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American riders will soon have to wear hard hats when riding at all national eventing and dressage competitions. And, from March, those aged under 18 must also do so in international dressage classes.

The move by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) follows Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye’s fall last March, which left her in a coma for nearly a month.

She had been schooling a young horse at home in Florida and was not wearing a hat when she fell off. She is still undergoing rehabilitation.

“Dressage riders called Courtney’s accident their 9/11,” said USEF eventing director Sara Ike.

She said the US Eventing Association had been moving to mandatory helmets at all levels for some time, but it took Ms King-Dye’s accident to push dressage in that direction.

USEF president David O’Connor said he was very proud of the USEF “for taking this very important step”.

“It is a huge change of direction, but if the technology is available to reduce head injuries, the time to use it is now.”

From now on, all riders, whether warming up or competing at national horse trials, must wear a helmet that conforms with US safety standards at all times when mounted.

The same will be mandatory in national dressage competitions from March and, although under FEI rules adult riders competing in international competitions have the choice of riding in a top hat, all under-18s must wear an approved helmet at FEI competitions in the US.

Following Ms King-Dye’s accident, a Riders4Helmets group was set up in the US to urge riders in all disciplines to wear a hard hat.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (3 February, 2011)