Isabell Werth Appeals Just Days Before Deadline for Right of Senior Riders to Choose Top Hat in Premier Events

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Isabell Werth on Bella Rose winning 2019 European Championships gold. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Nov. 6, 2020

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Isabell Werth, the world’s No. 1 rider and the most decorated equestrian Olympian in history, on Friday made an appeal just days before horse sports’ ultimate governing body not to take away the right of senior competitors to choose to wear a traditional top hat in premier dressage events.

The 51-year-old rider and a mother stressed the issue of “choice” and expressed surprise at opposition from some riders such as America’s Laura Graves supporting the rule though from a country with centuries of democracy and freedom of choice.

USA 2016 Olympic team mates Allison Brock and Kasey Perry-Glass who wear helmets were among those to join the petition to give riders the right to choose headwear, but Steffen Peters did not.

The appeal by Isabell in a telephone call with dressage-news came just days before the start of the International Equestrian Federation’s annual General Assembly online Nov. 13-23. The assembly can decide whether to extend exemption by dressage from a blanket requirement for protective headgear for all riding equestrian events. Dressage was exempted for 2020 so riders could choose to wear a traditional top hat.

Well over 100 dressage riders, including a majority of the top 100, petitioned the FEI to allow a choice of top hats or protective headwear for senior riders at premier events, such as CDI4* and 5* competitions and championships.

The possibility of reopening the issue of protective headwear for dressage may have occurred with a move by Sweden to amend the rule by requiring that protective headgear be “properly fastened” at all times, including during prize giving.

Germany made clear it opposed making the rules “even stricter” than those approved a year ago–“On the contrary, we would allow to accommodate the wish to wear a top hat in dressage.”

The FEI replied to the International Dressage Riders’ Club that the petition was submitted too late for inclusion on the agenda of the General Assembly that it describes as the “supreme” governing body of international horse sports.

Isabell Werth has won a helmet on different horses on occasion, and is shown here in 2012 while riding El Santo NRW. File photo. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Despite the move by Sweden to strengthen the rules, the FEI stated it is against reopening the debates over headwear saying that each discipline should decide on rules for prize giving, playing of national anthems and other ceremonial protocols.

“Please,” Isabell stressed, “give us a choice. It is never too late. It is not a question of whether I am older or old-fashioned. It is a matter of choice.”

The previous chairman of the FEI medical committee, she said, had made it clear the rule for mandatory protective headwear was aimed at jumping and eventing riders, not dressage where there were no known accidents in international competitions.

She pointed to the contradiction of protective headwear not required for vaulters even where there could be a fall from a horse or from a pyramid formation on top of a horse.

“Maybe the next step will be requiring us to wear body protectors,” she said of the clothing used in eventing cross-country. “It is so silly.”