Helmets and Freedom.

Safe riding with a helmet.A friend of mine volunteered at a nursing home. One of the patients there was always talking about riding and my friend thought that maybe I could come along and talk horses with her. That was what I knew when I entered her room.

The walls were covered with horse pictures from magazines, a couple of medical machines were humming and sighing, and there was a stuffed horse-toy on the bed. She was lying facing the wall, quietly crying. I asked if I could come in, and as she turned- I was surprised to see she was half my age. I’d expected an older person. I forced a smile and asked if she liked horses.

In the next few minutes she repeated the same story several times; she had a horse, he was beautiful, she had ridden all her life. Sometimes she remembered her horse’s name, sometimes not. She’d start again- she had a horse, he was beautiful…. She continued to cry off and on. It was hard tell if her pain was physical or mental, or if that even mattered. There was no doubt she had been a serious rider. And then she would remember again, she had a horse…

I don’t know the extent of her injury, but it was severe, chronic, and the result of a riding accident. I don’t know if she was wearing a helmet. She had been there over a year; her young husband came as I was leaving.

I’m not sure this tragedy is mine to tell but I know I’m haunted by the visit. The truth is that she reminded me of myself as a little kid. Like her, I stared at pictures and longed so deep for a horse that I moaned. I was possessed with my desire, it ruled my days and nights. Once she was just like me- we could have ridden together. Now she is held captive in the hurt of wanting and not having, with a child’s mind that doesn’t comprehend.

Until I met her, I didn’t understand there was something worse than losing a horse.

Riders know all too well the risks that come with horses- every day, every ride. We weigh desire with risk and we don’t like to think about injury. I’ve written about the helmet issue before, but there’s has been more talk recently on the heels of the Riders4Helmets Helmet Safety Symposium. While opinions rage on both sides of this debate, I have been remembering the trip to the nursing home.

I can’t choose for you, but I know me- I will never be okay with not riding; that pain would never leave me. I may end up in that same nursing home room eventually, but in the meantime I’ll use every brain cell I have-to be safe as possible in my world of risk. If wearing a helmet might buy me more time on my horse, then it buys me freedom.

Anna, Infinity Farm.

 

19 thoughts on “Helmets and Freedom.

  1. Bravo! I have seen too many head injuries from horse riding (a few even with helmets on) and know the devastation they cause.

    Now I’m trying to work on helmets for skiing, snowboarding and longboarding…

    Emily

  2. Max Despain

    Beautiful post, Anna. I love that you don’t know if it was a helmet injury and that, in many ways, it doesn’t matter. She’s lost the ability to do the thing she loves most and we all know a fall without a helmet could put us in the same place. I was just like you as a kid…so deep in my desire for a horse and to ride that it hurt. Some days it still does even when I have a horse! Thanks for the reminder of the joy and privilege we have!

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  4. Beautifully said.
    What intolerable pain to have to repeated tolerate, as if it is brand new, every few minutes. I’m sending a prayer her way. No one should have to live in such permanent, and alway fresh, loss.

    The helmet debate. I’m trying very hard to suspend judgement, and listen. Where does personal responsibility end, and responsibility to others begin, and who gets to define the line? I find I have little room for reasons that amount to: it wrecks my hair. Much more room for a traumatic accident in which a helmet played a terrible role.
    Personally, I’m a helmet every ride, no exceptions, horse woman. I need every brain cell I still have. I want every possible second I can get with horses, and will abide by many self-imposed rules that feel restrictive in other ways (such as not riding when no one else is present) in order to buy the time with my horse, as you said so well.

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  9. edrie blackwelder

    anna, thank you for sharing this – it can’t be told enough.

    i started riding late – at 36. 4 months later, my heart horse kissed me and i bought him the very next day. one month after, our friend and trainer came almost running up to us and said, “PROMISE me you will NEVER ride without a helmet!” when i started to ask why – she demanded more urgently.

    i promised her – then she told me why she exacted that promise.

    the day before, her best friend was buried in her riding clothes. she was not wearing a helmet when she fell.

    i have kept that promise and i exact it from ALL of those i meet who have horses or are learning to ride.

    my heart breaks for this young woman – and those who love her.

  10. My sister had a beautiful horse when we were teens. I was taken on wild rides more than once: cast on leg, cast on arm another time. She loved my sister. I was a wart on her back! No head injuries and helmets were not required or even thought about when I was 16.

    I am grateful for my intact head. Keep putting your safety post out to the world.

    1. Most of us grew up backyard riders, playing hard and bouncing well. Glad we both survived our youthful riding to do better today. Thanks for the comment.

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