Safety headwear was once again in the spotlight at the World Equestrian Games (WEG), with many riders choosing to wear helmets rather than top hats.
In dressage, the entire British team sported hard hats — the first time every member of the team has done so at a championships.
“Obviously adults can choose whether they wear a helmet, but we’re doing it for safety and to set an example. We’re role models to young riders,” Carl Hester told H&H.
Earlier this year, H&H asked: “Is this the end of top hats in dressage?”after Fiona Bigwood spent four days in hospital after a fall while wearing a crash hat (news, 4 June).
But now it seems it’s not just dressage — eventers appear to be changing habits too.
At Badminton, more riders than ever rode in crash hats — including Mary King.
At WEG, although no British eventers wore helmets for dressage, German gold medallist Sandra Auffarth and Australia’s Paul Tapner did.
Riders at home waded in on the debate, too.
Young horse producer Laura Jackson said: “I really dislike seeing top hats now. Helmets look so much more modern. It’s time to move on.”
Amateur eventer Sarah- Jane Brown added: ”I’m just debating throwing my old top hat away — I wouldn’t go back.”
However, not everyone is on board with the changes.
“The current top three looked stunning in their top hats. Keep it up — it’s the best look by far,” tweeted Irish eventer Elizabeth Power.
Lyndsey White, who set up Riders4Helmets in 2010 after US Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye suffered a serious head injury when falling at home, is pleased.
“WEG was testament to the fact that riders are increasingly seeing themselves as role models, in addition to putting safety before vanity. Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester in particular should be applauded for being so vocal regarding the use of helmets,” she said.
Helmet manufacturers, including Charles Owen and Champion, are noticing a shift in opinion too.
“Sales have certainly increased over the past few years. More and more riders are choosing to wear helmets rather than the traditional top hat. It’s a great trend as safety is so important, and we hope it will continue,” said Sarah-Jane Fedarb of Champion.
Sophie Wells, who is a Champion brand ambassador and was on the gold medal-winning para team at WEG added: “I chose to scrap the top hat when Courtney King-Dye fell. She wasn’t wearing a hat and fractured her skull and was in a coma.
“I think it brought it home to me that you don’t have to be riding a naughty horse, accidents happen, horses are big animals, flight animals and have minds of their own. All it takes is them to trip. And that could change your life.
“Of course you can’t prevent everything from happening, but surely wearing a safety helmet is a sensible precaution?”
First published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 4 September