To wear a helmet, or not to wear a helmet: that is the question. While some equestrians swear by them, others prefer riding without one. Regardless of the discipline you ride in, judging between whether to ride with or without a helmet is one of the most significant decisions you will ever make. If you’re a firm believer in wearing helmets when riding, continue reading to reaffirm why you do! And if you don’t wear a helmet when you ride, for whatever reason it might be, perhaps we can change your mind by touching on the statistics, personal experiences we’ve had, and stereotypes connected to wearing a helmet.
The statistics surrounding the usage of helmets is undeniably shocking. For example, did you know that horseback riding is the leading cause of traumatic injury of the brain in sports? Of the 7 million people who ride horses in the United States, about 70,000 emergency room visits are made every year (12,000 of these visits are made due to head trauma). This results in about 100 deaths from riding horses every year. Of these losses, 10 to 20 times as much head-related trauma transpires for every other fatality making brain trauma the most common cause of severe injury in equestrian sports; however, wearing a helmet can reduce your chances of death caused by head injury by a tremendous 70 to 80 percent!
Alarmingly, the number of major injuries caused by riding horses matches and slightly exceeds the number of motorcycle injuries. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as horses are half-ton animals that can run up to 40 miles per hour with minds of their own. They have feelings just like we do and subsequently can become frustrated or upset with their riders whose heads can be 13 feet above the ground, or more, when on their mount.
If the stats haven’t got you questioning things, maybe our personal experiences will. When my family and I first started riding horses, we had no knowledge of helmets and how important they are. From riding a galloping OTTB (of which I forgot how to stop due to being green myself) to my horse slipping on slick asphalt to falling off the saddle when abruptly stopped, there have undoubtedly been several close calls.
One of the most eye-opening experiences was when my sister and I traded horses. Before galloping up through the pasture, my sister and I decided it would be fun to trade our horses just this once for a change. As innocent as it was at the time, it proved to become a dangerous situation. Once I’d reached the barn, I expected to see my sister galloping up close behind me, but instead, I saw my frantic bay mare running wildly with the saddle underneath her. Although it was such a panicked rush and I don’t recall everything, I remember my dizzy, almost unconscious, sister walking up to the barn while I hastily attempted to untack our mare who stopped for a short time until running off again in fear.
My sister explained that our mare had turned quickly unexpectantly and the worn-out saddle had simply fallen apart, leaving her on the ground. After we had decided that she must have suffered a slight concussion and would be okay, we observed the Troxel helmet she had been wearing during the time of the accident (of which we didn’t use in following rides as helmets should be replaced after experiencing a fall or hit, whether or not there is a visible crack). On the back of the helmet was a big, deep crack that without the protection of the helmet, could have been my sister’s head!
I myself nearly suffered a concussion when I was on the ground walking my horse out of the round pen. Being spooked at a sudden noise, she ran me over, sending my head to the ground in what I recall as a booming thud. Being dizzy and unstable, I staggered to unclasp my horse’s lead rope. From this accident, I realized that helmets are important, not just when riding horses but when working them too.
I hope that by this point your wheels are turning so that I can explain some of the stigmas and stereotypes explaining why so many people refuse to wear helmets on the trails or in the arena. In a world where whatever is cool rules, helmets get ruled out along the way. The endless movies sporting spirited teens riding off into the sunset with their hair waving freely creates a picture that dims the light of helmets; however, helmets are not only safe but customizable and fashionable! For example, our family has been wearing Troxel helmets for years now (click here to view one of our favorite Troxel helmets). Troxel helmets have an endless inventory of helmets ranging is multiple colors and fashions for every discipline including attachable diamond accessories (click here to check out our YouTube video when we bedazzled our Troxel helmets).
It’s an extremely common stereotype that people who wear helmets, especially in the Western discipline, are amateurs and are just beginning to ride. Those who choose to wear helmets are far from beginners. In contrast, it actually proves the years of experience they have that has led them to come to the conclusion that helmets have and can save their lives!
A few years back, before we started wearing helmets, we had a neighbor who was a famous endurance rider. One day she came by and told us that the best advice she could give us was to always wear helmets when riding. She then told us about a time that she was on a trail ride with a woman whose horse was considered “bombproof.” When the lady fell behind and did not catch up with the group, they backtracked and found her lifeless body on the ground. They never knew what happened and what had caused her horse to spook, but perhaps a helmet could have saved her life.
Also, a close relative of ours worked with a man who lost his accomplished equestrian 18-year-old daughter due to a fall off of her horse. Click here to read the mother’s account of what happened the day she lost her daughter (scroll to post #78 to view it).
When we ride, we wear our helmets because of our experiences and the reminder of the large crack in my sister’s old, retired helmet. Although we are not proponents for legislation being passed which would make wearing helmets while riding horses mandatory, we are simply seeking to raise awareness to all riders (no matter what saddle they ride in) the importance of wearing helmets. So get out there, slip on your boots (and helmet), and tack up for a long, safe ride because the only regrets we have are the rides we didn’t take! And remember that life’s always an adventure at American Acres . . .