Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Helmets and Falls

Arlene over at Grey Horse Matters wrote an excellent post on helmets that was mostly appreciated by her readers. Unfortunately, a couple of posters seem to think that (1) there's no proof helmets prevent serious injury or (2) people who wear helmets engage in more risky behavior or (3) people who insist that others wear helmets are socialists, Nazis or worse.

I definitely belong to the wear a helmet every time you ride a horse club. I'm not so good about wearing a helmet when I'm around my horse on the ground, but I do tend to wear one when I'm dealing with a horse I don't know. If I wanted perfect hair, I'd find another hobby.

Where I work, the college way of safety requires the wearing of helmets whenever someone is handling the school horses. When there was boarding, the boarding agreement originally required the wearing of helmets, but, apparently because the barn manager's wife didn't want to wear one and some cowboys insisted that they shouldn't have to wear them, the requirement for adults was lifted if they signed a waiver. That was a stupid decision made by someone who doesn't know a damned thing about horses. There was also a requirement about footwear, but that too was released (probably because the barn manager's wife liked to ride in sneakers.)

Helmet rules at shows seem to depend on who is sponsoring the show. The western competitions are very helmet unfriendly. The English stuff tends to insist on helmets. While I tend to ride in my western saddle, I always wear my helmet. If I could find a western hat with a helmet inside, I'd buy one. They are hard to come by and generally expensive.

At my barn, no one goes on a horse without a helmet. The trainer is insistent, and she's absolutely right. When kids are trained that way, they think nothing of it and will continue to wear a helmet as they grow older.

I do remember taking trail rides in groups when I was in college or later, where helmets were not an option. These days, most string rentals require riders to wear a helmet or sign a waiver. When the string arrives from the stable in the Hollywood Hills down at the Mexican restaurant near the Equestrian Center, I always think about what kind of idiot drinks a couple of margaritas and then hops back on a horse without a helmet.

One of my instructors always says "the only person who never falls off a horse is one who never gets on a horse." I've fallen off more times than my 50-something body would prefer:

1. I slid off at the trot about 6 months after I got Ace in a well-dragged arena. Got up, dusted myself off, and determined that maybe the saddle (a very flat English saddle) was the wrong size for me and/or the horse.

2. I came off the horse to great damage when I was positioned to circle left and he caught something out of the corner of his eye, did the Arab squat and ducked out from under me to the right. I tried to stop the ground from coming up at me with my arm, because there were a number of items, including a mounting block, I was afraid I was going to hit (they'd been left there by the trainers for the handicapped riding program.) Result: broken ulna, dislocated radius, broken wrist (there's a name for it, but I can't remember what it is.) If I had tucked and rolled, I would have walked away. I was riding in a dressage saddle.

3. About a year after the broken arm, I was in a group lesson at the trot, another horse came up behind Ace and he took off at what must have been a buck, because I realized I was flying. I had enough time to think "relax, relax, relax" and came down quite limp, full bodied, like a snow angel. Got up, and got back on. The helmet definitely came into play in that one. I was riding in my western saddle, thus disproving my husband's theory that a western saddle is safer.

4. Two years later, I was in a clinic with Harry Whitney. We had a great day. All was well. We were in a group doing the last ride down the arena at a walk to a trot before finishing for the day. I was laughing and having a great time. That's the last thing I remember about being on Ace's back. Spectators said I simply slid out of the saddle and down the right side of the horse like a sack of potatoes. Apparently, I fainted in the saddle from the heat or a failure to hydrate. I definitely hit my head, because it was a while before I came out of it. The next thing I do remember was being asked my name, my horse's name, my birthday, Ace's birthday. Harry was on Ace's back, giving him a good workout, but it was clear to everyone that Ace had not a single thing to do with me coming out of the saddle. We did go to the hospital, and the decision was I might have a slight concussion but it was a good thing I was wearing my helmet. I had an MRI a few days later and all was clear. I actually went back and rode on the last day of the clinic. I was riding in my western saddle when this happened.

5. My last fall was two years ago. I was taking a lesson on a longe line and riding in my custom-built, English saddle. I lost my balance at the trot and my trainer says I just gave up trying to right myself. I flew off his back. In some ways, it was the most scary, because it knocked the wind out of me and I didn't think I would ever breathe again--longest few seconds of my life. I also gave myself such a bruise on my hip that I never thought the black and blue would go away. I hit my head when I landed, but the helmet definitely protected me there. Crushed foam, no concussion. Eventually, I was able to roll over, get up on my hands and knees, and finally sit on the mounting block. Everything hurt. The x-rays showed no broken bones, but the jolt kept me off the horse for a few weeks and I still can't bring myself to ride in my Schlesse saddle.

I do think about wearing a padded vest, even though I don't have any interest in jumping, but it gets really hot in L.A. But I would never get on my horse, or any other horse, without a helmet. I value my brain too much. Len would rather I keep Ace as a lawn ornament than as transportation, but I'm not willing to give up riding. It's a skill I might really need someday.


Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm glad you agreed with me about the helmets. I mainly wrote it because I saw so many kids on all the blogs not wearing helmets and couldn't believe their parents were comfortable with that. Anyway, they do make a helmet that looks like a western hat. For the moment I forget what company does, but the link is on one of the helmet posts.

M. C. Valada said...


I knew there was a western helmet out there a few years ago, but then the ads all disappeared. I recently saw a new one, but with the fire, I lost track. I'll dig through your posts.