The Right Not to Wear a Helmet

11 years ago StraightArrow Comments Off on The Right Not to Wear a Helmet

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Equestrian Federation has approved a rule that makes the wearing of safety helmets for dressage riders in national levels mandatory while on the grounds of officially sanctioned competitions effective Mar. 1, 2011. Since passage of the rule, many riders, trainers, judges, spectators and civil libertarians have emailed, telephoned and personally expressed to their views ranging from unqualified support to adamant opposition to the rule. Voices supporting the rule have dominated the conversations. Following is an email from an individual who did not wish to have their name used, but chose to run the comments because it summarizes the views of many of those who have expressed opposition to the new rule. Readers are welcome to make their views known in emails to and we will post as many as possible.


Why stop with just dressage regarding the new helmet rule? Why not require it for all equestrian sports? How about those vaulters? They arenʼt even claiming to be riders! What about when dressage is being offered at breed specific shows (i.e. Arabian, Morgan, Andalusian/Lusitano, etc.)? Are the competitors only supposed to wear helmets when they are warming up for their dangerous dressage rides? What about the claim that dressage horses represent the most highly trained horses in the competition world? Why would a rider need to wear a helmet on the most highly trained horse?

The ludicrousness of this requirement is on a par with the government telling McDonalds what to serve their customers. What has possessed USEF to implement such an inane rule? Is this new rule going to lower the insurance premiums for dressage competitions? Is this new rule going to make riding horses safer? Does this rule actually increase the liability exposure for competitions? It might actually, if one assumes wearing a helmet does indeed make the riders safer. Now, when they do get injured while riding, it must be due to management not providing a safe riding environment. The rule also requires the rider to have the harness fastened and properly adjusted. Does this mean the rider should go to the show Technical Delegate and ask them to properly adjust their helmet harness and thereby increase the show and the Technical Delegateʼs liability? What about during the heat of the summer? What happens when a rider suffers heat stroke due to wearing a helmet as required?

The sad part of this is what it actually does, it silences dissidence by claiming the reason is for “safety.” No one wants to appear to be against safety. This is the same tactic politicians use when they are endorsing certain policies. For example, they say a policy to broaden governmental intrusion into peopleʼs lives (and personal choices), such as the above mentioned McDonalds dilemma, is to protect children. No one wants to “hurt the children.”

It seems the main drive behind this decision/rule was the injury of US Dressage Olympian Courtney King-Dye. This is a case of an unfortunate accident which happened at her personal riding location. It did not happen at a competition and wearing a helmet may or may not have prevented or lessened the nature of her injuries. If one wants to hear expert testimony from doctors trained in the nature of her specific injury as to whether or not a helmet would have helped then we can have an intelligent conversation about helmets. Until then this is just a knee jerk reaction to a complex issue.

The fact of the matter is, unless USEF discloses the injury statistics for all recognized competitions and proves Dressage shows actually have a higher rate of injury, there is NO reason for this new rule. It is an adult choice to wear or not to wear a helmet and USEF unfortunately has taken a position of treating adults like children.