From Top Hats to Helmets: The Accident that Changed Dressage


John T. Wendt
University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business


We have all seen the results of a dangerous concussion in football, hockey, soccer, and other sports. Now imagine that you are riding and falling off of a 1400-pound horse onto the ground, and the only thing protecting your head is a top hat. Would you be safer with a helmet? Should a helmet be required?

Courtney King-Dye is an American Equestrian Olympian and in 2010 while practicing, her horse tripped and King-Dye, who was not wearing a helmet, fell and suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was an accident. But her accident sent shockwaves through the sport. Equestrian federations from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain all instituted rules changes mandating protective headgear in practice. The equestrian international governing body Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) “strongly recommended” that all riders wear helmets in training and pre-competition warm-ups at all international Dressage shows. But riders in the competition arena still had a choice of wearing a helmet or the traditional top hat.

At the November 2019 FEI General Assembly, based on a recommendation from the FEI Medical Committee, the FEI approved Article 140 of the General Regulations mandating protective headgear as of January 1, 2021, for all dressage riders any time that they are mounted, inside and outside the competition arena. Frank Kemperman, Chair of the FEI Dressage Committee said, “Tradition is important in our sport, but it’s difficult to not follow the medical community’s advice…There’s no really strong argument against the use of protective headgear in dressage, except that it’s a tradition.”


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JOHN T. WENDT serves as a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Lausanne, Switzerland), the American Arbitration Association, the Special AAA Panel for United States Olympic Committee Disputes, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Special Anti-Doping Arbitration Panel, and the World Triathlon Union Arbitration Panel. He has published extensively in the field of sports law, teaches Sports Law, and serves as a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ethics and Business Law Department in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. He holds a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Arts, Summa Cum Laude from the University of Minnesota and a Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law. He has been inducted into the University of Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame and the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts Alumni of Notable Achievement.


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