I almost got in a bar fight a few months back. It was bad: I got frustrated and when that happens, I resort to sarcasm. It was not professional of me, and I would feel better about this whole episode if I was sorry. The problem is that I’m not sorry.
Riders4Helmets International Helmet Awareness Day is coming right up. On Saturday, July 12th, equestrian retailers around the globe will be offering special one-day only discounts on helmets. I don’t get a free helmet for saying so, I just want to remind everyone it’s a good time to shop. (Dealer link here.)
Is it getting old? Every year at this time I write about helmet awareness. Some times I write in the horse’s voice and some years I try to appeal to common sense. I am most haunted by the blog about my biggest personal fear (read here). This day still sticks in my mind years later.
This has been a rough week in the equestrian world. We lost a couple of elite riders. Whenever we lose people, we want to draw an arbitrary line between them and us, a line that keeps us safe from their fate. “I don’t ride horses like that, I don’t jump that high.“ It couldn’t happen to you because you are safe in another discipline. “I am only a trail rider, I don’t even canter.”
That’s crazy talk, of course. No horse is bomb-proof. Horses are flight animals and in the worst case scenario, instinct will win over training. Where serious injuries on horses are concerned, the disabling or fatal ones are all most all head injuries. No surprise, and most active sports require helmets these days.
This year it seems there have been more than the usual number of injuries, especially out on the trail. It’s hard to come out ahead in a tangle with a thousand pound horse but helmets do balance the odds a bit.
Statistically, western riders are the hold out group. The most common argument has to do with a western heritage. That western hat habit is about 200 years old, a decent period of time as habits come and go. Dressage is about 2000 years old, most of us consider Xenophon the founder, riding and writing about it in 406 BC. If Dressage riders can wear helmets after centuries without them, it should be possible for western riders to at least give it a try when riding.
Maybe you are rocking the backyard cowgirl image. Maybe you think your heritage, (and mine by the way), is so patriotic and pure that gravity doesn’t work on you. I notice you defend it…well, defensively.
It isn’t that I don’t remember being a kid riding bareback in cut-offs. I still see online photos of girls like I was back then, smiling in the sun on a kid-broke horse. Only the byline is asking for prayers; she’s in a coma. Or a photo of a little boy who loves rodeo but needs donations for medical bills after his horse fell on him. Someone usually comments, “Where’s his helmet?” but it’s painfully too late and almost seems mean to mention by then. Is his mom comforted remembering that she didn’t wear a helmet as a kid?
Disclaimer: I am an equine professional. I read the small print when I buy liability insurance that says I’m responsible for the safety of others. Being knowledgeable about safety is part of my job and I would require helmets for my riders, even if my insurance didn’t already. Are you the sort who hates laws put on personal freedom? We wouldn’t need them if we all showed more personal responsibility. And this is the conversation that gets people defensive.
I know I can’t change the minds of cowboys and cowgirls who think their proud heritage will save them from brain injury. Riders who think a fashion statement is more important than… okay, the rant begins again. Sorry. I’ll take a breath…
Because there is no debate, nothing to defend. Helmets save lives, just like seat belts. And still, we needed the law. So there are helmet laws in a couple of states. The USEF has passed wide sweeping helmet requirements. Excuses are flimsy in the face of brain damage but years later, the resistance is still there. It seems hopeless. How many times does human ego get in the way of common sense in the horse world? Should we give up on these riders?
My almost bar fight was with a woman who had a concussion with memory loss and was still proudly bragging about riding without a helmet. Should a stranger be more concerned about her and her kids than she is? Will this bicker-fest ever change?
Then there’s Hannah, our barn rat. She got a pink helmet for her second birthday and the rides started. Now she is almost big enough for the breeches that she wears under a pink sun dress or a princess costume. Her tiny paddock boots almost stay on her even tinier feet. The pink gloves are huge but they match her helmet, which does fit perfectly.
She climbs on top with her mom’s help and calls, “Walk on!” Namaste and I obey and at the end of the ride, she always has a hug for him. She leans down and in a very quiet voice, she whispers, “I will love him forever.”
Girls and horses: It is the oldest story in the world. With one pink improvement.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.