Olympic dressage medallist Steffen Peters has ditched his top hat for a helmet following the example of his teammates and idols.
The two-time Olympic team bronze medal-winner, pictured above at the Rio 2016 Olympics, made it his new year’s resolution to wear a helmet for FEI competitions. Protective headgear is already compulsory in national competitions run under US Equestrian rules.
He was encouraged by his US teammates as well as pressure from mothers and fans on social media.
When he looked at the team pictures from Rio 2016, he realised he was the only US rider in a topper.
He was also influenced by Carl Hester’s choice to often wear a helmet over a top hat.
“I received so many messages on Facebook, some firm, some kindly convincing me to wear a helmet because I am setting an example for children,” he said.
“Some mothers aggressively told me that I have to wear a helmet. I listened.
“At the end of the day, if so many people speak out, and when you are an athlete in this position, you have to set guidelines and suggestions, and I listened.”
Research has found that 45% of sports-related traumatic brain injuries among adults in the US between 2003 and 2012 were related to equestrian falls.
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“Safety comes first,” added Steffen.
“There are so many accidents where the horse is walking; it’s not always the horse acting up, bucking, or a rider falling off. Sometimes it’s little situations that we can’t control.”
He admitted it was “superstition” that had caused him to hold on to his top hat for so long.
“Over the years, I became less superstitious,” he said.
“At first it was my tailcoat that I had for 26 years. The top hat was the final superstitious item that I hung on to. I had a couple of good tests with the helmet and decided to switch.”
The number of riders opting for safety helmets over top hats was a talking point at last year’s Olympics.
There was a notable increase in both the pure and eventing dressage of riders choosing to wear hard hats compared to London 2012.
The British Equestrian Federation confirmed to H&H last year that the Brits’ decision on what to wear was down to the riders themselves.
All of the British silver medal-winning dressage team opted for hard hats.
“We felt that on this occasion it was the appropriate thing to do as the Olympics is on such a huge stage,” British dressage team member Spencer Wilton told H&H at the time.
A British Dressage spokesman added the dressage team’s decision was a “great statement”.