I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was overjoyed to hear this week that the FEI has elected to make safety helmet use mandatory for all riders in all disciplines from 2022. I have long campaigned for safety helmet use, being one of the first to wear one in international competition in 2011 and since then, I have never sat on a horse without one firmly in place. I have come under attack personally for this choice and while my initial aim was just to provide a role model for young people who chose to put their safety first, such a rule change was definitely the ultimate goal. I have heard every argument there is for retaining the option to wear a top hat at top level, but nothing has convinced me that any move to make our sport and its participants safer could be a bad thing. It’s not too many years ago that safety belts in cars were considered ridiculous and I honestly think in a few years we will wonder what all the fuss is about. If just one rider and one family is saved from the consequences of having to live with a traumatic brain injury, then all the angst is worth it.
Surprisingly, though, this is not a blog about safety hat use. It is a blog about the complete ignorance that I had that such a change was in the offing. When I woke up on Tuesday morning to a message from my friend with a link to the article outlining these changes I was stunned. Not only did I not know that this rule was being debated by the FEI, I had absolutely no clue that there was even a general assembly of our governing body in process, much less the topics being discussed. And there were some incredibly weighty decisions being made about our sport. That lack of knowledge is completely on me. I had become complacent. Fortunately, my national federation, ESNZ, is lead, by and large, by an ethical and sensible group. They have often taken less popular positions in tricky debates to both protect and promote our sport and always with the welfare of the participants both equine and human to the fore. Maybe that’s why I’d become lazy.
I pride myself on being well read and abreast of various issues and agendas and am particularly concerned with horse welfare and also with the sustainability of equestrian sport long term in this new, post social licence environment. Yet not only had the safety helmet ruling passed me by, critical decisions about the future of WEG (being split for 2022), Endurance & Reining being retained as an FEI disciplines (they have, with strict guidelines) as well as several other quite significant votes. Sadly, minimum weights for endurance riders have been retained and, in some cases, even increased which I found shocking – the abandonment of weight pads in Eventing for horse welfare reasons occurred decades ago.
In short, there was a lot going on and I wished that I had been aware of it before and had the chance to have a voice. It doesn’t matter what your discipline or what level you ride, if you care about our sport and our horses, you need to be paying attention. Just as we have a General Election coming up and we can’t complain if we don’t make ourselves heard, we cannot sit by and let our sport disintegrate without being party to the process. The agendas are published online and your national federation will have the contact details of your representative, and the proper channels to make submissions. I’d encourage you all to get political. It’s your sport! And yes, I’m taking my own advice…
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