Can y’all believe we’re still debating helmet usage in 2020? I thought we’d moved past the aversion to helmets thing in the past decade or so, but then I saw the article on Dressage News about all the top level dressage riders who had signed a petition in response to FEI’s upcoming 2021 rule requiring helmets for all disciplines. The petition was these riders’ attempt to get the FEI to continue allowing them to wear top hats in competition if they so choose.
My first response was an eyeroll. The h/j world went through something similar almost 20 years ago when they started requiring helmets instead of hunt caps. Things were a lot different then in regards to helmets and how widely-used they were. Back in those days a lot of us wore those hunt caps with the snap-on harnesses, and as a junior it was kind of a right of passage to finally be able to unsnap that harness and show without it (juniors had to have a harness on their ridiculous hat). The approved helmet rule went into effect the year I moved into Adults, and I definitely remember how salty everyone was about it at first, myself included, even though I can look back now and say that it was 110% the right thing to do and I’m glad they did it. Within a couple years pretty much everyone had quit their bitching and look at how far that world (and eventing) has come in regards to their views on rider safety. Honestly I don’t think it would have evolved on it’s own nearly as much if people had the option. Plenty of folks would STILL be out there wearing those silly hunt caps. How many people have been saved from injury by now because of that rule?
Still though, I didn’t get much past my initial eyeroll until I clicked into the article and read the actual petition.
“There has never been a serious accident at an international dressage competition, and the riders believe there is no reason to change that for senior competitors at CDI4*/5*, Games and championships on Grand Prix level.”
Huh. This is an interesting argument. We know of several big time dressage folks that have been seriously injured at home in very silly accidents, but I guess since it hasn’t happened YET on the world stage with everyone watching and bearing witness, it’s fine. I have not yet been in a car accident serious enough to deploy my airbags, thus there’s no real need to put them in the car. Sorry but “not yet” is a ridiculous argument.
“The top hat is an essential part of the identity of dressage.”
I feel like Charlotte Dujardin managed to nail down the “identity of dressage” just fine without it? If an essential part of your identity as a sport is based on a hat that makes you look like a butler from the 1800’s, it miiiight be time to re-assess priorities.
“It should be noted that there are other disciplines that are not required to wear helmets, and we feel that this inequality is not warranted”
Ah yes, the classic “but THEY don’t have to, it’s not FAIR!” argument. Good one. Although the only sport that will be exempt from the new helmet rule is vaulting, so…
“We believe it is the right of each individual rider to choose between the use of a top hat or protective headgear. This right cannot be revoked.“
Honestly this one kind of just made me crack up when you think of it in regards to rules. They tell you what color boots you can wear, what kind of coat, which tack, what bits, how long your whip can be, how big a logo on your saddle pad can be… but a top hat is THE “right” that cannot be revoked? Of all the absolutely ridiculous and asinine rules that DO exist already, the FEI finally passes one that attempts to increase safety and that’s the one people are petitioning about? The butler hat is really the hill they want to die on (no pun intended)? I also have a problem with the whole “personal choice” argument when the person wearing said top hat isn’t actually the only person that could be affected by their choice. What about all the people close to you, your friends and family, that now have to take care of you and everything else in your life after an accident because you just had to wear a top hat? What good does it do for the sport if you fall off and crack your skull open in the middle of a big event packed with spectators, televised or on a live stream? How does that story circulating in the media help anyone at all?
By the time I made it to the bottom of the petition I was embarrassed for the people that wrote it. It’s bad. It’s cringey. I thought “omg who in their right mind would sign this?”. Turns out, A LOT OF PEOPLE. OMG SO MANY PEOPLE. People I had a lot of respect for. Carl Hester? Kasey Perry-Glass (this one was extra confusing to me, because she’s been pretty pro-helmet)? Many of the 150 people on the list are sponsored by helmet companies, even. Not a good look, y’all. These are the people that our young riders look up to, the people who set an example for others. What kind of message do you want to be putting out into the world at the moment when all eyes are upon you?
I think it’s odd how equestrians are always so desperate to be taken seriously as a sport, especially on the world stage such as the Olympics, but attempts to modernize us a bit or even just make us look more like serious athletes is met with such resistance. I have a hard time imagining other sports being so anti-safety equipment. The football player saying “No, please don’t give me this fancy new helmet with the latest safety technology, I want to wear that weird leather cap thing because tradition!” would never happen. Can you imagine a NASCAR driver writing a letter with “my daddy didn’t run moonshine in a car with a HANS device, I ain’t gonna use one neither!”? In the cycling world (which I have had one foot in for a while) they’re crawling over top of each other to acquire and wear the latest safety technology – MIPS is old news to them, they’ve been utilizing that technology for over a decade. It’s a source of pride any time there’s something new and better, and something the media loves to talk about any time these sports are in the spotlight.
Have we not learned a lot by now? Have we not progressed in our view of the sport as an actual SPORT, one that requires safety measures? Have we really not figured out the importance of helmets by now? There’s a point at which clinging to tradition is detrimental – not just for the safety of the participants but also for the forward progression of the sport itself. I think we’re at that point. Put down the top hat, put it in your display case or something as a memory of a bygone era, and let’s move forward to better things. The loss of one antiquated item of apparel seems a small price to pay for all there is to gain.
(Also, your butler hat looks ridiculous in the modern era. Especially you male eventers with the really really tall ones that make it look like you’re compensating for something. There, I said it.)