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International dressage riders are being urged to wear safety helmets when training at home and warming up at shows, following an accident that put US Olympic rider Courtney King-Dye into a coma.

But this “recommendation” is unlikely to sway riders, and equestrian doctors say data needs to be looked at before any rule changes are made.

The dressage committee of the FEI, equestrian sport’s governing body, is “strongly recommending” that riders wear “properly fastened safety helmets” when training and in pre-competition warm-ups at all international shows.

Riders are also reminded they won’t be marked down for wearing safety headwear in competition.

Mrs King-Dye suffered brain bleeds in March after falling from a young horse while schooling at home in Florida. She was not wearing a helmet.

“That a top-level rider had such a serious injury acted as reminder to everyone that horses are unpredictable,” Peter Whitehead from the FEI medical committee told H&H.

“But we need to collect data and opinions before we say we should make anything mandatory. It is important not to make a knee jerk reaction and to look and see how much of a problem it is.”

The Medical Equestrian Association’s Dr Suzanne Kirk said wearing a hat while training at home was the “more crucial issue” as there are “significantly more accidents” in that situation, adding: “We absolutely endorse the recommendation but at the same time we understand that aesthetics and tradition are an important part of dressage.”

And riders appear willing to take the risk.

“It’s good to give reminders but it is up to each rider to decide,” said Olympic dressage rider Laura Bechtolsheimer.

“I tend to wear a hard hat on youngsters but on a grand prix horse I don’t. You compete in a top hat anyway. It can get hot warming up in a safety helmet and that takes a lot out of you.”

Fellow Team GB Olympian Emma Hindle agreed: “At a professional level you decide what’s best for you. If I was breaking a three-year-old stallion I’d wear a hat but I try to avoid hats where possible as they irritate my eczema.”

And H&H columnist Pammy Hutton has “mixed views”.

“I don’t wear a hat, but it’s nothing more than personal preference. I’m well aware of risks but I like the freedom of choice. Dressage is no less dangerous than any other form of riding but it’s a gamble I take,” she said.

Trond Asmyr, from the FEI added: “The FEI always has safety as a top priority but there are no immediate plans to make protective headgear mandatory in competition.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (1 July, ’10)