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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Use Yer Noggin

"In the United States, the record is particularly dismal, with use by fewer than 1 in 8 riders."

Hmm, to what do you suppose this quote from Wikipedia is referring?

If you're guessing "wearing a helmet," you are correct. How's that for a crummy statistic? (Link to full article) I know I am a bit late to the party with this post, since the helmet safety campaign put on by "Strap One On" was a couple months ago, but it's a topic I feel strongly about, so here goes.

I always, but always, wear my:
Riding Hat
Hunt Cap
Hard Hat
Brain Bucket
ASTM-Approved Safety Device

Recently on one of my favorite blogs (Fugly), a debate raged between commenters regarding helmet use. I was left scratching my head. I'm sorry - in my ever so humble opinion, there is not ONE good reason/excuse/explanation/validation for not wearing a helmet when riding a horse. None. Period! (For those of you who say "nothing fits," well, keep looking - someone else in the world has your size head and I guarantee there's a manufacturer who's thought of it) I simply do not understand why anyone would be willing take a risk when the solution is so easy. Preventing a drunk driver from T-boning my car? Impossible. Preventing a fence post from caving in my skull? Possible. I'll take control of the things I can, thankyouverymuch.

This whole subject frustrates me in the same way that my dad would make me so angry when I'd beg him to stop smoking. "Gotta die from something," he'd say cheerfully. Even when I was about ten years old I'd be thinking, "Well, does it have to be from something YOU CAUSED??!?"  (Note: Dad is gone now, but unless smoking contributed to the brain disease that killed him - and thus far I've not heard of a link - it actually wasn't from his unfiltered Camels. Nevertheless, I firmly believe I would have lost him by now anyway to lung cancer because of his pack-a-day habit.)

As a kid riding back in the '60s and '70s, you can imagine what I sported on my head during equestrian activities (actually, you don't need to - just look at the blog masthead photo of me on the Pally pony). They were just like this "vintage" helmet advertised on eBay:

We called them "hard hats," they were required apparel at my barn, and I'm pretty sure their purpose was to show you rode English. Lord knows how much protection they actually offered and thank you to the same Lord for never making me find out. I fell off any number of times, but as far as I can remember - hah! - never directly onto my head, into a wall or into the path of churning hooves. I guess they were better than nothing, though what good a plastic thing with a useless, stretched-out-elastic chin strap was ever going to be is debatable.

I can tell you that even as a kid I was very, very good about wearing my helmet properly (combination of a strict mother and ingrained "listen to your elders" mentality at work). My most favorite story relating to this is the time I won an over-fences class simply because I was the only 4-H rider who had remembered to put her chin strap down. Never mind that the jumping efforts were the ugliest things imaginable and I barely completed the course - I was awarded a nice blue ribbon because I followed the rules. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement! :-)

I got serious about helmet-wearing when I was riding for a brief time in my mid-twenties. Suddenly, protecting my brain seemed to be very important, and a head cover wasn't just a fashion statement anymore. I went to the nearest tack shop and bought this:
I haven't a clue as to what brand it is, but I still think it's pretty!
At the time, it was state of the art and at $80.00, the most expensive helmet the tack shop had to offer. That was a lot of money to me (still is!) but I was glad to have something nice-looking that would also help me not become a vegetable in the event of a fall. I remember that I thought it fit too tightly but the tack shop owner convinced me that it was correct. Now I know she was absolutely right, because I tried it on before taking that photo and it still fits perfectly.

I am wearing this helmet in my avatar photo, which was taken in 2000. When I showed up in 1999 at the barn for my first riding lesson in 10 years, I proudly brought it with me. Little did I know that the English hunt seat world was on the brink of being seized by "helmet fever," and the kind of helmet you had was going to fast become "the" symbol of your conformity/wealth/what have you. What happened to spark this? I honestly don't know. Perhaps advancements in materials? Clever marketing? The willingness of famous riders to finally start wearing approved helmets in Grand Prix? Beats me. All I know is I have followed the evolution of the helmet industry with great fascination ever since, especially the skyrocketing prices. Nowadays one can drop in excess of $600 on a brain bucket!

In 1999, when I suddenly realized that a certain kind of helmet was "in" and others were not, the one to have was a Troxel Grand Prix Gold. Everyone who showed AA had one. Ergo, I wanted one, even though my ambitions ran no higher than a championship in an academy show. Unfortunately, when I tried one on it a) looked stupid as h*ll and b) didn't fit. I stuck with my faithful black velvet. Then came summer riding again, and as I looked around and saw more and more people sporting helmets with air vents, I decided it would be smart to move to ventilation and lighter weight. Furthermore, after plowing through many catalogs I realized that there were some helmets that were ASTM-Approved and some that were not. Hmm... what was mine? No question, it had to go.

I wound up buying this, I think in 2003:

Here's a look at the inside of both helmets. Easy to see the differences: closed-cell vs. open-cell foam padding, for starters.
At least both do have a decent harness. 
This Aegis at least is still "black velvet," but it also is light, has tons of ventilation, fits me extremely well and uses a dial system that's handy if I want to wear earwarmers in the winter. I love it. (If you like it, sorry, they don't make it anymore for grown-ups, just in a Jr. model. Wonder why?) I do not think twice about putting it on before each and every ride, and it goes with me on paid trail rides, too. Does it look dorky? Maybe, but frankly, I don't care. I looked a lot worse in the GPA Speed Air I tried on at the Bit 'O Britain booth at the WEG, believe me. On the other hand, the Charles Owen GR8 looked just loooooovely, fit and felt great, and if I had nothing else to do with almost $300 you can bet I'd be getting one... not needed right now. Here's me grinnin' like a fool modeling it (I also took a shot in the Speed Air but I'm not sharing that one - even my family cracked up!):
The Bit O' Britain store was un-be-lieveable. Jam-packed with people, I mean where you couldn't get through the aisles, and stacked with delicious high-priced goodies. I saw lots of people staggering away with armloads of merchandise...
For now I'm still wearing my Aegis. I have recently learned that it, too, actually ought to be replaced despite the fact that *knocks very loudly on wood* it has not suffered the least small bang (the one time I have come off in recent years, from an 18hh Percheron, I landed on the other end). Apparently you're supposed to get a new one every five years, because of the advancements in helmet-building materials (or, as my cynical side says, the desire of manufacturers to sell you a new one).

Someone wrote this during the Great Helmet Debate over on Fugly and it really resonated:

If you don't wear a helmet, it's for any/all of these three reasons: laziness, vanity or ego. Either you're too lazy to put one on, too worried about how you look in it or how your hair will look afterwards, or you're egotistical about your riding ability and/or your horse and think, "THAT will never happen to me."

I know you've probably seen one or both already, but just in case: Courtney King-Dye forgot her helmet one day, and wasn't too worried since "all" she was doing was riding dressage. These two videos should be viewed back-to-back.

And here is an excellent website with some other eye-opening stories:

Thanks for listening!


  1. I have *huge* helmet fitting problems. People with normal shaped heads really cannot appreciate how hard it can be for someone like me to find a comfortable helmet. That said, persistence does pay off. After more than three decades of riding, I finally have something that doesn't give me a raging headache. Hurray!

  2. And I for one am very glad you did! :-) I read your post regarding that. I just wish I could remember where I saw a recent video, I believe shot in Oz or New Zealand, where a lady talked about finally finding a helmet that fit her "gigantic" head and modeled it. I do appreciate that many have problems with helmet-fitting and I just bet you suffered in the past. I'm glad there ARE so many styles available now! If only someone would anonymously mail me that GR8 or maybe an AYR8 I'd be super-happy...*sigh*


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