Friday, May. 24, 2024

Top Hat Or Helmet?

We asked Olympic dressage riders about their headwear preferences.


At the Fédération Equestre Internationale level of dressage it’s a rider’s choice whether to don a traditional top hat or a safety helmet. Until a few years ago it was a rarity to see a helmet in the ring, but all that’s changing.

At this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games we’re seeing a mix of both forms of headwear, and we asked some of the Olympic riders for their thoughts on their decision.

Valentina Truppa—Italy

In June of 2015 a young horse reared, slipped and fell on Truppa while she was wearing a helmet at a national competition in Arezzo, Italy. She spent three weeks in the hospital, and it was another three months before she was cleared to ride again. Truppa used to ride in military attire with a non-protective hat, but she showed in Rio in a helmet.

My doctors told me that without a helmet I might not be here.

I’ve worn a helmet [in competition] for a while—maybe not at the last Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games (France). In national competitions I’ve always had a helmet. It’s especially important now because they tell me if I had a bad fall again it would be bad.

We can make our own decisions. For me, I have just one head, and I want to take care of it.

My students in my stable all ride with helmets. You never know what can happen.

Spencer Wilton—Great Britain

We had a bit of a team chat before we came out here. We just all felt it’s on such a big stage, and it’s such an important thing that we all wanted to wear out hard hats with our chinstraps and try and set an example, hopefully. I haven’t seen what people are wearing, but I’m guessing most people will have made that decision.

Charlotte [Dujardin] always rides in one. I’ve mostly ridden in one for the last year. Fiona rides in one because of the accident she had years ago. We felt it was the right thing to do.

Sönke Rothenberger—Germany
Top hat

Sönke Rothenberger on Cosmo. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

I normally always wear a helmet. In Aachen [CHIO, Germany] we talked to the team, and they said, “OK, once you’re on the team you ride with the top hat,” so I rode with the top hat [here]. I don’t feel that much of a difference.

I warm up in a helmet.

Kasey Perry-Glass—United States

I’ve always worn my helmet. I’ve never been a big advocate for not wearing a helmet. I wanted to wear my helmet here. It’s very important, and I want to stay healthy. Anything can happen at any time. Dublet is a pretty sensitive horse—you just never know. I use one on any horse, at home too. It’s very important.

Dorothee Schneider—Germany
Top hat 

I wear a top hat because it’s classical. It’s a fine look.

Edward Gal—the Netherlands
Top hat


I always wear the top hat. I think with dressage it looks nicer. My face isn’t made for a helmet. With the young horses at home I wear the helmet. I don’t think I will fall off in an arena with Voice.

Fiona Bigwood—Great Britain

Fiona Bigwood on Orthilia. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

Bigwood suffered a serious fall in 2014 at a local show sustaining a major concussion while wearing a helmet. The fall damaged an eye nerve, and she still suffers double vision, so she wears an eye patch to ride.

I’m 50-50 on it. We know our horses are pretty safe. Of course a horse can fall over and have an accident, but generally I think so few riders fall off at a competition. A lot of people actually warm up with helmets on and will literally swap and put on the top hat to compete. I’m very neutral on it. 

I was wearing a helmet when the accident happened, and that’s where the pressure hit. You have to make sure your helmet actually fits properly. 

Mary Hamm—Australia

It’s an easy decision: I don’t want to fall off and bash my head in if he bolted into the sunset. I used to be really anti-helmet. I’m getting a little bit older and don’t want to bang my head. When I got “Boogie” he was such a naughty young lad I thought perhaps I was safer in a helmet. I love the look of a top hat, and perhaps when he’s a little more reliable I’ll put my top hat back on, but not just yet.

Julie Brougham—New Zealand

I’ve been wearing a helmet about four years. My husband bought it for my birthday. I thought, really? He said, “Yes, it’s time. It’s time you had a safety helmet on—it can be trendy.” My husband is a doctor, my son’s a doctor, and my daughter’s a doctor, and they all think safety helmet is the way to go. They’re dealing with accidents all the time. Stupid things happen all the time.

Yvonne Lobos Muños—Dominican Republic

I was stubborn about it in the beginning. I said, “No I don’t need it. It looks nicer with a top hat.” It was my husband who said, “You’ve got two kids and there’s me.” I was like never mind, and I wore one from that second on.

I swapped right when Courtney King [Dye] had her accident. The day after I was like, “Oh my God.” A lot of people said, “I don’t fall on my head.” Well you wouldn’t be here if you’d fallen on your head.

I was crazy. I used to jump without my helmet when I was jumper rider. Now I can’t even hack without my helmet. No, I need it on my head, and I think it looks good.

Tanya Seymour—South Africa
Top hat

I wear my top hat, but I wear my helmet quite a lot more than I used to, especially with young horses and in young horse competition.

I wear the top hat because it looks good, I guess. Anything can happen with horses, but I’ve had [Ramoneur 6] a long time. I feel safe on him. I trust him. If I had one that I didn’t feel as confident on I’d wear a helmet.

Judy Reynolds—Ireland
Top hat

I always ride at home in a helmet, but I always ride at this level with a top hat. I’m terribly traditional and conservative in some ways, so I like the traditional look. I’m also a believer that at this level, our horses are well enough trained and under control to be able to deal with it. Accidents can always happen, and that’s why at home in training, when we’re not quite so focused and switched on, we do ride with [helmets], but I just like the look [of the top hat].

Steffen Peters—United States
Top hat


I consider myself one of those older guys. It’s just one of those things—the top hat has brought me so much luck for 30 years. I do wear a helmet in the warm-up, and I do in the training every single day. But it’s just the one little superstition that I have. It’s one of those things I’ll probably keep on doing until I retire. 

Laura Graves—United States

Laura Graves on Verdades. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

It’s never a decision for me; it’s just a part of my uniform. Whether I’m showing or I’m schooling we wear helmets everywhere. No one gets on in my barn without one. I love to ride, I love what I do, but it’s just a simple fact that there’s danger and risk involved. I want to be around to do this for a very long time, and of course I’m going to tumble off from time to time, riding horses maybe I shouldn’t sometimes, ones like [Verdades] that end up being worth it in the end. We have to protect ourselves.

Charlotte Dujardin—Great Britain

I always ride in a helmet. I had a really bad fall quite a few years ago. I had a fracture in my skull for not having a hat on. [When I started wearing one] no one wore crash hats in the arenas, but I was like you only have one head. 

Isabell Werth—Germany
Top hat 

It was a clear decision of our team. Our team wants to have our top hats.

Hans-Peter Minderhoud—the Netherlands
Top hat 

I’m always riding with a top hat. I think it looks nicer. As long as we are allowed I will use my top hat.

Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven—Sweden
Top hat

I’ve always shown with my top hat. I always ride with a helmet otherwise. I will keep showing with the top hat.

Carl Hester—Great Britain

We made the decision together as a team. Charlotte always wears one; I often wear one. Spencer is the same. I think that the Olympics is on the world stage, and it’s a good show to do that. It’s everybody’s individual choice; we don’t expect anybody to do what we do. But as a team it just looked more cohesive that we all did the same thing.

Cathrine Dufour—Denmark

I really like wearing a helmet. I’ve done it for several years, and I feel more secure. My trainer really wishes me to wear a top hat, so I promised him that if I move on to tomorrow, I will ride with the top hat. But I like a helmet; I feel more secure. I had my top hat on for the first time in a long time a few weeks ago, and it was horrible. I felt so naked. I had to practice riding in it again because I was so used to the helmet.

Patrik Kittel—Sweden
Top hat

Patrick Kittel on Deja. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

I’ve always competed in a top hat; I love the top hat. I respect the people who want to ride with a helmet. I wear a helmet in all the other riding I do. But for me, I’m a bit traditional. When I’m in the ring, I like the top hat. But I think it’s up to each rider who is over 18 years old to make a decision. You can drive a car, you can drink alcohol, it’s also your decision if you want to wear a top hat or a helmet in the test. That’s my opinion.

Mollie Bailey and Lindsay Berreth are on the ground in Rio de Janeiro for the Chronicle and will be reporting with all the news, fantastic photos and behind-the-scenes details, all posted on Your go-to page for all things Olympic is

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