It’s Riders4Helmets International Helmet Awareness Day, and we here at EN got to thinking about the importance of helmets. I sent out a request for all of our writers to tell me why they wear a helmet, every ride every time, and I got some great stories back. We’re all about setting an example here, and ensuring our own (and Chinch’s) safety is the best way to set a good example for others to mind their melon.
I was lucky to be introduced to riding by a group of people who took helmet use very seriously. As a result, the #mindyourmelon philosophy naturally became a part of my everyday routine. It was never a question of whether or not to wear a helmet — that’s just what we did.
That’s not to say I haven’t taken my share of bareback gallops across fields on summer mornings wearing just a ball cap; luckily, I lived to tell those tales. I’m older and wiser now. Wear your helmet — every ride, every time.
I didn’t even know what a helmet was until three months ago when I met Boyd Martin and he told me about his wife’s accident. Since then, I’ve written countless demand letters to every helmet manufacturer so that I can have a chinchilla-sized helmet.
The one Jenni makes me wear is hideous and a tad bit loose, but I still do it because this melon is worth millions. Plus, whatever Boyd says goes, or so I’ve been told by all of my lady friends.
Riding is a dangerous sport with serious risks and significant consequences. Riding fundamentally changes who we are. Riding accidents can do that as well.
Some time around ’96 or ’97, one of the assistants at the barn I rode at had a terrible accident. The horse she was riding was known to be a bit barn sour and to have formerly had a rearing problem. She was hacking out to the polo field sans helmet when the horse decided he wasn’t going to play that day.
He didn’t just go up. He threw himself in to the air with what could only be described as an obvious intent to flip. His full weight came crashing down on her, mashing her on to the hard packed dirt and gravel of the barn driveway. Yelling, panic, ambulances, lights, fear, noise, noise, noise – all followed by uncomfortable quiet and the weight of worry.
She spent a week or two in a coma. News slowly filtered back to the barn. She had a traumatic brain injury and was very lucky to have survived at all. We were advised, or more appropriately warned, that TBIs can change people.
When she eventually came back to the barn it was almost like a ghost was living in her body. She had this far away stare and a new anger that was alien. The anger was justified – previously simple tasks were often challenging for her post-accident. It was heartbreaking.
This person was so unlike the one we had known. The person we had known would surface in glimpses and turns of phrase, but we mostly had this new, revised version to contend with. Gradually she faded away and left the barn. There was a strange relief that accompanied her departure, like we were no longer haunted, but she also left a large hole behind.
She is one of the reasons why I wear a helmet every ride, every time. This sport and it’s risks shapes and changes who we are and who we become. I like myself pretty well. Wearing a helmet helps keep me intact, both physically and metaphysically.
I grew up riding Western in a barn where helmets were not required, and were even frowned upon by older generations of riders. When I bought my first horse at age 12, I learned first-hand how unpredictable horses could be, and regularly found myself face-down in the dirt after losing an “argument” with my flighty gelding.
It took me until college to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t indestructible, and that it was in my best interest to protect my skull if I wanted to continue to ride and train horses. Wearing a helmet became habitual for me when I learned to jump and decided to try my hand at eventing.
Now, wearing a helmet isn’t even a question that crosses my mind; if I’m going to ride, I buckle one on first. While it took me about twenty years to get into the habit of wearing helmets, it’s better late than never, and I’m not going back.
I have been riding horses since I was 5 years old. I was never given the option to not wear a helmet. Everyone I know wears a helmet, and I would never in a million years get on a horse without my helmet. Eventing is a dangerous sport and involves a fair amount risk already, so why wouldn’t I take the extra 10 seconds it requires to put my helmet on? Always, safety first!
I. Love. Riding. And every time I place my toe into my stirrup iron, I have two goals in mind. I want each and every ride that I take to be fun and SAFE. Whether I’m riding my trusted mature gelding (Ripley), or either of my two young horses in training (Mark and Rufus) I ALWAYS strap on an approved helmet when I ride.
Accidents happen – horses can spook. Or they can stumble (Lord knows that I do on a regular basis). I’ve certainly had my share of spills. No matter the hazards exist or the accidents that can happen, I kick on. Because I am responsible for running my own farm, and because I care about the people who care about me, I wear a helmet to protect myself in the best way I can. For myself. For my family & friends. For my horses. Riding has risk, so one of the best choices that I can make is to always #mindyourmelon.
Photo by Jenni Autry.
I wear a helmet every time I ride because to me, there is a fine line between accepting the inherent risk that accompanies equestrian pursuits, and simply tempting fate. Helmet design has come so far these days, so that they are comfortable, stylish, breathable in the summer, warm in the winter, shade your face from sun rays, and most of all, they protect your noggin should something unexpected come along. When the opportunity comes along to look good, set a good example to others, be comfortable AND be safe, you’d be remiss to not wear a helmet!
I grew up in an environment where wearing a helmet was not really an option. I am thankful to have had that message from day one, because I feel like it created a habit that I still keep today. Have I ever been spotted without a helmet? Absolutely. Do I consciously decide to wear a helmet every time I ride now? Most definitely.
I have been fortunate enough to not have any serious injuries sustained while riding, but I do have several quite scary (and some comical) falls on my record, and I still have a helmet with a big dent in it that came from a wayward hoof that was aimed directly for my head on the fall down. It’s not difficult to snap a helmet on every day, but it is difficult to lay in a hospital bed (or worse) for months while you heal from a TBI.
Thanks to a combination of naughty horses and my inability to differentiate a hunt cap from a helmet, I went to the emergency room on multiple occasions with concussions growing up. As a result, I now experience occasional “abnormal activity” in my left frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls language. Which is hilarious because I’m a writer.
I like to think of it as a little party up in there, neurons lobbing wadded up bits of dictionary at one another, heated Scrabble tournaments going down in every corner, a boozy spelling bee gone wild, but my neurologist doesn’t think it’s funny. He says another concussion would be the equivalent of an annoyed neighbor calling the police to complain. I want to party forever. So that’s why I wear my helmet — every time, every ride.
Here’s the video I took when I kicked my old hunt cap to the curb!