Move Gathers Steam to Make Safety Helmets Mandatory For USA Dressage

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Beezie Madden and Lauren Sammis speaking at the helmet symposium.

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Jan. 10–With a big push from championship medalists in jumping, eventing and dressage, a requirement to compel riders to wear safety helmets at U.S. sanctioned events appears headed for gradual implementation that some foresee will lead to an end to the top hat and the Stetson in competition.

The latest stage in the drive to improve safety in horse sports came with a symposium attended by the leadership of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, public health experts and helmet manufacturers with stars such as jumper riders double Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden, international star Anne Kursinski and Pan American Games dressage gold and silver medalist Lauren Sammis dropping in to support efforts for more widespread adoption of safety helmet rules.

Perhaps the most powerful statement came from David O’Connor, USEF President and individual gold medalist in eventing at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, at the symposium arranged by a group named Riders4Helmets sponsored by Freedom Health’s Succeed equine supplement.

“The ground swell is here,” David said.

“The sport is ready. The technology is there. The time is right. The time is now.”

Overhanging the symposium were widely publicized horse accidents, among the most recent involving U.S. Olympian Courtney King-Dye who was in a coma for weeks after a fall from a horse almost a year ago and now embarked on rehabilitation.

“The horrible accident to a vibrant and talented young rider had the effect of removing the stigma of wearing a helmet,” Australian dressage rider Ilse Schwarz who is sponsored by the helmet maker GPA said on the sidelines of the symposium.

Adding poignancy to the event was that Steffen Peters, who headed one of several efforts to raise money to help meet Courtney’s medical costs, could not make an appearance as he was working with Courtney’s assistant trainer elsewhere in Wellington.

The most likely next step toward implementation of a safety helmet rule will be at the USEF annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, this week when delegates consider a proposal from the U.S. Dressage Federation to require everyone under the age of 18 and all riders showing fourth level or lower to wear a helmet whenever mounted at a showgrounds, including during warm-up and schooling.

While no competitor wore a helmet in competition at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last year, several riders including from the U.S. and Canada wore helmets in warmup and schooling and Steffen Peters wore a helmet during the awards ceremony after winning his second individual medal.