At the beginning of 2014, Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB(GB)) introduced a controversial new hat rule, making it compulsory for all competitors and judges in its classes to wear a hat or skull cap with safety harness, that meets current approved BSI or European standards. This included in ladies’ hunters classes and championships.

However, the ruling was met with widespread criticism from riders — and now it would seem that the organisation has made a U-turn.

From 1 June riders are once again allowed to make a personal choice.

“At the SHB (GB) council meeting on 19 May, the rule on the wearing of BSI hats was brought up, following requests from the members meeting,” read a (SHB(GB)) statement.

“Many shows already have the hat rule in place, which must be met, but the members wanted to be able to choose when possible. There was a majority vote in favour of removing the rule.”

The new rules read as follows: 
“It is strongly recommended that competitors aged 18 or over wear skull caps or hats with safety harness in accordance with the current approved BSI or European standard, in order to minimise risk of head injury. It is mandatory for competitors under the age of 18 to wear such skull caps or hats.”

Laura Harrison from SHB(GB) said the organisation had “reacted to an overwhelming vote”.

“We are not backtracking,” she added. “We still strongly recommend people wear a helmet.”

The rule was originally introduced to bring SHB(GB) into line with other equestrian bodies. Safety hats are now mandatory for all British Showjumping competitors, for British Dressage except for advanced and above, and for British Eventing except for dressage and prize-givings at intermediate championships and above.

But in January, shortly after the rule was brought in, a disagreement over the rule resulted in Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) hunter qualifiers no longer being run by SHB (GB), with the British Show Horse Association taking them on.

“The decision has been made following overwhelming requests from competitors and exhibitors to retain personal choice regarding headwear,” said a statement from HOYS at the time.

Following this, SHB(GB) called an emergency council.

A statement from the society at the time said: “This has caused a lot of heartache about a rule by which HOYS’ own admission is likely to be enforced by legislation in the near future.

“SHB(GB) has the full backing of the Royal International Horse Show and already has the support of a significant number of affiliated shows throughout the country.”

Many members were frustrated by the apparent lack of reasoning behind the decision.

“If there had been a serious head injury or several show injuries of late, I could understand. But there hasn’t been,” said producer Robert Walker. “It was one of those things that not a lot of thought went into. I imagine now it will run more smoothly with those who want to wear a chinstrap being about to and those who don’t, won’t. It’s a shame the HOYS situation had to happen, though.”

“I admire them [for reverting the rule], as this shows that they are man enough to say they made a mistake and have listened to members to give adults a freedom of choice,” said Lucy Killingbeck, who has won the ladies’ hunter championship at HOYS twice (pictured).

“It is fabulous it has reverted but a shame it caused so much controversy.”

Jane Cooper from the organisation added: “We’ve seen it needs to be left to the riders’ discretion. It would be lovely if we could work with HOYS in the future.”