I wear a riding helmet when I ride. And I think it’s important that other people do too. In recognition of International Helmet Awareness Day, I want to address some of the common myths I hear about horseback riding helmets:
- Only horses with behavioral problems are dangerous. Guess what: ALL horses are potentially dangerous. Bucking, bolting, kicking, rearing, tripping, spooking… these are natural horse behaviors that even the best-trained horse may do unexpectedly in the wrong situation. Simply falling from a horse that is standing still can be potentially harmful to your head–a fall from only two feet can cause permanent brain damage. The most devastating blow to a helmet I’ve ever seen occurred when my experienced friend fell on her 20-year-old schoolmaster, one of the safest horses I know.
- Adults don’t need to wear helmets. Certainly, adults have the freedom to make their own decisions, including decisions that are risky. But that doesn’t mean that adults are free from the threat of injury when they ride. Even if the only reason an adult rider chooses to wear a helmet is to be a role model to his or her kids, I think that is reason enough!
- Only bad riders need to wear helmets. No, no, no… Every rider has the potential to fall off. Head injuries happen to professional riders and beginner riders alike–in fact, International Helmet Awareness Day started after the professional dressage rider, Courtney King Dye, sustained a serious head injury when a horse she was riding tripped in a flat riding arena. Additionally, any person who has ever had a concussion before (from riding horses or otherwise), is more at risk for serious head injury.
- You only need a helmet if you fall off. As someone who grew up riding a very naughty pony, I learned there are other ways to hurt your head besides falling off. A helmet has protected me when my pony ran me under tree branches, when horses have tripped and fallen, and when I was handling horses on the ground.
- Wearing a helmet means I don’t trust my horse. Even the best horse or rider makes mistakes. Choosing to wear a helmet won’t offend your horse, nor will it reflect poorly on your relationship together. Making your own safety a priority when you ride has nothing to do with whether or not your trust your horse; it has everything to do with your respect for yourself and the people who care about you.
- I will score lower in competition if I wear a helmet. This isn’t true. And if it is true in your discipline, then choose a new discipline or pride yourself on being a helmet-wearing trendsetter. Remember when Charlotte Dujardin won an Olympic gold medal wearing a helmet in dressage–a sport that has coveted the traditional top hat for decades?
- Helmets are too expensive. I’ll admit: designer helmets can be pretty expensive. But you don’t have to have a designer helmet. If your helmet is ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) approved and fits properly, then it’s good enough. Paying $40-$60 for a helmet is much cheaper than paying the costs of treating a debilitating head injury.
- This one helmet will last forever. Replace your helmet according to the manufacturer’s guidelines or if your helmet hits the ground (from a fall or from being dropped).
To see what other riders think about wearing helmets, check out the hashtags #mindyourmelon or #helmetawarenessday
Helmets don’t slow you down; they don’t hold you back. In 2012 my Haflinger Pip and I competed in and won the Extreme Cowboy Race wearing an English-style helmet.