One of the most interesting things about watching the Olympic show jumping was comparing the styles of the riders from different countries. Some rode in a half seat, some in a full seat. Saddles were different, bits were different, and most important (at least to the posters on various forums) was the way European women wore their hair.
In the US, the quest for “Ultimate Hunter Hair” has become a near obsession. Hair must be contained under your hunt cap, draped over your ears and carefully secured by at least one hairnet. In contrast, the European riders, like Angelique Hoorn, typically wear their hair in a pony tail, sans net. I saw several postings chastised European women for not taking more care in their personal grooming. When riding at the Olympics, having your hair worn long apparently does not show proper respect. It is sloppy.
Interestingly, I’m not the only blogger to post on this topic. Behind the Bit published a piece where she commented on the hair styles (or lack thereof) of dressage riders, too!
So, why don’t Europe’s top female riders pile their hair under their helmet? The first reason might be that in Europe, the Hunter divisions that dominate US shows don’t exist. Foxhunting, where the hunter dress codes originate, requires only a hairnet, and jumper classes are generally more lenient in their clothing standards.
But, the most important reason might be safety. According to the Equestrian Federation of Australia “Bulky hairstyles and wearing hair ‘up’ may reduce helmet stability.” This not something that is discussed much, but I think it makes sense. A helmet that fits properly should sit snugly on your head. It should not shift easily from front to back or from side to side, and if you bend over and shake your head, it should stay put. When you put your hair under your helmet it’s hard to achieve that level of stability, even if you buy a helmet that is specifically sized to accommodate your hair.
After watching Ms. Hoorn ride, shown below on her Olympic partner O’Brien in 2007, I can honestly say that her pony tail does not seem to affect her riding in the least!