Monday, July 02, 2012

The helmet question

My last post drew the question (from Suzanne): 
"One thing... why no helmet? I've been curious about that given your safety concerns..and working with a young horse. Curious..."
I don't honestly have any reason--let alone a compelling argument--as to why I don't wear a helmet. I used to when I rode my bicycle to commute. I don't have any vanity issues--trust me, vanity is hard to come by when there is always horse snot on your shirt.

My flip response is, "I never land on my head," which is true but not the real answer. (I really need to be wrapped in bubble wrap, if we get right down to it.) The other not-so-flip part of my answer is that Christopher Reeves was wearing a helmet and it didn't prevent the injury that changed his life forever. 

Steve, who has had a concussion, still doesn't wear a helmet. He hates things on his head, always has. I don't have that excuse and you'll see me with a hat on more often than not. 

So why don't I wear a helmet? 

I don't really know. 

Since I don't know, I'm going to try a helmet-wearing experiment this week and see what I find out. 

Will it change the way I ride? Will it annoy me? Will it do absolutely nothing except keep my noggin a little safer should my horse do anything odd? (Which, by the way, he has not done since our accident in April of last year when I broke my butt.)

There are certain things that, were I doing them, a helmet would be worn--jumping (I'd like to) and eventing (not likely) among them. But it is my right to choose--my head, my decision--helmet police be damned. 

Yep, here I am, without a helmet.
And there are a lot of helmet police out there. Every single time someone posts a picture on the internet of someone riding without a helmet, the helmet police start yammering in the comments.

I am not including Suzanne in their numbers AT ALL. Her comment--based on the history she has followed for quite some time--is exceedingly valid and she's given me a lot to think about and consider for which I thank her. I'm talking about the folks who are compelled to comment on every. single. picture. of riders without helmets. Stoppit already.

Could a helmet prevent a concussion or other traumatic brain injury? Yes. Can it prevent other catastrophic injuries like paralysis? No.

The best prevention is staying on the horse--something I continue to improve on--and learning to fall. All things considered, I fall pretty well. Broken arm and butt, but no head so far--knock wood. 

I don't know (yet) if I'm making the right decision, so I'm willing to experiment with noggin-coverage to see how I feel about it. But in the end, it is my risk, my choice. Steve and Katie--those who would be most affected--respect my decision and we've had the appropriate discussions about all the "what ifs" that could be.

Gabrielle Giffords surely did not expect to rebuild her entire life--from motor skills to speech--but she is doing it with an amazing determination. I at least know and understand the risk I take, each and every time I get on that horse, and I accept what it could mean. She had no warning, none, and yet she survived and continues to improve. 

Life is short. Life is unpredictable. I drive a tiny convertible because I love the sun on my shoulders and the wind in my hair but I also wear a seat belt. 

I don't know where the horse-helmet-safety balance is, yet, but I do know I have accepted all the risks. Or at very least accepted that despite my best efforts, I can't always control every nuance of the universe.

The journey is the journey, no matter what path it takes.


Kathy Sierra said...

Bert and I did not ride in helmets the first few years, but my sister worked in an ER, and she came at me with very convincing statistics. Since it is clear that I cannot totally prevent coming off a horse, the helmet significantly reduces the leading cause of death from riding, and (since I guess I wouldn't care if I were dead), the risk of a traumatic brain injury.

We tried some helmets and I hated them. I got a headache, felt unbalanced, and went another year without one. Finally I went to a large tack store and just kept trying them on until I found one that felt a little less awful. But within a few weeks, I stopped noticing it was there. Fast forward two years later, and NOW it feels weird and uncomfortable to be without it. So, you can get used to them, but I would urge you to find one that feels good to you and fits really well.

No it won't prevent all horse-related deaths, but definitely reduces the leading cause of it from a riding accident. I have so far not landed on my head, but Bert was dumped at high speed on a trail a few month's ago and his head went into a tree. He was fine, but it was our first really BIG scare. And if he had not had the helmet, well, you know.

We changed, and I went into helmet-wearing land kicking and screaming, so I know it's possible ;).

lmel said...

I know it may not save my life, but it has protected my head, once in a fall, but more often, from branches on the trail. John never wears a helmet for the reason he finds it annoying, distracting, and bothersome. Yet I respect his choice. I did ask him to wear it one day when the fillies were fill of fire and he conceded. But yes, it's his choice, so I respect it.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed in your pictures that you don't wear a helmet, but haven't said anything. I figure people have to make their own decisions and my nagging at you wouldn't produce a change . . . but now that you've raised the topic.

I never wore a helmet as a kid - no one did - and even those velvet hunt caps were pretty useless in terms of protection. Had a bunch of head injuries too which would have probably been prevented by a helmet - I keep waiting to see if I'm going to turn out like one of those NFL players who develop dementia.

The reason I wear a helmet is that helmets do make a difference - no, they don't prevent every injury but some of the injuries they do prevent are devastating. It's pretty clear that the fall I had last summer off of Pie could have resulted in my permanent incapacity or even death if I hadn't been wearing a helmet - I was pretty seriously injured with one but it would have been far worse without - the four-inch crack in the helmet would have been my head.

If you've got people in your life who care about you and you don't want them to have to care for you as a drooling vegetable, just wear the helmet already. In my mind there's no excuse for not doing it. Enough said - you are worth it. There are plenty of styles and fits to choose from. Just do it . . . please.

Suzanne said...

Wow... I did not expect this post. And, even more wow, I love you for bringing up the topic openly. Honestly, like Kate, I've noticed you didn't wear a helmet for a long time and never said anything. And, I'm not sure why I did so last week.

I am one of those folks that will mention it more frequently than not but rarely publicly... sorry but for some reason, I did.

I am a strong supporter of helmet usage... saved my brain

Look at Courtney King-Dye before (
and then after her accident - a slip and a fall(

I've wondered what it must be like to live in the west where it might be harder to be different... but, then I think of Allison Springer at the 2010 WEG doing her test with a helmet. We went wild... She looked beautiful and accomplished.

Find one that fits. I like to wear a hairnet to look neat.

Know that whatever you decide... I still love reading your blog... and that won't change.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Like the others who read your blog I noticed that you didn't wear a helmet. Your choice, your safety, I'm not the helmet police.

For me and my daughters and grandkids no one gets on a horse without one. I've been around a long time and seen a lot of injuries. Some devastating and unfortunately two deaths. Helmets can't prevent a lot of injuries but they do help prevent many head injuries.

I hadn't fallen off for 11 yrs. until last Nov. and guess what for the first time I landed on my head and was knocked unconscious. Got my first ride ever in an ambulance too. I'm 60 yrs. old and have been riding for a very long time so I considered that a good statistic. Accidents happen, mine did on the "safest, calmest, unspookiest" horse in the barn, Blue.

I hope you will consider wearing a helmet because it can help prevent devastating head trauma. They might take a while to get used to but if you pull your hair back in a hairnet my thought is you actually look smart and professional. In the long run it could really save your bacon one day.