I know that this is probably a boring topic for some people, and it’s actually a pretty contentious topic for others, but regardless of how you feel about it, it’s an important discussion to have.
Last week, when I heard the news about Silva Martin, I was going to share a link to one of the stories on my Facebook with the status, “wear your helmets people.” I decided not to because I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer – and, a lot of my Facebook friends are not into horses.
Two days later, I was riding my pony, who must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the stall, and he threw me. My shoulder and lower back took the brunt of the fall, but I was thankfully wearing my helmet. That night, there was an update on Facebook about Silva Martin’s condition, and I shared it to my page with the same status I was going to put prior to my fall.
Thankfully, Silva Martin is doing much better, but her doctors said that if she wasn’t wearing her helmet at the time of her fall, they and Boyd would be having a completely different conversation.
And with that, here are my top 5 reasons to wear your freakin’ helmet when you ride…
5. Helmets are actually pretty stylish nowadays. While I have never actually heard someone say that they didn’t want to wear a helmet because of how it looked, I know there is a line of thinking like that out there. However, helmets actually make us look good nowadays. They’re stylish yet functional, aesthetically pleasing yet protective. In fact, I often see a ton of tweets on my Twitter feed about what helmet someone should buy next or which current style is ‘in.’ I own a Charles Own AYR8, which I love, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got a few other helmets on my list. Many helmets come in different colors and styles, and some are even customizable (though that probably wouldn’t be appropriate in the hunter ring).
4. You could be setting a bad example for young riders by not wearing your helmet. Have you ever told a little kid to do something and had them say “well, you don’t do it so why should I?” Well, that’s what you could be saying to young riders at your barn or around you if you choose not to wear a helmet while you ride. Face it. Young riders look up to older, more experienced riders. They want to be just like them (I know I did when I was younger). Riding without a helmet in front of a little girl or boy that idolizes you could send them the message that wearing a helmet isn’t important once you’re older and a good rider.
3. Your barn may require it, and your state may even mandate it by law. My barn has a rule that all riders must wear a helmet, regardless of whether you’re a minor or an adult. Some states, like New York, have passed laws requiring minors to wear helmets. The other day, a girl at my barn came into the ring sans helmet to ride her horse bareback while a one of us was lessoning and two of us were hacking. My barn manager asked her to put on her helmet, and the girl responded “I’m just walking” which leads me to…
2. Your horse can spook or act up at anytime, anywhere, no matter how much you trust him or how much you have built up a ‘bond’ with him. Horses are living, breathing creatures. They have a fight or flight instinct, like many of us, except they are more “flight” then “fight.” What does this mean? Your horse may not spook at fireworks, or at thunder, or at the big plastic bag that got away from someone and blows past him, but maybe he gets scared of a chicken or of a ladder that is laying on the side of the barn (I do actually know a horse like this). You never, ever know when your horse will spook, or take off, or buck. More importantly, just like what happened to Silva Martin, your horse could trip and for some freak reason, you could lose your balance and smack your head on his neck, knocking yourself unconscious. The point is that I have worked with some very bombproof horses – would I EVER get on them without a helmet? No. Never. The risk isn’t worth it. Also, your experience level has nothing to do with whether you can fall. In fact, a study found that more experienced riders actually fall more often than beginner riders and with greater force.
2. Horseback riding has the same rate of serious injury per hour as riding a motorcycle. Did your mouth drop? Mine did too. I got this statistic from Riders4Helmets. What’s funny is one of the top things I would never, ever do is ride a motorcycle. They scare the you-know-what out of me. Out of all the emergency room visits that occurred as a result of a horseback riding accident in 2007 (the latest year for which data is available), 15 percent of them were head injuries. Furthermore, this statistic might actually be higher because some head injuries are treated at urgent care centers, physicians’ offices, or even self-treated (I do not recommend this, by the way).
1. Your life, and your loved ones, depend on it. Perhaps the biggest, most important reason of all is that you can die from a traumatic head injury if you have a horseback riding accident. I often try to block out the fact that horseback riding is a dangerous sport. It just is. We ride horses that have their own thoughts, feelings, and impulses. We are “in” control, but we aren’t. We owe it to ourselves to protect one of the most vulnerable parts of our body – our head. The rate of concussions in horseback riding is more than double that of other sports. At least 100 deaths per year occur from horseback riding accidents, with 10 – 20 times as many head injuries occurring for each fatality. Honestly, that is a sobering statistic. You may think that because it’s your head and your brain, you can decide what risk you take. Yes, that is true. But to be frank, it’s stupid. If you don’t die from a traumatic head injury, you could be permanently disabled. Even worse, you could lose all functioning and have to be kept alive via respirator and feeding tube. Do you really want to do that to your loved ones? Do you want them to have to make the decision whether to keep you on life support or let you die? I really hope not.