It often takes a terrible accident and plenty of publicity for changes to occur. In the past few days we’ve been following US Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye, following a freak accident on March 3 in which she fractured her skull in a fall from a horse.
Courtney is among the most popular riders on the US dressage circuit. She’s an elegant rider and has worked hard for all the opportunities she’s had.
The accident happened when Courtney was showing prospective buyers a horse on her farm. The horse appeared to trip over itself, and Courtney hit the ground. She was not wearing a helmet at the time.
Head injuries can take time to heal: Courtney is still in a coma but is making progress.
Now, many top-level dressage riders don’t wear helmets when training. From level 5 and up it’s not compulsory to wear head protection when competing. Here in NZ, though, the rules state all riders must wear a helmet in training and practice at a competition venue. At level 5 and up riders can then switch to a top hat or a bowler hat for the competition itself.
In dressage and reining helmets are not compulsory at all levels. Rules for both do allow the use of safety headgear, but it’s rare indeed to see a reiner trade a stetson for a helmet or a top dressage rider use a crash hat instead of a top hat.
However, last week at the Palm Beach Derby in Florida several GP riders did wear helmets in their dressage tests, in support of Courtney. That’s great – but perhaps it is time for a rule change to make helmets mandatory for all equestrian sports.
OK – riders can do what they like at home, and many do. But for many others, riding without a helmet is like driving a car without a seatbelt … the habit is ingrained. I don’t think it would take long for helmet wearing to become the done thing in dressage circles (and in reining) if the sport’s top riders donned protective headgear.
We each have only one brain, and once it’s damaged recovery can take a very long time. In some cases the damage is irreparable.
Endurance riders grumbled about having to wear a helmet when the sport became an FEI discipline here – but they got used to it.
Maybe manufacturers could get their design people on the job. Who knows, a trendy helmet could be the Next Big Thing in equestrian wear.
Horse sport has had more than its share of bad publicity in recent years. Maybe changing the rules to protect riders would bring some positive press to equestrianism.