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Utah’s horse world – protective helmets, to wear or not to wear

Barrel racer Karen Gross, choosing to ride with a helmet.
Barrel racer Karen Gross, choosing to ride with a helmet.
Sarah Robertson

We are all acutely aware of the wonderfully protective features of today’s modern helmet. Lightweight, crafted of high-tech materials and well-ventilated, it’s hard to use the old arguments protesting their discomfort. Even the best of helmets are now generally affordable (certainly far less costly than an extended hospital stay or long-term convalescent care).

Medical experts and the media have made sure everyone’s knowledgeable about the brain’s compromised ability to fully recover if subjected to a traumatic brain injury (also referred to as a ‘tbi’). The lasting, varied, far-reaching, and sometimes permanent, results of concussions are now common knowledge.

Campaigns such as Evention’s crafty #mindyourmelon make concerted efforts to educate every person that comes in contact with a horse to don protective headgear, reminding riders and handlers that “helmet hair is far better than coma hair or casket hair.”

Few horse people in modern times would disagree with the fact that putting on a helmet isn’t just to keep their own grey matter intact; it’s a matter of responsibility. Protecting one’s brain increases the odds that we can go on caring for our horses, interact with the family, be a functioning parent to children or an active-minded partner to the spouse. Continuing to retain the ability to feed oneself and count past four are lovely bonuses as well.

And yet, there are many riders (particularly those in Western disciplines) who still climb into the saddle without a helmet. How can that be? What possible reason could exist to support this devil-may-care attitude?

There are a few. First of all, the very reason many of us ride is to experience a sense of unbridled freedom. Jumping on a horse unencumbered answers that wild call.

For some, riding represents play. It’s relaxation and respite. If every time a person cracked open a beer an audio message cautioned them about liver disease and diminished brain cells, that may significantly detract from the enjoyment of their recreational beverage.

People eat food filled with unhealthy levels of fat and preservatives. They drive too fast. They listen to music at decibel levels that will compromise their hearing. We all, in some way or another, engage in habits that may not be replete with responsibility or example-setting degrees of cautionary heroism.

Everyone and their dog has heard every vile detail of the dangers of smoking, yet many folks still light up – endangering not only themselves but anyone within breathing distance. The foul smelling butts and their yellowed toxic remnants litter the landscape. Still, smokers suck down the chemical mix of nicotine, cat urine, arsenic and other assorted treats without inserting a lung filter or passing out SARS masks to anyone in a one-mile radius. Why is that? It’s because they just want to enjoy their cigarette.

Likewise, some people just want to enjoy their ride. Maybe throwing caution to the wind errs greatly on the side of irresponsibility, but maybe having a bit of fun, even if potentially dangerous, without adding the burden of constant worry is just what makes some people feel alive.

There will always be equestrians on either side of the divided helmet debate. It’s important that both camps respect the views of those who make choices that don’t match up with their own. Ride in a manner that gives you pleasure. #mindyourmelon if you wish and mind your business when it comes to those who would rather ride helmet-less. It is a matter of personal choice.

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