Looking Western, Staying Safe!

By Arden Foster on February 3rd, 2020

Frances, a long time guest and friend of Rainbow Trout Ranch, avid English rider, and UK resident, has written a wonderful blog about her latest discovery in helmet upgrades to look western:

If you’re thinking of a Dude Ranch vacation, then safety may be top of your agenda. I know when I was planning my first trip I was concerned with my own safety, and the welfare of the horses I would ride. That lead me to choose a ranch affiliated to the Dude Ranchers’ Association, and where I’ve now been going for many years, sometimes even twice a year, the Rainbow Trout Ranch in southern Colorado.

The Dude Ranchers' Association (DRA) is the governing body of the West's dude ranch industry, and it was created in 1926,  providing an organized structure for members in which they are able to exchange ideas and experiences in an effort to uphold the highest quality of services within the dude ranch community. Ranches undergo a rigorous three year inspection and have to meet standards of safety and welfare, which are reinforced by a programme of seminars about horse safety. If you want to know more then visit their website https://duderanch.org/  If you choose a ranch which is a member you can be sure that both horses and guests will be well cared for and that everything possible is done to ensure you can ride safely as well as having the holiday of a lifetime. There are also state associations, the strongest of which is the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association (CDGRA).

Rainbow Trout Ranch’s David Van Berkum has been on the DRA board for many years, and is currently serving as president.  His wife Jane was on the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association board for eight years, as well as serving as president and past-president. And both Doug and Linda, David’s parents, have served on the boards.  You can be assured they are great practitioners of everything that both associations preach!

There are things you can do to ensure your own safety too. Firstly, be honest about your riding ability so you can get the horse best suited to you. Secondly, read the ranch’s recommendations about what to wear. Western boots are best as they slip off easily and don’t get stuck in the stirrups, and long-sleeved shirts provide protection from brambles and the sun. You need a hat too. A hat keeps the sun off your head, but it can also help to keep you safe.

The problem is, you’ve signed up to be a cowboy and you want to look like a cowboy right?! Well, you have lots of options. First of all, most people will be wearing a cowboy hat and if you wear one you will fit right in. Just make sure you have a stampede string fitted so it stays on your head. The ranch will do for this for you if you don’t have one. But what if you want to protect your head a little bit more? The second option is to wear a riding helmet. No one will take any notice. You may well not be the only one wearing a helmet, and even if you are no one is going to say anything! I have ridden in an English helmet for many weeks in Colorado and Wyoming and I never felt like a lemon. However, I was conscious that I didn’t look much like a cowboy in the photos when I got home. One solution is to borrow a hat for a photo shoot, which is what my sister and I are doing in the photo to the left.  Our awesome wranglers even lent us some leather  chinks too, so we really looked the part! We have since been told that there is a certain mythology about what it means if a girl wears a hat belonging to a cowboy though, so you might want to be careful about who you ask!

After several years of borrowing hats, and being oblivious to the implications, I came across a third option - the Hellhat! This is a hard hat with a western brim. It got its name when its originator was wearing one and someone commented ‘that’s a hell’uva hat’! The idea came from the husband of Karen Plumlee, an accomplished sportswoman in the field of shooting on horseback. Karen fractured her skull in a fall just weeks before she was due  to compete in the World Championships  in 2013.  Mark made the first Hellhat for Karen,and she was wearing it the following year when she won the world title! Mark and Karen have created a fantastic Facebook page, with over 10,000 followers, where you can find instructions to make your own Hellhat, be inspired by the wonderful creations of other people, and even connect with people who will make one for you. You can find them on Facebook under ‘Karen’s Hellhat Posse’ and it’s a fun group, full of support and positivity. I was inspired to make my own, using my existing English hard hat and an old felt hat which was given to my husband by David Van Berkum. I’m sure neither of them have heard the mythology about what it means if you wear someone’s hat! Here I am wearing it on the fabulous Prima.


This is the hat I now wear all the time back in the UK. It keeps me safe and puts up with the rain extremely well. If the sun ever shines it will be shady too!

Finally, I had one made by one of the contacts I found on the Hellhat posse page. Mayleen Boslaugh can make and send the complete hat, or you can buy your own hat, send her the make and size and she’ll ship you the brim and band and instructions on how to fit it. Here are some of her creations:

I bought a Troxel hat from Tractor Supply in Alamosa and Mayleen shipped the rest straight to the ranch. You can find Mayleen on Facebook and she has a website too www.rodeoetc.com. You can even have matching chinks made!  Here I am in Mayleen’s hat, looking suitably western and keeping safe.

Whichever option you choose you can be certain you’ve already made the best choice in booking a trip to Rainbow Trout Ranch. 

To borrow a favourite RTR saying - Happy Trails to You.




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