Better safe than sorry; it’s far too easy for any rider, no matter how skilled or experienced, to sustain a head injury. Wear a helmet.
Many anti-helmet riders protest the wearing of head protection for a number of reasons; they have been blessed with a “hard head” or the helmet is hot and uncomfortable, they’ve never worn one and don’t see a need. We often hear that it is a personal choice.
Maybe it is a personal choice, but traumatic brain injuries have very public results.
If you choose not to wear a helmet, but are permanently brain damaged in a riding accident, who is going to foot the bill and shoulder the responsibility for your very costly long-term care?
What will happen to your horses if you can no longer ride them, let alone groom and feed them? If you have children, or a spouse, or parents, or siblings, or friends, how will their lives be damaged and diminished if you sustain a life-altering brain injury?
Should an accident leave you unable to work, can your loved ones (of all species) continue to live a quality life without your income or attention?
Serious injury often occurs after an accident. Accidents are just that – accidents. They cannot be predicted or planned or prepared for. Your only option for the best possible outcome, should you experience an injurious accident, is to do your best beforehand by equipping yourself with reasonable protective equipment.
I’d like to share a personal story. Last weekend I climbed aboard my reliable and sweet natured quarter horse mare. At age 18, Teequila is well trained and experienced. It was a slightly windy day but we’d already hand walked up the gravel road to graze and relax. We rode up the road and were on the way back when two tumbleweeds rolled past us. Teequila froze for a split second and then instantaneously exploded.
I didn’t have time to tip her nose or pick up rein or disengage a hip. I didn’t even have 1/10 of a second to grab the saddle horn. I was launched into the air. I landed directly on top of my head. For a second or two the lights went out. I came to on the gravel road, pulled myself up on the fence and tried to remember who I was, where I was and gain some recollection of what happened. I could hear my mare’s hooves thundering down the road, nowhere to be seen.
The top of my helmet was caved in. Rocks were embedded in the exterior. Inside, its lining was torn aside and blood had soaked into the foam interior. If I had not been wearing a helmet, my skull would have taken that impact and it’s quite unlikely that I’d be writing this account.
Eventer and trainer Lisa Marie Bauman is “…relentless about wearing helmets while riding.” She requires that anyone she is teaching wear one without exception. Several years ago, Lisa went out to look at and test ride a 17.2 hh thoroughbred, ironically named “Lucky.” After some time on a walker and lunge line, he was groomed and tacked. Lisa decided to “just sit on him for a minute- walk, trot. Nothing big…”
Famous words which, thankfully, were not her last. Lisa opted to put on a helmet for that brief test ride, something she was not at that point consistently in the habit of doing. The owner held the horse’s bridle and Lisa mounted. She states, “The last thing I remember is throwing my right leg over and having to grab the reins really fast.” As soon as her leg had started to go over the saddle, Lucky reared (she was told later). He reared twice, taking the owner off the ground with him. Breaking free of his handler, the horse tore down the field, bucking and rearing to such a degree that his rider was 15 feet in the air at any given moment.
With no safe way to bail, she tried to ride it out. Unfortunately, despite her great skill, Bauman was pitched from the horse. His body slammed her into a metal panel along the fence line. Her head struck the panel and her shoulder hit the ground. The horse’s back legs tangled with her own, dragging Lisa close to 20 feet. She wasn’t breathing when her friends reached her.
Life flight took her to the hospital. She’s told that she started back with “death rattle” breathing, couldn’t tell them her name, what day it was, nor remember any question they had asked seconds earlier. She still does not remember any of this.
Lisa tells us, “There is no question about how lucky I am to be here today. …I would not be alive if I hadn’t put on that helmet.”
This is why she wears a helmet every time she rides. My accident this past weekend is the reason why I will wear a helmet every time I ride. There are countless others. Dressage champion Courtney King Dye was in a coma after a practice ring accident left her with a traumatic brain injury. Make sure that when you have a story, you can live to tell others about it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Now, please, take the time to purchase a helmet (they’re quite affordable) and, most importantly, take those two important seconds to fasten it securely to your head before you get on another horse.