Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Helmets, Dammit!

Since it was a riding accident that has caused us to lose our access to the stable down the street. I think it's a good time to post about riding helmets. Do I wear one? Yes, always. Do I like wearing one? No, not always (especially now, as with summer and sweating my helmet gets stinky too fast between cleanings) I am amazed at the riders who don't wear one and all their stupid (yes, stupid) excuses why. I especially like the ones who have the biggest opinions about riding, training and safety where others are concerned but when asked why they don't wear a helmet, they get all defensive. Guess what? Unless you practice what you preach, your lofty opinions are suspect, too.

I found this on and I think it's the best I've read on the many excuses riders give for not wearing a helmet. I think if more of them actually had that talk with family members as in reason #1, they might change their mind.

Top Reasons People Don't Wear Helmets While Horseback Riding And Why They Are Poor Excuses
By Katherine Blocksdorf,

There are a lots of excuses for not wearing a helmet when you ride. But there is no good reason. The quietest, most well trained horse can cause injury if it is startled or hurt. Ask anyone who has accidentally ridden over a nest of ground wasps, or were riding calmly along when a car backfired. A helmet won't make you invincible, but it will help protect the one part of your body almost impossible to fix -- your brain. Please don't use these excuses and do use an ASTM approved riding helmet every time you ride.

#1 - It's my head, and I'm willing to take the risk.

You might think, it's my head and I'm willing to take the risk. But, what if your head meets an arena wall, fence post, rock or hard ground? Head injuries can lead to permanent debilitation. And while it may be your head, have you decided who will spend their life looking after you if you can't look after yourself due to a head injury? If you think you don't need a helmet then you should look your son, daughter, spouse, or friend in the eye and tell them: I don't need a helmet, but if I am wrong it will be your job to care for me. See what THEIR answer is.

#2 - I can't wear a helmet in the show ring without being penalized.

Dressage riders, western riders, and other folks who compete might feel they will be penalized if they wear a helmet in the show ring. I can understand this from the judge's point of view. When comparing two equal riding performances, with one rider wearing a hat, and one a helmet would you consider the helmet a negative? Might it be a disrespect of tradition or a indication of insecurity of the rider? Or is the helmet wearer just showing good sense? I wish judges would reward the later, but unfortunately this often isn't the case. There is no justification for valuing fashion and tradition over safety. Shame on any judge or association rulings that penalize helmet use.

#3 - I know how to do an emergency stop and dismount.

Emergency dismounts and emergency stops are useful skills to learn, but they don't replace a helmet if you take a fall. Falls can happen so quickly that you don't know you are going to come off, leaving you no time to prepare.

#4 - Helmets give me headaches.

The solution to this problem is not to avoid using a helmet, but to find one that fits. Also, I find I get headaches when I'm out all day with my horse. The problem I discovered (it took me years to realize this) was not the helmet, but dehydration. Riding is a sport and like any athlete you have to care for yourself properly, especially when heat and stress can take their toll.

#5 - It will mess up my hair.

I have one young friend who can take off her helmet and look like she just walked out of a shampoo commercial as she flings her locks in the sunlight. The rest of us have helmet hair. While a good shampoo and blow dry can do wonders for fixing your hair, brains are a little trickier to fix.

#6 - I'm a very experienced rider.

A study conducted by a team of Alberta researchers found that riders who reported an injury had an average of 27 years of riding experience. New riders had a relatively small incidence of injury. Alberta Researchers Study Equestrian Injuries

#7 - Helmets are hot and uncomfortable.

With the number of styles and fits now available there should be a helmet to fit everyone. Many are adjustable for a custom fit. Troxel, Tipperary, IRH are just a few of the manufacturers you can choose from. All have a slightly different fit and are different weights and styles. Try lots of helmets on before you buy. Ask your friends what they like. With a little research you should be able to find a helmet that will keep you both more comfortable and safe.

#8 - It's not traditional to wear a helmet when you ride western.

No, it's not. But consider what the traditional hat of the cowboy really was. It was a form of protection. Cowboys wore gloves to protect their hands, chaps to protect their legs, sturdy boots to protect their feet, and a bandanna to protect their face. Extra cinches, deep seats and tapadaros (hoods) on their stirrups, where all forms of safety protection. Their hats were primarily functional--protecting them from the elements. If the cowboy of yesteryear had the knowledge and technology we have today, I have no doubt a helmet would have been part of their gear. Tradition, like fashion, is not a justification for ignoring safety. Even cowboys knew that.

#9 - Helmets are ugly looking.

Again, there are helmets in many different styles, like the Troxel Sierra and the Troxel Cheyenne. If you don't like the way the shell of your helmet looks put on a funky helmet cover. This a great way to personalize your look.

#10 - Helmets are expensive.

ASTM approved helmets cost as little as $50, sometimes less. This is a small expense compared to the amount you could spend on hospital costs or long term care. International Equi-Lite Dial Fit System Schooling Helmet is just one example of several schooling helmets that are under the $50 price mark.

#11 - I wear a helmet--but it's made for another sport.

Riding helmets are made specifically to withstand a fall from a height or a blow to the head by a hoof. Bicycle, hockey, baseball and other helmets are not made to protect the head from these incidents.

If you want to read this entire list with ALL the related links, click here: Reasons Not To Wear A Helmet

And my own personal experience with helmet safety came at an early age. I was about 11 or 12 years old and went trail riding with my dad and another boarder at the first barn I rode at. We were cantering out of the woods in single file when her young horse bolted ahead of us, made a sharp right turn at the end of the trail, stumbled and the woman riding went right over the mare's head. The mare took off for the barn, my dad stopped to help the inert woman and he told me to get help from the barn. I galloped off in the direction the mare went and found her trotting slowly ahead of me. She stopped and let me catch the reins and I ponied her back to the barn, hollering for someone to help us.

The barn manager jumped on one of the trail hacks (it was a rent-a-horse trail barn in addition to a boarding facility) and took off back to where I told him the fall was. Another worker phoned for an ambulance (this was way back in 1975 B.C. - B.efore C.ell phones!) The woman had to be hand carried on a stretcher out of the woods (nope, no A.T.V.'s either back then) And it turned out she had a broken nose and severe concussion.

Was she wearing a helmet? Yes. Granted it was one of the old-school fiberglass shell helmets we wore back then. But I'll never forget when my dad showed it to me. He had brought it back with him as he followed the emergency crew back to the barn. On the back of the helmet was a perfect imprint of a horse shoe. Where her mare had stepped on her head and shoved it into the ground. I can't imagine the outcome of that fall if she hadn't worn the helmet that day. I don't want to.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. My last experiance with a helicopter taking a rider involved a high level dressage rider who's horse tripped and she fell off and sustanted injuries that ultimatly ended in her death. I always wear my helment. Always. My trainer and other top dressage riders do not. I don't psuh my views on them. I will be a wreck if any of them die, but I am a firm beliver in personal choice. They don't pressure me to ride without so I don't pressure them to ride with.

I must disagree with number 2 though. I know it is not right, but I do know of an FEI level young ride who always rode with a helmet instead of a top hat in the show ring. Now she isn't the greatest rider so her scores reflected that, but the judges did mention that her not riding with a helmet decreased the overall impression of her ride. According to more then one judge it gave them the impression she was scared of her horse.

If I ever make it to the upper levels you can be damn sure I will wear a helmet. I think my brain is much more imporant then losing a few points for overall impression.

GNH said...

This is a great post. I recently read an article that pointed out that if you look at accidents per hour ridden, there are 20 times more horseback riding accidents than motorcycle accidents. Of course many people ride motorcycles without helmets too, but it would seem incredibly foolish to advise riding motorcycles without a helmet. Yet horseback riding is more dangerous on a certain level and I constantly hear people actually advising to ride horseback without a helmet. Maybe the companies that make horseback riding helmets should make more cool looking flashy designs and that would help them gain more acceptance.