Mar 6, 2009

Hard Headed Woman

If you've been following this blog, you may recall this story from late last summer. I met some friends at an indoor arena for a play day. I’d been riding a green horse and was quite pleased with how far we had come. When someone rolled a big ball into the arena, my horse’s ears went up and he was in hot pursuit of the ball. Curious and eager. Truly, I was pleased with his reaction. There didn’t seem to be an ounce of fear. And just as I'm thinking we could be playing broom polo, he humped his back and bucked like I’ve never felt before. I remember trying to bring his nose around and the next thing I remember, I was smacking the ground head first, right above my eye….

I belong to many chat groups – mostly just lurk except on those I moderate. It seems no matter what the group, there are topics that people are so passionate about that when brought up, the conversations always tend to go south. Two that come to mind are barefoot vs. shod and helmets. I think I’ll just stick to one for today. Helmets. There are strong opinions from both camps. Although statistics support it, common sense tells me I have less of a chance of a head injury if I hit my head while wearing a helmet. And truly, I don’t care what you do. It is your choice. Your head. Your life. So instead of having to say “but, but , but” when the topic comes up again – and it will – I can just refer to this blog which really is, just my opinion thrown in with some statistical information.

I wear my helmet probably 95% of the time and I am smart enough to know I should wear it every time. (I just wanted to have that 5% disclaimer in case one of you catches me without it.) I ask that my sons (ages 14 & 12) wear a helmet 100% of the time and they do probably 99% of the time. Their exceptions are not valid, but sometimes it just happens. My husband does not wear a helmet. That is his choice. He didn’t use to wear a seatbelt either and now he does. So perhaps he will come around. In my riding circle, I have more friends who do wear helmets than those who don’t. I don’t judge them either way. I know people who are very vocal about wearing a helmet and those who are very adamant they never will. There are extremes to every cause.

Let’s just say I’m not an extremist but I make an informed decision. While it is true that most of the time when you fall from a horse; you probably won’t fall on your head and while it’s also true a helmet will not protect your neck, I wear a helmet for the times when I may fall and I may hit my head. The statistics support there is more of a likelihood that you will receive a head or brain injury when you strike your head. A helmet reduces that risk. Broken bones will most likely heal, a brain injury may not.

Do I give myself a false sense of security by wearing a helmet? Do I take unnecessary chances just because I wear a helmet? No. Once the helmet is on my head, I give it no more thought than I give my boots; it’s just part of my gear. Sometimes after a ride, I have to be reminded to take it off. And I was surprised to find they were not too hot. If you don’t ever wear a hat, you might be uncomfortable at first. But if you normally wear a ball cap or cowboy hat, I think you will find a helmet might be a tad bit cooler with the ventilation helmets offer.

I think the biggest problem about wearing a helmet is the awkwardness of it. Not in the fit or the look, or the flat hair, but in the perception some people have that helmets are just for the inexperienced, unconfident or poor riders. Look around at those who routinely wear helmets. Endurance riders, eventers, fox hunters, hunter/jumpers, and jockeys, to name a few of our top equestrians. We are in good company and I doubt many of those riders even have conversations about helmets. They know the pros to wearing one. I am disappointed that more clinicians and trainers do not wear a helmet or promote helmet use with their students. You would think that would be the first safety option which comes to mind.

True confession. When I started riding again as an adult, I never wore a helmet. I bought them for my kids, but never enforced using them. When my horse stepped on my ankle and broke it while I was on the ground – I wasn’t even riding -- I realized how easily and unexpectedly accidents happen & that clip to my ankle could have been my head or that of one of my sons. And as a result, helmets became a part of our required riding gear. I truly believe my example made the transition easier on my sons. Months later when I saw my youngest thrown from the back of his horse and a crack in the back of his helmet from that fall, I celebrated that decision!

The Statistics

It’s not speed that kills. It’s “gees”. Three hundred gees is the international threshold for serious brain injuries. A fall from 3’, if unprotected can result in an acceleration of more than 300 gees. When riding a horse, your head is usually 6’ off the ground. Approved helmets cannot allow more than 300 gees to pass through it. I don’t have to be a stinkin’ actuary to know that reduces my risk.

The University of Nebraska Extension, partnering with Washington State University, reports that over 60% of all horse related deaths involve head injuries. Read that carefully. It’s not 60% of all falls that cause head injuries, 60% of the time that you hit your head in a fall, you die! Six out of 10 times.

A study done by the University of Nevada reviewed 641 equine accidents from 1986 – 1996. They also reported 60% of all head injuries result in death. In addition, offered these statistics:
  • Of the 14 equine related deaths during the 10 year time period, 90% were the result of head injuries. Twelve of the 14 who died, died from head injuries.
  • 88% of those who died fell from their horse, were kicked in the head when on the ground. They never hit their head on the ground or a rock. They were kicked in their head after they fell from the horse.
If I backed into those statistics looking for a way out of wearing a helmet, I probably could convince myself they aren’t necessary. And I probably wouldn’t have had one on the day I took head-dive from the colt last summer. And I am pretty sure I would have had more than just a headache that day. We all make choices in our horse life. What to feed, how to trim, riding disciplines and breed preferences. Barefoot or shod. Helmets are just another choice and a choice I make.

Equestrian Medical Safety Association and reprinted on

University of Nebraska Helmet Equine Safety; Every Ride Every Time


  1. Anonymous3:34 PM

    I lost my mother to a head injury from a simple fall. She did not fall very far, hit her head on the door jam, while on a vacation. Try driving 12 hours through the night to get to her, stay at her side for 6 days and then have to make the decision to let her go. I realize she was not riding a horse when this happened, but I put my helmet on because I don't want my child to go through this if I can help it.

  2. We wear our helmets every time. I have caught my teenager sneak a ride without it, and made her put it on asap. There was a time when I didnt wear a helmet, and I had a young mare rear up and sit down and dump me out the back, stepped on my left arm,I hit my head on the ground, when I sat up my arms were spasming in front of me, that scared me. My older daughter was playing around in the field bareback, and her mare decided to crowhp, and she came off flat on her back, her helmet cracled in the back up 4 inches, Troxel has a reasonable exchange policy when this happens, for 20-30$ you send it back to them and they send you a replacement!!! depending on what model you have. Anyway my daughter had a headache for awhile but she was fine, she had a helmet on. I wear mine even when I am the only one that does!

  3. I don't think less of you because you wear one.

  4. Anonymous9:45 AM

    That last picture is stunning!

    Thanks for the info. We wear helmets but I've never had the stats to back it up. This is so helpful.

    Also worth noting - the sustained injuries of the 40% who did not die and what that did to their quality of life.

    I'm going to forward this to everyone in our 4-H group.

  5. good post. I never wore a helmet as a kid and only recently wear it "more often than not". I do need to make it 100%, I know, but old habits and all...
    Also, if the helmet has been damaged in any way, it needs to be replaced. It's not 100% protection anymore. I have one that has a crack from being thrown around that I really should just throw away.

  6. My condolences, Anonymous, for the loss of your mother. When I was getting data for this blog, it really did scare me -- the impact can be so little and cause so much harm.

    It is a hard transition to start wearing one, but then after wearing it for a few years, I almost feel lost when I don't have it on.

    The other thing I have noticed is among those of us who wear helmets, its become a fashion statement! Someone gets a new helmet, we oooh & awe over it - have to try it on - see how it fits...

    I hope, if nothing else, this blog helps those who wear a helmet, feel a little less awkward about it and to those who don't, understand why I do.

  7. Excellent post!

    I used to be one of those affected by peer pressure, that it was uncool to wear a helmet.

    But I'm 40...and just don't care about peer pressure or what others think anymore. lol!
    Really, none of those people are going to pay my medical and living bills and take care of me if my brain becomes damaged in a horse-related injury.

    Before I fell off my horse in December, I was just starting to wear my helmet even while grooming and tacking up my horse, too. A horse trainer/lesson friend of mine had been kicked in the head while picking out a horse's feet, when that horse kicked up to smack a biting fly. The horse didn't mean it, but that fly was painful. My friend wasn't wearing a helmet and sustained fractures to her skull.

    When I fell off my horse, I didn't land on my head, but what if my foot had been caught in the stir up and I had been dragged? I could have gotten a hoof in my skull, too.

    Also when I go trail riding, most of our trails are steep and rocky. If I fall, I could either land on a rock or go rolling down a cliff...and smash my skull then.

    Too many risks for me, thank you.

    I loved what you said:

    "Do I give myself a false sense of security by wearing a helmet? Do I take unnecessary chances just because I wear a helmet? No. Once the helmet is on my head, I give it no more thought than I give my boots; it’s just part of my gear. Sometimes after a ride, I have to be reminded to take it off. And I was surprised to find they were not too hot. If you don’t ever wear a hat, you might be uncomfortable at first. But if you normally wear a ball cap or cowboy hat, I think you will find a helmet might be a tad bit cooler with the ventilation helmets offer."

    So true, on all accounts. I, too forget I'm even wearing it and forget to take it off until someone reminds me. I have a white, helmet. It reflects heat in the summer, has great ventilation and in the winter, it keeps me warm and deflects the wind. And it's so lightweight and comfie that it's never uncomfie to wear.

    I think what gets in the way of some horseriders is how they look to others. They need to ask themselves, "Why are you riding a horse?" To look good? or to have fun and enjoy the experience.

    Apparently, I don't care how I look while riding. lol! But I'm having a great time, and that's all that matters to me. :)


  8. Amazing blog Tammy!! The facts really hit home. I grew up with horses and used to be one of those that thought only riders that were not very good wore helmets! But now I know better. Of the best riders I know strap on their helmet before they get on their horse. I now choose to protect myself as best I can, following their examples. Hat hair be damned! LOL!


  9. I forgot to mention, Mindee, that the last picture was taken at Deerfield Lake in South Dakota. The sky really was that blue! It was a gorgeous day & setting.

    You make a good point, Lisa, about riding on steep trails. We don't have mountains here, but a fall in steep terrain could cause further trauma. And knowing you sustained a bad injury from falling -- totally unexpected & unforeseen -- you know how easily and quickly it can happen.

    Sam - I know it was probably awkward for you to start wearing a helmet. Not peer pressure, so much, since most of us do -- but something you weren't accustomed to with your lifetime of riding. I'm glad you wear one now. :)

    Right now, the poll is showing 60% do not wear a helmet. Given the readership of, I figured more would not wear one that would. Many of my readers ride western and have been trail riding for years. I think if I expanded the poll, more helmet wearers would be re-riders or new riders than veterans. At least that is more common in the circles I ride.

    I've enjoyed the feedback from this post.

    PS: The first picture of me is one Jessica took right after my head dive off the colt.

  10. i've always been an english rider, and we're conditioned from day 1 to wear helmets. before the safety craze, it was more about just completing the 'look,' but now i feel totally naked if i DON'T have one on, and i take full advantage of the safety models out there.

    i one had a horse do a rotational flip over a wall, and i was thrown across the arena and skidded on my head. all of the velvet on one side of my helmet tore off, but i was ok. i think to myself that if i hadn't been wearing the helmet i would have scalped myself and probably split my head open.

    i hear a lot of dressage people say they don't need helmets because they don't jump and they only ride in an arena. i'm here to tell you that dressage horses still spook, buck, rear, trip and possibly fall. i certainly don't want to be without some protection in that event.

    like you say, it's a personal choice. for me, it's just second nature now.

  11. Anonymous11:01 AM

    I have the helmet argument with my husband all the time (he rides a motorcycle and hates the helmet). According to him, it is his choice to end up with brain damage and my argument is that we are all in this because his medical bills would put me in the poor house and guess who would be footing the bills - the tax payers.

  12. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Thank you for letting the horse world know that helmets are for everyone! I too hit my head when I was not wearing a helmet even though I had my daughter wear one every ride! Well I am in the "Every Ride" club now and I really don't care if people think I can ride or not! I know that I am a good rider and everyone else can keep their comments and opinions to themselves! I went team sorting the other night and my daughter, her friend and me were the only ones there wearing a helmet! Even my friends who I ride with weekly weren't wearing theirs. But guess what?!? I sorted more cows then a lot of those others who weren't wearing helmets, so there you go!

    Thanks for spreading the word that it's cool to wear a helmet.


I am so glad you stopped by and look forward to hearing from you! Do come again.