Hard hats are now compulsory for judges of ridden hunter classes, including ladies’ classes. As of the start of this year, Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain’s (SHB(GB)) rules state: “Judges must wear a skull cap or hat and safety harness according to the current approved BSI or European standard.”

“The change of rule was for health and safety reasons,” explained Catherine Burdock, general secretary of SHB(GB).

The changes have angered members of the showing community, who feel the introduction of hard hats with three-point harnesses will ruin the traditional spectacle of ridden hunter classes, in particular ladies’ classes.

Lynn Russell, who has judged ladies’ hunter classes for the past 20 years, is outraged by the decision, stating: “I think it is dreadful — the dress code is part of English heritage and the changes will destroy the class from an elegance point of view.”

Russell feels wearing a hard hat will spoil the look of the traditional side-saddle habit.

“I’m very much a traditionalist and I’m vain, I like the look of the traditional dress, it’s very feminine,” she said, adding judges should have an opportunity to sign a disclaimer.

SHB (GB) considered extending the new rule to competitors as well as judges, but in the wake of negative feedback from members and consulting solicitors, decided it need apply only to judges and competitors under 18 (hats are strongly recommended for the over-18s).

SHB(GB) is aware the changes will meet with opposition, but remains determined judges should wear hard hats for insurance purposes.

“The downside of health and safety rules is that you risk losing tradition,” said Ms Burdock.

Showing producer and judge Robert Oliver said the changes were a shame for spectators, but “a sign of the times”, adding there was always a risk element when judges rode up to 60 unfamiliar horses at one time.

  • This story was published in full in today’s Horse & Hound (2 February, ’06)

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