Where have all the top hats gone?

Allison Springer in 2012 wearing her helmet into the Kentucky Three-Day Event Dressage arena for the first time.

by Meredith Kramer

Did you know an important first in rider safety happened at the Kentucky Three-Day Event?

In 2010, a Kentucky Three-Day Event rider kickstarted a change when she became the first to wear a helmet in dressage at a 4* competition.

Before then, top hats were worn in the dressage because of their classic style. The top hats represented the history of the sport, when helmets were not available for equestrians. The first official equestrian helmet certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials was not developed until 1990! As brain trauma research improved, results showed that protective helmets would be beneficial for a multitude of sports, including equestrian sports.

Though the use of helmets became the norm for many riding activities, top hats were still viewed as the proper attire for dressage competition, though there was no rule stating they must be worn.

But in 2010, Allison Springer made a statement for safety when, just hours before her test, she chose to wear a Charles Owen GR8 helmet opposed to the top hat other riders would be wearing during their tests. “I was not trying to make a statement by wearing my helmet, but if my decision to wear it influences others to wear theirs, then I think that this will always be one of my biggest accomplishments,” Allison wrote in her blog about the 2010 Kentucky Three-Day competition.

Allison’s decision certainly did have an influence.

The next year, 15 riders entered the dressage ring wearing their helmets. At the 2014 World Equestrian Games, every rider on the U.S. Eventing team wore a custom Charles Owens helmet in the dressage.

Now, 10 years later, the FEI has imposed a rule that requires a helmet when mounted for all FEI disciplines. The rule will take effect in 2021.

Thanks, Allison (and long-time Kentucky Three-Day Event sponsor Charles Owen), for helping our sport become that much safer.

Top hats off; helmets on!