Saturday, December 4, 2010

Helmets in dressage - Should they become mandatory?

After US Olympian Courtney King-Dye's accident, a handful of Grand Prix riders started wearing helmets in the dressage ring. This started a pro-helmet movement with more and more riders wearing one,  while warming up and in competition. The movement spread to eventing when US event rider Allison Springer became the first rider in a helmet in the dressage phase at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

"Should helmets become mandatory?" and "to what degree?" will be questions on every North American eventing and dressage association's agenda.

Dressage Canada wants to lead the way and make helmets mandatory in the warm up for all riders. The United States Dressage Federation and United States Eventing Association will discuss various rule proposals at their respective conventions , that range from recommending helmets to making them mandatory at varying levels.

Coincidentally, most ECOGOLD-sponsored dressage riders support riding in helmets. At the Royal Winter Fair, we had an informal discussion with members of the Canadian Dressage Team. Some of the pro-helmet riders told us that they had been pressured not to wear them in competition and that a mandatory helmet rule was needed. "They have to make helmets mandatory." said one of the riders "There will be a big fuss for a year or two, but then everyone will get used to it and our sport will move forward." We were joined by Charles Owen president Roy Burek, who is based in the UK, where "the helmet issue" is not on the radar. We had a great chat which ended with Mr Burek fitting Olympian Jacquie Brooks with a new helmet, that she wore the following night in the Grand Prix Freestyle (see video below).

 When asked if helmets should be made mandatory, Jacquie Brooks told us:

"The move towards wearing helmets is a positive and overdue one. Dressage is not only behind other equestrian sports such as jumping and eventing but lagging far behind many sports such as skiing, bike riding and hockey both on professional and recreational levels.
The argument they don't look as good is simply not appropriate. It is time to treat our sport like the sport it is. Technology to protect us should be welcomed not rejected."
Jacquie Brooks and Gran Gesto - Freestyle at the 2010 Royal Winter Fair

Olympic Three-Day event rider Chelan Kozak, who represented Canada at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 1994 World Equestrian Games,  would also support a mandatory helmet proposal : "I'd be sad to see the traditional look of the top hat be forced out. But as a 1995 head injury survivor, I would support a mandatory helmet rule. I'm old enough to recall this same debate over body protectors and approved helmets. A safety device that SHOULD be implemented at preliminary level and above are cross-country: air vests!"

Jill Kreiser Jardie, an dressage rider from Alberta, Canada confesses to have mixed feelings: "I wear my helmet all the time except  in the competition ring, where I do like the traditional top hat....I am an advocate for helmets, but have mixed feelings about the loss of a top hat".

Ellen King, a Quebec dressage coach, would like consistency in the proposed rules: "I contacted Equine Canada's rules committee about the proposed changes to suggest consistency. What is allowed in the competition ring, should be allowed in the warm-up. Usually things are allowed in the warm-up and not in the competition ring, not the other way around. I think there is some resistance to making it a rule that helmets must be worn in the competition ring, especially at the FEI levels."

Sara Seidman, an amateur rider from Ontario, Canada strongly supports a mandatory helmet proposal: "Helmets may not be as pretty as top hats, hunt caps or cowboy hats...but they are a helluva lot prettier than brain damage."

Well said Sara. ECOGOLD supports the use of protective headgear in dressage at all levels, in the warm up and in competition.

In 2010, we changed our product labels and marketing materials to show images of Grand Prix dressage riders sporting helmets in competition. More importantly, our 2011 catalog features Olympian Jacquie Brooks, a pioneer in the  promotion of protective headgear for dressage riders at all levels, and she looks fantastic in her helmet!

What do you think?

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