What is a riding helmet made of?

making a halo

Dozens of technical materials and specialised components go into making a riding helmet, but there are four distinct protective layers.

Each plays a special role in protecting riders in specific types of accidents, both in the saddle and while handling horses.

All Charles Owen branded helmets are handmade in Great Britain by skilled technicians using the highest quality materials.

Cross-section of a riding helmet

This cut-through of a standard riding helmet reveals the four layers: the outermost layer, the shell, expanded polystyrene (EPS) and the internal headband.

Outmost layer

The first layer of your helmet is the area you can see and touch, also known as the finish.

The type of riding helmet usually dictates the kind of finish you’ll see.

Jockey skulls have a sand painted finish. All other helmets have different types of material cover finishes, including leather-look (vegan), microfibre suede and velvet.

The outer look of your helmet can be fully customised with the My Ayr8® and My Halo CX.

But the helmet’s outermost layer isn’t purely for cosmetic reasons.

It has an important protective function in allowing the rider’s head to continue slipping across the ground’s surface during a fall. This continued movement helps disperse energy from an impact away from the brain.

Fibreglass or plastic shell

This layer of the helmet provides initial protection against skull fracture.

The curved shell is able to spread the force of impact over a wider surface area before it reaches the EPS layer beneath.

Our fibreglass shells also surpass some safety standards by protecting against concentrated impacts, such as being struck with a horse’s hoof or falling against the sharp edge of a jump.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS)

The thick EPS layer acts as a microscopic bubble wrap for the head. It is the key protection against bruising of the brain and concussion.

EPS is comprised of beads that burst when struck and are crucial in absorbing and dissipating energy from an impact.

This is why it is so important to replace your helmet after you’ve had any fall or even drop your helmet on a hard surface.

Once those energy-absorbing bubbles of air have burst, they cannot offer the same level of protection the next time.

Charles Owen manufactures its own EPS in-house, using an ultra-refined recipe to produce the finest bubbles possible.


This internal layer is the part of the riding helmet that moulds to your head as you wear it.

The headband (or liner) is made of comfort padding and sizing foam, and can often be replaced if needed. We interweave silver ions into the material to kill bacteria and reduce odours.

The helmet’s headband also mimics the scalp’s natural mechanism by allowing it to slip across the skull and minimise forces that induce brain shear.

We’ve now covered the four distinct layers of a helmet, but there are other key parts of a helmet with important safety functions.

Flexible peak

Peaks, especially wider peaks, can help protect your face and eyes from the sun (or rain!).

A rigid peak can lead to hyperextension of the neck vertebrae. Charles Owen helmets have carefully designed peaks which are flexible and remove this hazard.

In fact, our peaks are energy-absorbing and start to break your fall earlier, therefore reducing possible injury to the head.

Helmet peaks can also protect the eyes when riding through wooded areas with low-hanging branches.

Peaks are not used on jockey skull caps to allow better vision when in a racing position.


Without a properly adjusted harness, a riding helmet can come off your head before it hits the ground.

All Charles Owen helmets have harnesses which are easily adjustable, secure and comfortable.

Our patented GRpx® technology six-point harness has self-adjusting cups that grip the base of the skull to provide a superior secure fit.

These key parts of a riding helmet and the specialist materials used are the product of over 100 years of research by Charles Owen.

We have been making protective helmets since 1911 and continue to push and set the highest levels of equestrian safety standards.

Now you know what goes into a riding helmet, peek inside our factory to see how we make them!