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Patey has been making traditional velvet hunt caps for more than 200 years.

But in recent years the company has seen its market dwindle.

Although they are the hat of choice for most hunt staff, safety hats are now compulsory for British Showjumping, British Dressage (except for advanced and above) and British Eventing up to novice.

So Patey has just launched a new safety hat, the Patey Corne, which conforms to the EU 1384 safety standard.

It’s made to measure — and, says Patey chairman Alastair Macleod, “90% as beautiful as the traditional Patey.

“But of course, everyone can use it everywhere,” he added.

Charles Owen has also seen sales of its traditional beagler shrink “drastically” — but its compromise, the Fiona hat, has proved popular for hunting and competing.

The company’s bestseller, however, is the streamlined Ayr8 worn by Charlotte Dujardin at the Olympics.

“A lot of people have gone off the traditional side towards the sporty,” said a spokesman.

Breaking with tradition

Crash hats are now a familiar sight on the hunting field — and now, air jackets look set to make inroads, too.

Point Two has tweaked its bestselling Pro Air jacket to make it more appealing to hunting people.

Julian Westaway of Point Two told H&H: “We’ve been aware that in hunting — when you bear in mind the accidents people have — the uptake hasn’t been as much as we thought it might be.

“Part of it is the tradition — to put anything on over your hunting coat takes some doing,” he added.

The Hunter air jacket, which went on sale at the start of the 2012 hunting season, is “a bit more subtle and shaped” than the Pro Air.

Point Two says the jacket is selling well and it has also seen interest from dressage riders and people who show working hunters.

Polarised opinion

Bill Kear, Kent and Surrey Bloodhounds senior master, has ridden in a Point Two air jacket since breaking his neck in a fall six years ago.

He estimates that around 50% of the field have followed his lead.

“Everybody has to wear the right kit, but anything you can do for safety is a must,” he said.

But others have had a less-than-positive reception. The secretary of one smart foxhound pack told H&H that members of the field had been “sniffy”, while one of the masters had asked her not to hunt in her air jacket.

That, says North Cotswold huntsman and H&H columnist Nigel Peel, is an attitude with which he has no truc.

“If you want to wear one to put your mind at ease and enjoy your day more, then I have no problem with it.”

But Mr Peel — in common with many hunt staff — will not be trading his Patey in for the new safety hat. He believes chin straps are a potential encumbrance.

“They [the traditional caps] are smart, comfortable and safe. I have seen people with chin straps caught in branches.

“If it’s hard and it fits, I don’t see what benefit a chin strap would be.”

To read the full news story see the current issue of H&H (17 January 2013)