On 23 February of this year I wrote an article on the Piblawg regarding Mayor Boris Johnson’s distain for ski helmets and considered the implications for claimants not wearing safety equipment which is entirely optional and contributory negligence (see: A Ski Helmet? – Not on your Nelly).
Well, some similar controversy has been sparked from an unlikely source – the launch image for the Royal Windsor Horse Show. This shows a picture of our gracious monarch atop a black pony flanked by her youngest grandchildren, similarly mounted. Whilst the youngest Royals have the benefit of black velvet riding hats, the Queen (who let’s face it is internationally renowned for her headwear, both bejewelled and otherwise) has decided upon a rather fetching floral headscarf.
So what? The Queen has never been pictured in anything but when past equestrian pictures of her have been published in the past. Most serious injuries involving horses are spinal injuries rather than head injuries. And clearly, she has not been a bad influence upon her infant progeny.
Well, the BBC in an article entitled "Saftey Urged as Queen Pictured without Riding Hat" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13357822) citing Rospa - the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - as having responded to the publication of the image, implicitly stating (in the opinion of the writer) that it set a bad example. The BBC quotes a "spokesman" for Rospa (- will it shortly be just “Rospa”?) as stating that "it urged all riders to wear hats 'whether or not they are in the public eye', but said it was a choice". The British Equestrian Health and Safety Association is quoted as suggesting that they did not think the Queen was setting a bad example, adding that, as an octogenarian equestrian, the Queen is a good example of how riding keeps one fit.
Unlike skiing helmets, which to many are still an unthinkable accessory, the overwhelming majority of riders wear hard hats. Is there thus likely to be a difference in the way a court is liable to approach contributory negligence in a case where an equestrian claimant sustained a head injury, as supposed to a cyclist claimant or a skiing claimant? With reference to the earlier article, my opinion would be “yes”. The tipping point for the wearing of hard riding hats has long since passed and claimants who chose not to wear such a hat should be seen as having accepted a substantial risk by not doing so.
But wear should the line be drawn? There are riding hats and riding hats. Are those who like me, choose for aesthetic reasons to wear certain riding hats which have a known and proven record of being less effective than others be held to have contributed to their unfortunate horse related head injuries? I would certainly suggest this is a viable argument, even if the courts have yet to come across the issue.