Upper level dressage riders swap top hats for helmets at Palm Beach Derby

Dressage rider Courtney King-Dye remains in a coma a week after the horse she was schooling tripped and fell on her.

Professional dressage rider Heather Blitz is campaigning for upper level riders to swap their top hats for helmets at the Palm Beach Derby. Her campaign started in response to the tragic accident on March 3rd that left dressage competitor Courtney King-Dye in a coma after a horse she was training fell on her and fractured her skull. The accident happened while schooling at her farm in Loxahatchee, Florida.

Some riders have responded and are being praised for taking precautions. Robert Dover said in his blog:

First, I want to say how much I admire Jacquie Brooks for her decision to ride both her Grand Prix tests with her crash helmet instead of her top hat today.

Troxel makes a western "hat" helmet that hides the protective helmet under a felt hat.

He also predicts that helmet manufacturers will rise to the challenge and create a top hat helmet. You only need to look at what’s been done for western and saddle seat riders to see the possibilities.

Dressagedaily.com reported that

. . . there were more riders in the CDI warm up arena wearing helmets, and Heather Ward wore hers in her Prix St George test.

Dressage-News.com reported that Canadian Olympian Ashley Holzer, who wears her helmet in training and warm up rides donned her helmet to compete Prix St. Georges. Top hats are so steeped in the tradition of upper level dressage that many riders feel they will be marked down for not wearing one. According to the Dressage-News.com article,

Asked for their reaction to a rider entering an arena wearing a safety helmet, most judges pointed to International Equestrian Federation (FEI) rules allowing approved helmets to be worn. Some national federations, including the one in the U.S., have gone further and made wearing helmets mandatory in some instances.

USA “O” judge Linda Zang went further.

“When riders enter the ring, most of us judges simply note in our minds that the head wear meets the rules and is appropriarte.

“I would encourage riders to take all steps necessary for the safety of their horse and themselves.”

Certainly it is an unfortunate way to remind us all of the inherent dangers of riding and that accidents occur on the flat as well as over fences. Courtney King-Dye is a very accomplished rider. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. My heart goes out to her and her family. I hope that she makes a full recovery and that what happened to her continues to inspire the dressage community to buck tradition and ride more safely.


I saw this post on the Chronicle of the Horse Forum today — it’s from people who have decided to start wearing a helmet based on Courtney King-Dye’s experience. Please read it.

8 thoughts on “Upper level dressage riders swap top hats for helmets at Palm Beach Derby

  1. Thanks for the update! Amazing, wonderful news to see dressage riders standing up for safety and riding with hard hats instead of top hats.

  2. Nice reporting, Liz. I fully expect you to be testing the prototype dressage top hat/mets when they debut! They can’t arrive quickly enough.

    1. I’d be more than happy to be a beta tester. It will be the only time I get anywhere near the FEI levels of dressage competition!

  3. As a dressage rider one always aspires to wear the top hat; there is a certain mystique about it. To lose it would be sad but this accident graphically illustrates that the cavalier attitude most of us have towards protective headwear has to change. If the topper could be adapted to fulfill safety standards it would be a step forward.

  4. The article said she wasn’t wearing the helmet while schooling, when she should have been. I think helmets in competition are great, but we need to police ourselves when we are schooling at home.

  5. What hard helmets are being worn to replace the top hats – what brands are being worn and recomended?

    1. Any helmet that is ASTM tested and approved is appropriate. Certainly there are trends, but there all the major brands typically are approved.

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