Understandably there has been a lot of controversy lately over the possibility of mandatory helmet rules for dressage competition. Although personal safety should be an individual’s choice it is difficult to defend the decision of not protecting one’s own head.
The main concern for not mandating helmets seems to lie in the fact that helmets are not as visually appealing when worn with the customary dressage attire, particularly the shadbelly jacket. A top hat, which offers little to no protection at all, is far more appealing when wearing such an outfit. Recently, as a possible alternative to helmets, companies have been designing “hard-hat” type top hats as they have for cowboy hats for western rider’s safety. These hats, while safer to ride in, are bulky and clumsy, thus negating the point of having a visually appealing hat.
Although this suggestion may upset some classicists I believe it may be time to consider embracing the helmet and updating the attire. Yes, that means quit competing in tuxedos. Tuxedos are certainly classy outfits for weddings or the opera but not necessarily clothes that inspire athleticism. Many other athletic events require helmets and maintain a dignified but athletic turnout. In addition to being visually compatible with safety gear, more athletic attire can be manufactured with fabrics that are more conducive to sports functionality. Wearing a blazer and an Ascot with leather boots while participating in an athletic event in the deep South in September seems somehow non-sporty.
While I have a deep respect for tradition and believe that the principles of riding and training should be passed from generation to generation, the time may have come to consider updating the attire of the modern equestrian. Athletes in every sport benefit from advances in fabrics and modern technological design for comfort and performance, why not us? If we want the rest of the world to respect our sport as an Olympic discipline we may have to suit up looking like the athletes that we are.