avatar

H&H acting deputy news editor

Is it the end for the top hat in dressage?

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro win the grand prix at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final 2014

A serious fall by a Team GBR dressage rider has again forced those in the sport to consider their decision to ride in top hats rather than safety headgear.

Fiona Bigwood suffered severe concussion and spent four days in hospital after a freak accident in April. She was schooling her grand prix horse Sir Donato in a hard hat at Keysoe’s premier league show.

H&H columnist Pammy Hutton said in her column last month (29 May) that the accident had proved the tipping point for her.

“I was one of the first on the scene following the fall, which was real leveller,” Pammy said. “If she’d worn a top hat, the outcome would have been unthinkable.The bullet has to be bitten.”

Opinion had already been changing in dressage over the past five years. In 2010 Amercian dressage rider Courtney King-Dye suffered a traumatic brain injury when her horse tripped and fell in the yard and she was not wearing a hat. The fall prompted British dressage rider Emile Faurie to introduce a “hats only” policy at his yard.

Charlotte Dujardin winning Olympic gold while wearing a crash hat in 2012 also influenced the uptake in safety headgear in dressage.

And the tide is not just turning among the pure dressage crowd. A larger proportion of riders at Badminton Horse Trials this year rode their tests in crash hats rather than traditional top hats — including Mary King.

“I’ve got a hat with a chinstrap and I have started to wear it all the time,” said Mary.

“To be honest it was Charlotte Dujardin at the Olympics wearing it at such a high profile event [which made me decide]. I don’t think there are going to be many years left of being able to wear a top hat, and I’m setting a good example for the younger riders.”

Manufacturers are also noticing the swing. “It has always been surprising that the eventing community, who really are understanding about safety, have resisted helmets in dressage,” said Charles Owen managing director Roy Burek.

“But opinion is changing.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound on 5 June 2014.