Why I choose to wear a helmet

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(Photo courtesy of irhhelmets.com)

Helmet. The second you say the word it’s like you stepped onto a battlefield and raised your flag, signifying your troops to charge on full force like a scene out of Braveheart. It’s one of the most polarizing topics on Facebook groups and Instagram wars. Why, when you step onto a 1,000 pound animal with a mind of its own, you should wear a helmet.

Anyone who has met me has known me to be very straightforward about my advocacy for wearing helmets. I have had one save my life and I know some of my smaller falls probably could have been a lot worse had I not had my helmet on.

I was in high school when I was on a runaway Arabian gelding named Fireman. No matter what I did, he kept on tearing around the arena. The barn I was at at the time had an attached barn to the indoor. He felt like he was going to go out the door. Instead, he veered to the left and I took a hard fall right – into the indoor arena wall.

I was bruised, I tore muscles, I was shook up, but I never blacked out. I destroyed the back dial of my black International helmet and cracked the outer shell. But alas, I was walking, talking, breathing, reading and did not suffer a traumatic brain injury. All because of my helmet.

I hear so many reasons from riders why they don’t wear helmets. “You don’t wear helmets riding Western,” “it’ll mess up my hair,” “I’ll be penalized in shows for wearing one,” “they make me look stupid,” “I know my horse and that would never happen to me.” And my favorite one, “it’s my head and I’ll take the risk.”

A few myths to dispel. 

1 – you cannot be penalized in a show ring in any class for wearing a helmet. AQHA, USEF, USEA – you name the organization, the rules state you cannot be penalized.

2 – it’ll mess up my hair or I’ll look stupid. I think I’d rather look stupid or have to run a brush through my hair than not have the motor skills left after a TBI to brush my own hair.

3 – You don’t wear helmets riding Western. Well actually, it’s perfectly safe and acceptable. Even though I dislike Fallon Taylor, at least she has introduced more helmets to the barrel racing and western world. I was at a barrel race years ago when a girl came off her horse going around a turn and slammed into the barrel. She almost didn’t live. Now would a helmet have kept her from most of her injuries? Maybe not. But it would have increased her chance of not suffering a TBI. 100%.

4- I know my horse and that would never happen to me. Guess what? Horses are animals. They have minds of their own. They get scared and spook at things. I don’t care if you’re on a 30-year-old mare you’ve ridden since you were 2 years old. There is ALWAYS a chance at an accident. It’s simply part of our sport. I have seen that same 30-year-old mare go flying across the arena after snow fell off the roof.

And finally,

5 – It’s my head and I’ll take the risk. Yes, it does come down to your decision. However say you do fall and hit your head and if you live, suffer a TBI. You also affect all of the lives around you. All of your loved ones and friends. You also have changed your life forever. Don’t expect to be back in the saddle soon or if ever. You also set an example for younger riders at the barn.

It’s not difficult to find a helmet that fits, is fashionable to you, and is comfortable. There are helmets ranging in price range from $35 to $500. They all are certified ASTM/SEI as long as they are an equestrian helmet. No bike helmets, Mom and Dad!

Going into the spring riding season, it’s a great time to check your gear.

Have you replaced your helmet since your last fall? They do get compressed after a fall and really only can sustain one fall. Has it expired? Has it been left sitting in a hot car at one point and warped and doesn’t fit correctly? Now is a good time to snag some deals at your local tack shop or online.

Hopefully you never have to experience a fall like I did. But every fall has a chance at hurting your head. Be smart and protect yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not end up a vegetable in a hospital with no brain function because I chose to forego my helmet – for whatever reason.

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