When you walk into a show pen, no matter if you compete in halter, showmanship, horsemanship, reining, or cutting, the judge gives you an immediate once-over, from head to toe. That means your hat is the first thing a judge notices about you and sets the first impression. So, obviously, your hat means a lot.
Here's our guide to making sure you get this critical part of your turnout correct, we'll discuss prices (whether you are on a budget or you are ready to make an investment in a high quality product), different styles and materials. We also have some NEED to know tips from our Hat Maker Trent Johnson.
The hats featured in this article are available from Rhinestone but our intention is to provide you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision wherever you chose to shop for your hat.
Rather than starting with the lowest or highest budget, we will start in the middle.
Price Point: £338
What You Get: Beaver 20
Who Its for: Competitors / Trainers
A black, 20% beaver hat, like this one, is a great investment. The colour never goes out of style, and it’ll hold up to years of
wear. Black is a classic colour and will look elegant on almost anyone, if you are new showing Western and easing yourself into the outfits black is a great choice.
If you are a little more bold then you can embellish your hat, like these painted tattoo prints. This is a fun way to express your personal style, but be sure that they complement your outfit, rather than compete with it.
Price Point: £40 - £90
What You Get: Straw Hat
Who It’s For: Competitors during hot weather
About the Hat: Some competitors swear that straws aren’t for the show pen, but as a general rule if the judge is wearing a straw, it’s OK for competitors to sport them in the arena. Straw hats come in two basic categories: palm and shantung.
A palm hat isn’t a show-pen regular, but there are companies that make finished palm-leaf hats that could be worn for shows,
sometimes in reining, cow horse, or cutting events. You’ll most often see shantung (woven rice paper) straws during summer months in Western classes.
Buying tips: Always go for a leather sweatband. You are likely chose to wear a straw hat to stay cool in hot summer weather. The leather sweatband will breathe, absorb sweat, and keep you comfortable.
Special Care: After you wear your straw, brush off any dirt with a dry cloth or blow it off with an air hose. Use a baby wipe to remove anything that remains on your hat. Finally, don’t put it in a hat case until it’s dry— otherwise, it can mould.
We often have people bringing in Straw hats for cleaning, honestly if the hat has reached a point where a baby cloth can't clean it then its time for a new one.
Price Point: £195
What You Get: Hobby Horse Western Treasure felt hat.
Who It’s For: The Newcomer.
About the Hat: The Western Treasure was created by Greeley Hatworks specifically for Hobby Horse. It’s made of a blend of European hare, and its proportions are smaller to flatter a woman’s face and frame. A hat at this price point is generally best for someone who’s not wearing it every day—it’s part of a show-pen uniform, not a daily lifestyle. If you take care of it and use it
only at shows, it can last two to five years.
A bound edge, as seen on the Western Treasure hat, is a personal-preference embellishment. The binding is never completely
in or out of style. Try it on to see if it’s your preference.
Special Care: The key to keeping a hat at this price in good condition is cleaning it after every wear. Brush it off, and store it in a hard-plastic hat case. If you do that, it’ll maintain its shape and be clean and ready to wear the next time you’re rushing to the show pen for your class. A leather sweatband is equally important in any felt hat as it is in a straw.
Price Point: £195 to £244
What You Get: Greeley Hat Works Classic or Competitor
Who It’s For: The Show-Pen Regular.
About the Hat: A hat at this price is usually made of a blend of European hare. It’ll hold up to regular weekend wear in the show pen for a few years, with good care.
Most hat bodies now come with a 4¼-inch brim, up from the previously popular 4 inches. That extra ¼-inch suits most body and face types. If your cowboy hat is strictly part of your arena attire, or you like to change colours, a hat of this quality will serve you well.
This is the price point to buy at if you’re going to embellish a hat or buy a non-traditional colour to go with a particular outfit. Chances are that you’ll sell the hat along with the outfit.
X Factor It’s been said before, but deservers repeating: There’s no regulatory level for the number of X's a hat maker puts on his felt hat. You will notice that the Greeley Hats we sell are not categorised by X's as it does not provide a standardised comparison.
What Greeley may call a 5X might be a 15X to other manufacturers. The quality of a hat is in the type and percentage of fur a hat’s made of. The European hare that Greeley use in their hats has more barbs per hair, so that means that the fabric they make is naturally more weather-resistant. Once you add beaver into the blend (or on a pure-beaver hat), the quality, weather-resistance, and ease of care only increase.
A note on safety & the rules:
Hard hats are something of a hot topic in the UK with many strong advocates for always wearing a safety hat. Western Hats are in no way safety hats and its a personal choice as whether you chose a safety or Western hat for a show.
Manufacturers have tried to make safety hats that 'look' like Western hats but these inevitably look much too large and bulky, if you want to wear a safety hat wear a normal hard hat it will look better than any attempt to disguise a hard hat as a western hat.
Children must wear a safety hat at shows. If your not sure about the hat rules check with the show team.
You can of course dress up a safety hat to match your outfit by colour matching a silk to your outfit! Protecting your head doesn't have to boring!