Then and Now: Helmets in Olympic Eventing Dressage

Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Jenni Autry. Gemma Tattersall and Quicklook V. Photo by Jenni Autry.

It was a historic year for eventing at the Olympics for a host of reasons. But aside from the toughest cross country course in modern Olympic eventing history and witnessing the greatness that is Michael Jung, there is one more new record that you may or may not have noticed: the number of helmets worn during the dressage phase.

We have been witness to something of a revolution in eventing since 2010 after Courtney King Dye’s traumatic brain injury sparked a movement in helmet awareness. That year we also saw Allison Springer break the mold at Rolex Kentucky as the only rider to wear a helmet during dressage as opposed to the traditional top hat.

Particularly at Rolex, as the CCI4* with the largest contingent of North American competitors, we’ve watched the number of helmet-wearers significantly increase over the past few years: 57% in 2014, 84% in 2015 and 86% this year.

Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The trend is also catching on internationally. Of the 65 competitors that cantered down the centerline during the dressage phase of eventing at the 2016 Olympic Games, 35 chose to wear helmets in lieu of top hats. That’s 54% of the field wearing helmets, the greatest percentage of helmet-wearers in a major international championships to date.

Compare that to the 2012 London Olympics when just 3% of competitors elected to wear helmets, and to the 2014 World Equestrian Games when 23% donned helmets.

Of the 12 nations fielding full teams in Rio, three had all helmet-wearing representatives (Canada, Italy and the Netherlands) and three were represented solely by those who wore top hats (Australia, France and New Zealand). The other six teams had a mix of top hats and helmets.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Perhaps most notably, we still saw William Fox-Pitt in his signature top hat after suffering a brain injury in a fall last October. Commenting on his decision, William said, “I have always worn a top hat in dressage. I have done that for 33 years. And I will not wear a crash helmet unless they change the rules and force me to.”

What do you think, EN? Will this trend continue, with more and more event riders wearing helmets in dressage? Will we see even more than 54% of the field wearing  helmets at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

Go Eventing.

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