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  • Writer's pictureCate Chant

It's time to break up with Hunter Hair

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

I was doing a photo shoot recently for a tack store when the director asked me to put my hair up in my helmet.

I’ve been wearing my hair out of my helmet for so long I sort of forgot I was bucking tradition by wearing a ponytail. Not wanting to get in an argument with someone paying me to take pictures with my horse (#thedream), I tucked my hair into my helmet and spent the rest of the day with a throbbing forehead—an acute reminder of why I no longer wear my hair up in my helmet.

Cedric and I demonstrating the must-haves of the equitation ring in the mid-2000s: open front boots, a pelham, and hair tucked inside my helmet.

More than once I've seen a child who has just started riding sitting on a horse with their helmet perched precariously on top of their head and the brim tilted backwards, exposing their forehead. It makes me cringe every time I see a kid wearing a poorly-fitting helmet, because our helmets can only protect us if they are worn correctly. It would be easy to blame this mistake on people new to the horse world who don’t know any better, if it weren’t for the fact you see people walking around rated shows wearing $600 helmets tilted awkwardly on their heads all the time.

From breakaway cups to airbag vests, there seems to be a shift in the industry towards greater safety. So why is there still so much pressure (both literally and figuratively) to wear our hair up in our helmets?

Here's a brain teaser for you from Smart Pak website: if you wear an air vest but a gaping chin strap, are you less likely to become injured in a fall?

In this blog post, I break down three reasons why I think it’s time to leave “hunter hair” in the past.

1. It can change the fit of your helmet

Helmets are known to reduce the severity of head injuries among equestrians, and those who don’t wear helmets are more likely to sustain more severe injuries including intracranial hemorrhage and loss of consciousness. (Gates et al., 2020) With that said, helmets need to fit correctly to perform correctly, and manufacturers advise that helmets should fit snugly and evenly without pressure points or gaps.

Proponents of hunter hair* will make the argument that you’re in danger of your horse stepping on your hair if you fall off with your hair in a ponytail, which seems like a legitimate concern until you consider that they are happy to overlook this risk for pony kids riding around with pigtails. A low bun worn outside the helmet seems like a tidy solution to this problem without having to stuff your hair inside your helmet, intrinsically changing the fit of a helmet meant to be worn close to the head. And yet, if you look around the warm-up ring for a hunter or equitation class at any rated show, it's the rare outlier daring to wear their hair outside their helmet.

For what it’s worth, I’m not suggesting we need to eschew hunter hair altogether. If you’re a hairnet whiz who can finagle your hair over your ears without changing the fit of your helmet, more power to you! But the expectation that we should all be stuffing our hair into our helmets prioritizes aesthetics over safety and is fundamentally unfair to people whose hair doesn’t fit comfortably inside their helmet, which brings me to my next point:

The "horse stepping on your hair" argument apparently does not apply to those under 12.

2. It’s sexist and racist

In a seemingly archaic tradition that I will confess to adhering to, women in the hunter ring are expected to cover their ears with their hair (complimented by a pearl earring if you’re a real traditionalist) while we fail to extend the same expectation to men’s ears visible under a riding helmet. As a person with relatively fine hair who has a small but permanent dent at the top of my forehead from years of jamming my hair into my helmet before no-knot hairnets were widely available, I have the utmost empathy for anyone with textured hair who has felt pressured to adhere to a standard hairstyle that is much more attainable for those with fine, caucasian hair and perpetuates outdated standards of femininity. It’s 2022, women can have short hair too. Which brings me to my last point…

Logic would dictate that stuffing this hairdo inside your helmet would change the fit.

3. We’re a long way from “tradition”

Traditionalists will argue that back in the day, a rider galloping their horse over miles of terrain ran the risk of getting their hair tangled in tree branches on a fox hunt. Which may be true, except there’s a lot more separating modern hunters from their fox hunting namesakes than our hairstyles (most notably their apparent inability to canter faster than 5 miles per hour or go to the ring without lunging for an hour).

If we adhered to traditions forever, we’d still be wearing flared canary breeches and stock pins – or worse yet, Swarovski-encrusted GPAs – galloping over huge natural obstacles and digging around our tack trunks trying to find our detachable ratcatchers. Times change, and on that note, I think it’s time we let go of the expectation that every rider enters the ring with the same hairstyle.

Not your average adult amateur hunter.

*would it really be the horse world if there weren’t people defending a hairstyle?

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