The hat debate is not confined to competition. As anyone can see from scanning horses for sale advertisements, hat wearing is not yet universal while riding at home.

Neurosurgeon Laura Davies said she “fails to understand” why anyone would ever get on a horse without a hat.

“It’s so easy to be complacent,” she said. “You always think, ‘it won’t happen to me, I know my horse’, but accidents do happen. I see the devastating effects,” she said.

Increasing awareness?
The British Horse Society told H&H that from 700 incidents reported on www.horseaccidents.org.uk since 2010  just 30 were not wearing a hat to an approved standard.

Ms Davies also believes the culture of wearing hats is changing, but that top riders need to set an example.

“Riders like Charlotte Dujardin wearing crash helmets do an awful lot for the sport. But it should be made mandatory in prize-givings as those are the photos you often see, and it makes it look ‘cool’.”

Last week the story of an 18-year-old boy whose life was saved by his hat received a tremendous response on H&H online.

James Hooker suffered serious facial injuries in a fall at home in Swansea. He came off after a jump and hit the manège fence. The horse then kicked his head.
The doctor who treated James said that he would almost certainly have died had he not been wearing his hat.

James was kicked in the head as he lay on the ground

James was kicked in the head as he lay on the ground

James told H&H he “wouldn’t dream of getting on a horse without a hat”.

“Horses are unpredictable and have a mind of their own,” he said.

The accident has renewed calls from industry figures about the importance of wearing a correctly fitting hat.

The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) will be using the photos and James’ story to promote safety wear.

“We need to reiterate the expertise provided by retailers trained to fit hats,” said BETA’s Claire Williams.

Sheila Hardy from the BHS agreed: ”No protective equipment will protect everyone in all situations, but it will definitely lessen the injuries as has been proven here.”

Accidental death
An inquest last week (27 January) heard that former point-to-point champion Philip Scholfield, who was 55, died after he “slid from the saddle” out riding in Cornwall last June, suffering severe head injuries.

Assistant coroner Barrie Van Den Berg recorded a verdict of accidental death caused by a skull fracture and brain haemorrhage.

The inquest heard “he was old school and would never wear a riding hat”.

Pathologist Juliane Stolte, who carried out the post-mortem, said she believed the injury was the result of the fall, although the haemorrhage could have occurred before.