Head games – or don’t play games with your head

“Learn to expect the unexpected.  Safety has nothing to do with skill level.”  Courtney King-Dye,  Riders4Helmets

I am a helmet nerd.  I wear one when I ride my bike – always – even when I’m riding off  the road, on easy forest trails.    I wear a helmet anytime I get on a horse – even on gentle old schoolies or when I’m hopping on just to sit in a saddle and see how it feels. I will sometimes wear one when I longe a horse, and recently took some guff when I donned one to handwalk a new horse that I wasn’t familiar with during a thunderstorm.  I don’t care. Fact is, horses are unpredictable.  And being around them – mounted or on the ground, is inherently dangerous.  I elect to wear a helmet – always when I ride, and often when I don’t.

And because I’m in the habit of wearing helmets, I no longer notice when I have one on – they’re not uncomfortable, and they’re part of my routine.

 Your decision to not wear a helmet affects everyone

It’s easy to say that wearing a helmet is an individual choice.  But we helmet-wearers also pay a price when a non-helmet wearer is injured.  Riding-related injuries raise the insurance fees our barns and shows must pay, which ultimately comes out of our own pockets, and head traumas are some of the most expensive to treat, and contribute to the stats insurance companies use to set fees.  Wearing a helmet won’t prevent all injuries but doing so does definitely limit severe trauma to the noggin.   And if you’re a trainer or a rider others look up to, not wearing a helmet can compound the situation by influencing others to skip wearing one.  Negative news headlines scare off potential new riders, reducing the footprint of equine-related businesses, which increases costs and reduces choice for you and your cohorts that ride.  And the same negative news headlines worry family member, and may cause non-horsey folk to seriously question your sanity.

My own story – we were just going to walk ….

On a cold day just after Christmas in 2009, I was having a lesson on Jag.   Because the temperatures were below zero, we were walking only – the footing was too hard for anything else.  I had forgotten my small spurs, and had borrowed a pair from my trainer that were much larger than my own pair.  One thing lead to another, and Jag wound up bolting.  I’m sure I stuck him with those big spurs during that bolt, which undoubtedly egged him on.  For a minute I thought I would be able to ride that bolt, because despite the speed, Jag was just running down the arena rail.  Then, mid-stride, he executed a catty side-step which sent me headlong – right into the mounting block.

My helmet had a smear of green paint from the mounting block where I landed.  I broke a hand, had some really hideous bruising, and had a decent concussion.  But looking at that helment, I feel lucky.

Remember – my plan that day was just to walk.  As Courtney says, with horses, you have to expect the unexpected.

It’s not too hot to wear a helmet! Tips for keeping cool while staying safe:

The Tipperary Sportage helmet is well ventilated and cool even on hot days.

I know it’s hot.  But take it from me, an inveterate helmet-wearer.  It’s possible to stay comfy while wearing a riding helmet in the summer.  Here are my favorite tips:

  • Buy a vented helmet.  In warm weather, I wear a Tipperary Sportage.  It’s cheap (about $60) and has vents everywhere.
  • Line your helmet to keep it from getting wet and stinky.  (This will also keep your forehead from breaking out, too.)  You can buy fancy helmet liners from your tack shop or online.  A cheaper and very effective alternative I prefer are generic, unscented, cheap-o panty liners.  They stay put, are cheap and do a great job, staying put and absorbing just a shocking amount of sweat.  The box just days “Liners” and that’s what I use them for – so who cares?  Not me, at least!   On hot days, or if you sweat more on the sides of your head and not just the forehead, you can use two or three, end to end, to provide more protection.
  • If you can’t stomach the liners suggestion, try a bandana instead.  I actually forego the liners on the hottest days, opting instead to use a bandana.  I fold it in half, into a triangle. Then  place the center of the long side against your forehead.  Tie the bandana around your head, being sure to tie it loosely enough that you can work the knot down onto the nape of your neck, you don’t want it under your helmet.  Then pull the tip of the triangle gently back, over your head.  You can tuck it under the knot if you want.  Plop your helment on your head, and off you go.   Change bandanas after each ride.

If you don’t wear a helmet, I hope you’ll watch the video above, and then go buy one. If you sometimes wear a helmet, I hope you’ll change your mind and wear one, always.  Safe riding, folks!