SAFETY TOP HAT APPROVED FOR EUROPE BUT NOT YET FOR USA, OTHER NATIONS

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Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein of Denmark trying a safety top hat. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

HAGEN, Germany, May 4–A safety top hat created to blend tradition and today’s demand for protection has been approved for sale in Europe, but different standards are holding up its adoption in the USA and some other nations.

The safety helmet within a hat is made by L’ Hiver, the family-owned Dutch producer of most custom top hats in the world.

Demand in Europe is already high enough that the company expects that one-fourth of the 20 top hats it currently produces each month will be for the new version that went on sale for the first time at this Horses & Dreams Meets Germany CDI3*.

The U.S. has taken the lead in safety headwear, mandating American-certified helmets for all national dressage competitors. Most people in the sport expect that the requirement will be extended to international competitions at all levels of dressage within the next few years. Different safety standards requiring expensive testing hobble adoption.

The safety top hat carries a hefty premium in price. Depending on the model and material, prices of traditional top hats that take 20 to 22 hours to make range from €750 to €3,000 (US$1,100-$4,400). The safety hats are priced from €1,500 to €4,500 (US$2,200-$6,700) mostly due to an extra eight to 10 hours of labor required.

H. “Boy” de Winter, who operates much of the business that his father built, explained that the top hats that are part of the traditional rider costume that includes a tail coat are made from flannel, linen, felt and shellack.

A separate safety helmet fashioned in cork is inserted inside the hat to provide protection. The hats are identical from the outside.

All the materials are “natural,” in keeping with L’ Hiver’s policy that, they say, also reduces sweating.

The safety version weighs 450 grams (one pound) compared with 300 grams (10.6 ounces) for the traditional hat with no protection.

To improve appearance, straps to secure the hat will include different shades to blend with a rider’s complexion. Straps on the first models looked less than elegant.

H. "Boy" de Winter with safety top hats. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
H. "Boy" de Winter with safety top hats. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“Boy” de Winter said that he has hired a lawyer familiar with U.S. equestrian regulations to navigate the expensive approval process.

However, other safety helmet manufacturers such as GPA went through the procedures to meet U.S. safety standards although some top American riders competing in Europe wear helmets bought in Europe and meet European standards only.

The L’ Hiver safety hat, he said, took five years to design and test to meet European standards.

The company is aiming to complete the U.S. approval process by Dressage at Devon this September so American riders can be offered the safety version of the traditional top hat.

Some helmet makers such as GPA have taken a different route in dressage, offering newly designed tail coats, for example, that provide a sleek, modern look matching headwear and coats.