Safety Helmets – Historic Statement by Steffen Peters, Quandary for Horse Sports

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Steffen Peters on Ravel in the Grand Prix Freestyle victory gallop. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Steffen Peters on Ravel in the Grand Prix Freestyle victory gallop. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Oct. 2–When Steffen Peters rode Ravel into the awards ceremony to collect their historic second individual medal for the United States at the World Equestrian Games, he admitted his thoughts were on 2008 Olympic team mate Courtney King-Dye whose battle to recover from a devastating head injury in a horse accident he found inspiring.

“I sent an e-mail to Courtney today saying that tonight I would dedicate the ride to her,” he said after the Grand Prix Freestyle where he won his second individual medal at these Games. “She has inspired me… and I felt like what she overcame in the last six months was so extremely inspiring that I made the ride for her tonight.”

The gesture of wearing the helmet for Courtney by the most successful rider in U.S. dressage history–the first time an American has won two individual world championship medals, the only American ever to have swept the three CDIO classes at Aachen, Germany, considered THE horse show, one of only two Americans to become World Cup champion–was a bigger statement than any words.

Courtney King-Dye watching Steffen Peters warm up Ravel during the WEG in Kentucky. Nearby (in green) is Hall of Fame Olympic medalist Melanie Smth Taylor. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news
Courtney King-Dye watching Steffen Peters warm up Ravel during the WEG in Kentucky. Nearby (in green) is Hall of Fame Olympic medalist Melanie Smth Taylor. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news

Courtney’s accident in Florida in March left her in a coma for three weeks and she has embarked on a rehabilitation program that has succeeded beyond expectations.

The accident has sparked both personal and organized efforts to take steps to protect riders from injury in horse accidents.

In  addition to Steffen and WEG team mate Katherine Bateson-Chandler on Nartan, Canada’s Ashley Holzer has been wearing a helmet during the WEG warm-ups, as she has for a long time.

Helmets are far more prevalent than not in warm-up rings at many competitions of all levels in North America, and a few top riders are competing with helmets including at Grand Prix. In Europe, however, helmets are extremely rare in warm up areas and this correspondent has yet to see a helmet worn in competition there.

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Dressage Committee issued a statement in June following Courtney’s accident.

The committee, headed up by Frank Kemperman who also manages the CHIO Aachen, said: “The FEI Dressage Committee strongly recommends that all riders should wear properly fastened safety helmets when training and in pre-competition warm-ups at all international Dressage shows.

“Riders still have the choice of wearing protective headgear in the competition arena.”

Frank told dressage-news.com at Kentucky that wearing of safety helmets is an on-going issue when asked whether there was consideration to making mandatory the use of protective head gear in pre-competition warm-ups for dressage.

“I have a question for you,” he replied. “What do we do in the competition arena?”

He also posed the question whether the same rule should apply to all disciplines, rather than make any exceptions.

For the three Olympic disciplines here are the current rules at senior FEI events:

In eventing and jumping, it is mandatory for riders to wear a helmet with the chin strap properly fastened whenever jumping. A helmet is not required for hacking or flat work.

For dressage, a helmet is not required for either warm-up or competition.

Many countries now require helmets for both warm-up and competition for junior and young riders no matter the discipline.