This month, the industry has been buzzing with the release of one of the biggest helmet safety studies in recent years from the renowned Virginia Tech Helmet Lab. 

The results of two years of research, 40 helmets from varied manufacturers were analyzed for Virginia Tech’s study, and the results are more than a little surprising. If you’ve read the report, chances are, you might be looking a little askance right now at your $700 Samshield or KASK helmet, and you’re not alone. 

The biggest takeaways from Virgina Tech’s results? Not only are some brands of schooling helmets just as safe or safer than the fancy, designer show models, but price tags don’t necessarily equate with performance. To wit: the top-five models all cost less than $500—most dramatically so. And this was no fly-by-night study.

Analyzing more than 100 fall videos, the researchers from Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics measured the hardness of the sand, dirt, grass, and synthetic surfaces where falls take place, then dragged dummy heads and other equipment to simulate what happens during an unplanned dismount at the school’s own equestrian facilities.

Data in hand, they headed back to the lab, recreating the events they witnessed in a series of controlled, quantitative tests. What resulted is not only shaking up the helmet market, but may change the way all of us view equestrian head protection for years to come.

Here’s a closer look at the top-five, four- and five-star models, which offer not just peace of mind when you’re in the saddle, but a price tag that won’t break the bank.

#1 Champion Revolve X-Air MIPS

Champion’s tag line is “a reputation built on safety,” and it seems that once again, they’ve proved it. With its patented MIPS Brain Protection System (an extra layer that minimizes the head’s rotation during a fall), this jockey helmet retails for $470, and was one of only two helmets tested to receive a five-star safety rating from Virginia Tech.

A leader in helmet safety for more than 40 years, Champion brand is a favorite of top British eventers including Piggy French and Pippa Funnell, and was the first manufacturer to begin building helmets that adhere to the rigorous British Standard PAS015 more than 20 years ago. 

#2 TuffRider Carbon Fiber

Not just safe, but ideal for warm-weather riding, the TuffRider Carbon Fiber schooling helmet is the second helmet on this list to receive a five-star safety rating. Designed with ventilation slots that allow air to flow, the Carbon Fiber’s moisture-wicking liner can be easily removed for washing. What’s more, riders can get a precise fit every ride thanks to Carbon Fiber’s adjustable dial, which can be adapted for riding with a pony tail as well.

Family-owned since 1992, TuffRider is known for its long-wearing, value-oriented products, including breeches, boots, horse blankets, and helmets. The Carbon Fiber is one of the most affordable helmets on the list, retailing for less than $58. 

#3 IRH Equi-Lite

This safety conscious brand was conceived by Angelo Plastino who, ironically enough, began his career in the 1950s making not helmets but riding caps for department stories. Plastino’s son Frank took over the business in the 1970s, and in accordance with the changing times, launched IRH (International Riding Helmets) in 1986 with a renewed focus on safety and affordability.

The IRH Equi-Lite schooling helmet—priced at just $55!—has a light-weight, well-ventilated design ideal for use on the trails or in riding schools and camps.

#4 Charles Owen 4Star

A serious eventing helmet with the chops to match, the British-made Charles Owen 4Star was certified by four, top international safety standards. This $375 model is a result of years of advanced computer analysis, which incorporated the latest technology with a fiber-reinforced shell to improve crush resistance, and the brand’s patented ventilation system with added vents to improve air flow.

With an illustrious history dating back more than 110 years, the family-owned and run Charles Owen brand is the preferred helmet of Olympic riders including Charlotte Dujardin, Nick Skelton, Beezie Madden, and Boyd Martin.

#5 Tipperary Sportage Hybrid 

Originally founded as a manufacturer of rider body armor more than 30 years ago, the Tipperary brand eventually expanded into helmets designed for all disciplines, including western riders.

Prioritizing safety, mobility, and fit, the brand’s Sportage Hybrid helmet can be used recreationally or while horse showing, with a contoured backdrop shell that can be customized with padding to create an ideal fit. Plus: top and rear vents to reduce heat build-up; a magnetic clip on the chin strap that can be opened with one hand; and a removable, washable liner. The Tipperary Sportage Hybrid retails for $150.

Review the complete Virginia Tech Helmet Lab study.