By Lydia K Kelly
While people are becoming more aware of the need for head safety, somehow the equestrian world has missed the boat. Cyclists are wearing helmets, worrying about the potential impact should they fall or be hit by a car. And yet, riders on living, thinking animals seem to forget the risks.
Horseback riding has one of the highest accident rates for minor injuries. When entering the Emergency room with a broken collar bone or other injury, most doctors and nurses just sigh when you tell them you ride horses. It is an every-day kind of occurrence.
Lots of people think of riding motorcycles as being highly dangerous, but in fact, riding horses ranks at about the same level! Imagine, on a motorcycle, you are traveling very quickly with nothing much between you and the ground. On a horse, you are traveling very quickly with nothing much between you and the ground. The only difference is that motorcycles are controlled by the driver. Horses have a mind of their own.
It is easy to forget how quickly things can go wrong. If your horse is a quiet animal who rarely startles, you might not think that anything could happen. But all it takes is a sudden noise, or something that catches his eye and he could be off and running, leaving you in the dirt. Even the quietest horse in the world has the potential to spook.
When training a performance horse the risk is even greater. The more fit the horse is, the more likely he is to have the athleticism to unseat his rider. Besides being fit, he is also more alert and has a higher chance of pulling something stupid in response to good spirits, or even having a temper tantrum over a movement he does not want to do.
World class dressage riders have been known to lose control of their horses, and dressage is the sport where control is of the essence. Jumper riders get ditched by their horses when they refuse a jump. An overexcited gaming horse can slip and fall in the middle of a pattern, and even a champion pleasure horse can stumble, catching his rider unaware.
And yet, thousands of adult riders refuse to wear helmets. They are hot, they are uncomfortable, and they don’t look cool. You name it, and the excuse is used. So many riders feel that they would never fall off, or that their horse would never pull anything stupid on them. And yet, as a rider becomes more experienced, the risk of injury during a fall tends to go up. This is because it generally takes something a lot bigger to get them off, and the potential for landing badly increases with the explosiveness of the situation.
All it takes is once, and you could suffer from a serious concussion, or worse. It is a fact that riders die every year from head impacts that would have caused little more than a serious headache if they had been wearing a helmet.
Additionally, as adults, we need to set a good example to young riders. How many kids feel that it is perfectly safe to hop on a horse without anything on their head? How many others can’t wait until they are 18 and no longer need to wear a helmet in the ring? If adults were more responsible about wearing helmets, perhaps the young riders would feel more comfortable about protecting their heads.
You only get one head. It is worth protecting.
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