Earlier this week, Olympic dressage rider, Courtney King-Dye was airlifted to a hospital after a fall from a young horse she was schooling. I understand she normally wears a helmet but didn't have one on at the time. She is in an induced coma with a head injury and bleeding on the brain in two places. She is expected to recover, though details are sketchy at this point.
This incident made me think about the dangers we face every day when dealing with these large animals.
Many years ago, a very good friend of mine was in a lesson. She was riding a school horse. The horse was dead broke and dependable. She was walking him around outside after her lesson. She stopped to talk to someone. The horse rested a leg and caught her off gaurd. She lost her balance and fell off. She hit her head on the only rock in the entire area, which resulted in a severe head injury. She was in a coma in the hospital for a month. When she came out of it, she didn't remember anyone and had the mentality of a child. She was about 40 years old at the time. I never knew what happened to her, but I heard she ended up in a nursing home with no hope of a recovery. She lost her "future" because of a freak accident and no helmet. She did have the helmet on during the lesson but had taken it off afterward.
The tragic incident with this friend changed my attitude about wearing a helmet. I was in my 20s at the time. I've religiously worn a helmet ever since. To me it's like wearing a seatbelt, without it, I feel naked.
Where I ride, everyone wears a helmet, no exceptions. Yet, I know a lot of barns aren't like that. Dressage trainers are notorious for not wearing helmets. Even worse, at upper-level dressage, the majority of the riders wear top hats at dressage shows. Western riders and trail riders are even more inclined to not wear helmets. The trail rider wearing a helmet seems to be the exception, not the rule. Why is that? Take my friend, for instance, whose entire life was changed in one moment by a freak fall from a horse. Riding outside means trees and rocks and all sorts of terrain not meant to have contact with your head if you want to keep it healthy. It doesn't matter if you're just going for a leisurely walk on a beautiful spring day. Accidents happen. Horses spook. Riders lose their balance.
About ten years ago, I was riding in the outdoor arena. I forgot to wear my helmet (probably the only time this has happened in years). Being lazy, I didn't go back to the barn to get it. The outdoor arena was very cushy bark, so I figured I was safe. While practicing changes on the diagonal, my bomb-proof gelding hopped up in the air to do a change. I flew off and hit my head hard. I realize now, I had a small concussion. I didn't know it at the time, but I did walk around in a fog most of the week.
Do you wear a helmet? Are you one of those that hates to mess up your hair under a helmet? Do you think you don't need one because your horse is one-hundred percent safe? Do you hate how hot your head gets under a helmet? Do you succumb to peer pressure? Do you think a head injury won't happen to you?
Think again. Head injuries are the number one horse-related injury. All it takes is one mistake on your part, one moment of inattention, one unexpected incident. Please consider wearing a helmet. Go to the local tack store and buy a good one. It's your brain, the only one you'll ever have. Make sure it's an ASTM/SEI certified helmet, which means it meets safety standards.
If you don't wear a helmet, I hope you'll reconsider your decision. It's your head, protect it!