wearing cowboy hat with red sunset behind him.

It’s not necessarily that they think they’re invincible but they certainly don’t see the danger in riding without a helmet. Even at rodeos and bull-riding competitions, you’ll find that many Western riders refuse to wear western helmets out of image and culture.

Time To Create A Safety Culture

Riding like a cowboy in a Western movie might seem macho but there’s nothing tough about cracking your head on a rock after getting thrown off of a horse, or getting a hoof to the head.

Tradition is not a good excuse to skip out on a western riding helmet. It should go without saying that your safety should always come first.

While many Western riders might scoff at English riders who don a helmet, it’s simply more practical to wear a helmet. Over the years, manufacturers have made helmets more stylish, lighter, and more comfortable for riders. At this point, it only makes sense to stick with safety over style.

Not to forget that cowboy riding helmets or cowboy hat helmets really do blend in. In most cases, nobody would even notice that your cowboy hat was actually a proper ASTM/SEI certified riding helmet.

Video: Resistol RideSafe

Courtesy of RESISTOL on Youtube.

Helmet Hats For Horse Riding

Maybe Western riders just struggle to find comfortable riding helmets? While it’s certainly possible, we think it has more to do with tradition. Finding a good helmet is a process of trial and error but it’s not impossible.

Riders should look for a helmet that’s both comfortable and fits well. Western riders could likely find everything they need at a quality tack shop where they could try on a variety of helmets, seek out advice from the sales clerk about helmet hats for horse riding, and get some more information on why a riding helmet matters. They may even be able to get their helmet adjusted to their head.

Man and woman wearing helmets standing with horse.

Traumatic Brain Injury Horseback Riding

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are more than very real in horse riding. In fact, research in 2016 found that “Equestrian sports were the greatest contributors to sports-related TBI (45.2%)”. Just let that sink in for a moment.

As cool as cowboys might look riding without a helmet, risking your health to stick with an aesthetic or culture isn’t very smart. Western riders who prefer to wear a cowboy hat put themselves at risk of traumatic brain injuries every time they ride.

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Unfortunately, young riders are at more risk of injury. Because they lack the experience of an older rider, they’re more likely to be injured if they lose control of their mount. If they are thrown from a horse without a helmet, they could suffer brain damage or even die.

Yet, likewise, young Western riders are more likely to succumb to peer pressure to adhere to a cultural tradition.

Western movies from the 1960s and ‘70s might have given older riders an overly romanticized idea of what it means to be a Western rider but that doesn’t mean our kids need to grow up with the same dangerous riding culture. Skip the Stetson and opt for a comfortable and properly certified equestrian helmet instead.


Compared to English riders, Western riders have a certain image to uphold as rugged individuals decked out in style with a cowboy hat to top it off. It’s a cultural signifier that sets them apart from their counterparts in Europe and gentrified New England.

However, the time is drawing near for western cowboys to wise up to the fact that TBI is real, and that wearing a great looking western riding helmet really does make good sense.

While this lack of safety may stem from cultural tradition, it puts Western riders at risk of brain injury. Therefore, we don’t advocate skipping a helmet when you ride, just to look like a cowboy.

Man dressed up in riding gear for dressage event.
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