Can a foxhunter make use of modern materials and technology for a safer riding experience, yet maintain the traditional look of the hunting field? This has been an ongoing challenge.
With foxhunters representing but a small subset of the total market for riding helmets, it makes good business sense for helmet manufacturers to strive to distinguish and brand their product offerings with stylish new shapes, medallions, stripes, and other decorative touches, none of which resembles anything that would have been acceptable in the hunting fields of even twenty years ago.
Correct hunting attire of the early twentieth century called for men and women field members to wear hunting derbies, with men switching to top hats when in formal attire. Later in the twentieth century, both men and women field members were moving toward the wearing of the iconic hunt cap in the field, traditionally correct only for Masters and staff. The rationale was that hunt caps, covering more of the head, were believed to be safer than derbies and top hats. In the interest of safety, most Masters put up little resistance to this migration.
We recently published a story about Caroline Treviranus, whose accident during the 1978 Three-Day World Championships rapidly spurred equestrian organizations to mandate the wearing of approved safety helmets during competition. So it was that when Caroline started managing my hunting stable some years later, I was still wearing the traditional hunt cap in the field.
Constructed of laminated fabric stiffened with shellac and glue, with no chin strap to keep it on my head in the event of an unscheduled dismount, it provided scant protection compared to the new approved helmets. Caroline, in the interest of job security (and perhaps even my health), commenced nagging me about wearing a safety helmet with harness to go hunting.
I kept brushing her off and putting my old custom-made hunt cap back on. She finally tired of making fruitless entreaties and, on opening day of one cubhunting season, she presented me with a box marked Charles Owen.
“Here’s an early birthday present,” she said.
I’ve worn a safety helmet ever since. To my eyes, the Charles Owen Hampton model has best translated the look of the traditional hunt cap into safe head wear, but this year the company is introducing a new model, the H2000, to the U.S. market that should have special appeal to foxhunters.
A favorite in Britain, the H2000 is covered in plain velvet and features a graceful crown profile more reminiscent of the custom-made traditional hunt cap. It will be available in tack shops this fall, stocked in black, but available as well in navy (for lady Masters or specific hunt liveries) and brown (for men or women during the informal season).
I commend Charles Owen and every other helmet manufacturer that offer foxhunters protective caps that still hew to the traditional look of the hunting field—caps that provide all the safety of the newer materials, but maintain the appearance and the traditional plain velvet coverings that have come to “brand” us as foxhunters.
Posted June 27, 2014