UPDATE: The FEI has confirmed today (October 27) that riders have left it too late to add an item to the General Assembly agenda, asking for the retention of top hats in dressage. Yesterday HorseSport.com reported (below) on a petition against the top hat ban, which is slated to apply from January 1.
An FEI spokesman told HorseSport.com: “The petition with the athletes’ request for this to be added to the agenda for next month’s General Assembly was sent to the FEI by International Dressage Riders’ Club president Kyra Kyrklund last week. However, as the FEI did not receive any request to change this rule during the period of the rules consultation process, neither from the IDRC nor National Federations (NFs), the item has not been included on the General Assembly agenda for a vote.
“It is now too late to submit anything new for the 2020 General Assembly due to statutory deadlines to which we need to adhere.”
March 1 is the annual deadline for proposed Rules changes, after which nothing new can be added. NFs and stakeholders have the opportunity to comment on the first draft of proposed Rules changes, but not to propose anything new.
A ban on top hats in international dressage looks set to go ahead on January 1, 2021, despite a last-minute petition to retain the option at top level.
The FEI has been lobbied by 150 big tour riders prior to its on-line General Assembly (GA) on November 23, asking for a proposal over freedom of choice to be added to the agenda.
However, it is rare for the FEI’s 137 national federations (NFs) to reject FEI safety recommendations. Consultation documents published today (October 26) before the GA show that not one NF has indicated it opposes the new rule.
Petition signatories include Isabell Werth and helmet-wearer Carl Hester. Canada’s Jill Irving, Naima Moreira Laliberte and Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu are among the handful of non-European signatories. Laura Graves and Charlotte Dujardin are notable absentees. Fellow Canadian Jacquie Brooks, a pioneer and long-time proponent of helmet wear in dressage, expressed her disappointment on Facebook:
“I think the discussion on whether or not an adult does or does not have the right to wear or not wear a helmet at home has long been exhausted. The intrinsic problem with the spirit of this petition is that it is asking for the ability to wear a top hat at the most prominent and most publicized events our sport has to offer … Youth emulate their idols. In all sports. They want to dress like them, look like them and ultimately perform like them. The last thing anyone wants is someone lying in a hospital bed clutching a crushed top hat because they wanted to look like and be like a champion of our sport.”
Isabell Werth was involved in building a campaign to save the top hat back in the summer, although riders seem to have acted separate to the statutory FEI rules revision process, which mostly revolves round NFs. When the first wave of NF responses was received, only Sweden had proposed a compromise wording. They suggested that riders aged over 26 on horses aged seven and over could wear top hats in limited circumstances, and cited an accident during a prize-giving in Gotenburg, but this was rejected.
The FEI had historically allowed each discipline to make its own rules on rider attire, but decided in November 2019 to apply protective headgear rules across the board from 2020. A year’s stay till 2021 was forced by some European federations, also giving hat-makers time to adapt.
To date, protective helmets have to be worn at all times in dressage and eventing dressage including the warm-up and prize-giving, with the top hat only substituted if desired for the actual riding of the test.
One previous grey area was inconsistency in rule wording over “properly fastened” safety headgear. The FEI says that fastenable safety helmets shaped like top hats may be worn, but to date only one supplier has tried to make one.
The petitioners say the top hat is an important part of their sport’s identity, that there is no need to outlaw it for championships and 4*/5* CDIs and that there have been no serious accidents in competition. They say that inequality with disciplines that still have exemptions is unwarranted. Vaulting does not use safety helmets, and from 2021 in driving they will remain mandatory in the marathon only for drivers and grooms.
There will, though, be more latitude in other types of dressage clothing from 2021. The FEI is backing a proposal from leading European federations to extend NF colour schemes to team dressage competition. The Netherlands NF said: “ The rules for all Olympic and Paralympic disciplines have to be harmonised with regards to official clothing approved by the NF. The more conservative amongst us don’t have to be afraid that it will be a ‘circus.’ Contrast colouring is already approved for years in the freestyle and it did not create a ‘circus’.”
There is some question as to whether the deadline to add an item to the GA agenda has been missed – HorseSport.com is waiting for the FEI to confirm. Kyra Kryklund, president of the International Dressage Riders Club, was waiting to see how the FEI reacted as she did not think there had ever been a petition before.