Safety headgear is under scrutiny in the showing world after Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) refused to implement a new compulsory headgear rule for its hunter qualifier classes.
But a poll of H&H readers suggest that riders think safety should come first.
Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (SHB(GB)), which previously ran all HOYS hunter qualifier classes, has introduced a new hat rule — despite a wave of objections from its members when announced — making it compulsory for all riders to wear a skull cap or hat with safety harness at all times while mounted.
HOYS announced last week (25 January) that it was not prepared to enforce the rule for its hunter qualifiers — which, as with all HOYS qualifiers, are governed by its own set of rules — so the classes will now be run by the British Show Horse Association (BSHA) instead.
But in a poll run on H&H’s website last week, most readers felt HOYS had made the wrong decision — only 33% felt that hats should be a “freedom of choice” matter.
HOYS maintains that it has not “fallen out” with SHB(GB) and told H&H that they had offered to look into adopting the rule for the 2015 qualifiers.
“We are very disappointed that SHB(GB) have chosen to walk away,” Helena Pettit from HOYS said. “We are very conscious of heath and safety, but as an adult we feel you should have the freedom to decide.”
Chairman of the BSHA Ian Darcy said that they had only decided to run the classes to “preserve the hunter classes at HOYS”.
The BSHA will hold a meeting later this week to try to establish what membership fee it will charge show hunter riders and what judges it will use in the classes.
SHB(GB)’s Liz Morely said that the switch had left them in a “temporary state of shock and some disarray”.
Despite the financial consequences from losing members that SHB(GB) is now facing by not running the qualifiers, the society was not prepared to compromise on its decision.
“We will carry on with our heads held high in the knowledge that we are absolutely sure that we have made the right decision,” Ms Morely added.
SHB(GB) said it has the full support of the Royal International Horse Show and will continue to run its hunter qualifiers for that show.
Their tough stance is supported by neurosurgeon Laura Davies.
“If people are told they have to do something there’s a big fuss about ‘my choice’,” she said.
“But if societies and governing bodies made wearing a helmet mandatory it would soon become second nature, just like the seatbelt law in the 1980s.”
The showing world, where tradition and elegance are so important, lags behind other disciplines when it comes to mandatory safety wear.
Approved safety hats are already compulsory for all British Showjumping competitors, for British Eventing except for dressage and prize-giving at intermediate and above and British Dressage except for advanced and above.
However, many high profile showing riders baulk at the idea of following suit.
A Facebook page set up by producer Lynn Russell called “my head, my choice” has had more that 600 likes, with members congratulating HOYS on “sticking to their guns”.
“It is not just the professionals,” Lynn said. “The voice from amateurs has been as strong.”
Producer Robert Walker also thinks that SHB(GB) has made a mistake in trying to implement a blanket ban.
“It’s shame that it has come to this,” he told H&H. “If they had listened to their members and been prepared to compromise then we wouldn’t have ended up here.”
As H&H went to press SHB(GB) said it would release a statement in the near future outlining the consequences of the actions of HOYS and the BSHA. H&H