Debate as 150 top riders unite against plans to ban top hats *H&H Plus*

  • A petition has been sent to the FEI asking for the ban on top hats, which comes into force next year, to be rethought. H&H speaks to riders and the federation to find out more...

    SOME of the world’s best dressage riders have signed a petition calling on the FEI to allow top hats to be worn at the top level of the sport.

    Proposed rule changes for next year, which will be finalised at the FEI general assembly on 23 November, state that protective headgear must be worn while mounted, at all times. Anyone found violating the rule will be “prohibited from riding until the protective headgear is properly in place”.

    The petition, signed by 150 leading dressage riders, asks the FEI to allow the option of wearing top hats in international competition, for seniors.

    It states that there has never been a “serious accident” at an international dressage competition, and that the top hat is part of the sport’s identity, adding that it is each rider’s right to choose between a safety helmet and a top hat.

    Top rider and Dressage at Hickstead founder Dane Rawlins, one of those who signed the petition, told H&H none of the signatories are against the use of safety helmets.

    “At that top level, there should be the choice,” he said. “When it comes to prize-givings or anything else, we agree; crash hats, but the people dictating this are inevitably not the people doing it. Are we really going to allow people who don’t do it to dictate the terms of our sport? That’s a freedom issue.”

    Dane said the main issue should be teaching people to ride and handle horses correctly, so by the time they reach the higher levels of competition, they are “not walking into dangerous situations”.

    “Putting a hard hat on someone won’t stop them riding like an idiot,” he said, adding that those at the highest level will have earned their right to be there, and so ride to a certain standard.

    “It’s very hard to argue against safety, but if you go down that road, you’ll be demanding body protectors and airbags for grand prix. To achieve that level, and put on your tails and top hat and double bridle, should be an ambition, and you should be good enough by that time that your risk is all but gone. I think educated, qualified people should be able to make that choice.”

    Top rider and trainer Pammy Hutton, who has also signed, told H&H she is a traditionalist.

    “But it’s about freedom of choice to me,” she said. “I don’t like being dictated to.”

    German grand prix rider Simone Pearce said the petition concerns her, adding that she does not think it right to publicly encourage young riders to go without safety helmets.

    “We as professionals have a duty to be positive role models to the younger generations and to the equestrian community alike,” she said. “I understand the argument that the rate of accidents in the competition arena is very low, but it is possible so why not eliminate any risk?”

    Simone said she spent a week in intensive care last year after a fall, with nine broken bones, a punctured lung and an abdominal haematoma.

    “This freak accident happened at an exhibition show on a 14-year-old grand prix horse; it was a completely devastating accident, which nobody could have predicted and I can’t imagine what more could have happened if I wasn’t wearing my helmet,” she said.

    “Equestrian sport at any level comes with so many risks and I don’t understand why some people think that ‘looking good’ could ever justify putting someone’s safety at jeopardy.”

    The petition asks for the matter to be added to the agenda for the general assembly.

    But an FEI spokesman told H&H: “The petition was sent to the FEI by International Dressage Riders Club (IDRC) President Kyra Kyrklund last week. However, as the FEI did not receive any request to change this rule during the period of the rules consultation process, neither from the IDRC nor national federations, the item has not been included on the general assembly agenda for a vote. It is now too late to submit anything new for the 2020 general assembly due to statutory deadlines to which we need to adhere.”

    The Mark Davies Injured Riders Fund  always advises riders to wear a properly fastened hat to the highest possible standard at all times.

    This news story will also be published in full in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 5 November

    You may also be interested in…