We Heart Our Helmets


jenBWhen I first started taking lessons at age 10, my mom made me promise to always wear a helmet when I ride and other than one crazy double bareback ‘trail ride’ (breakneck gallop through the woods) at a friend’s house when I was a rebellious teenager I have complied. The few times I’ve forgotten and tried to get on without a helmet on, I felt like I was missing part of my body. It’s like trying to drive without a seat belt on – it just feels wrong! – Jen B., SmartPak Retail Store

laraFI am fairly certain a helmet saved my life. In college we took the horses out on the, always eventful, yearly trail ride. Unfortunately for me I was a part of the festivities that made that years trail ride “eventful.” When it came time to pick up the pace, instead of cantering off with the others my horse reared and flipped over on top of me . My first words were “I hit my head so hard” – amazingly I was told I had a minor concussion – if anything – I am sure things would have been VERY different if I had not been wearing a helmet that day. One of the most notable things about this incident is that my friends and I had chosen to ride the more “beginner” horses that day – so we could relax – accidents can happen on even the “safest” of horses. – Lara W., Merchandising

saraFWe all know falling off is part of the sport; head injuries don’t have to be. As an eventer, I’m very in-tune to taking extra precautions when going cross-country. But, safety is equally as important galloping on course as it is in a flat lesson (or even handling an unpredictable horse on the ground!). I wear a helmet every time I ride, and I always replace my helmet after a fall that has had impact on it. I even throw a helmet on, just in case, when I lunge my thoroughbred who has a tendency to buck, play and kick out when he’s feeling fresh in the winter. – Sara F., Creative

elizabethRI teach and ride around kids all the time – whether I’m at my own barn or out at a show (where helmets are required anyway!). Even if I’m just riding my horse bareback up from the back field, I throw a helmet on. Not only do I need all my brain cells to keep up with the pace of life at SmartPak, I want to set an example for all the students and young boarders at my barn. I sometimes heard the older kids talking about how nice it would be to have the wind whipping through their hair, or just casually mention that they didn’t plan to wear a helmet after they turned 18. For anyone who’s tried to convince a teenager to do something for their own safety, you know that the methods of persuasion have to be a bit more subtle. In my case, I thank Charles Owen for making my bobble-head skull look awesome in the JR8. All the great styles available in helmets these days means that I can be a walking advertisement for how cool being safe can be. As a result, the debate isn’t whether to wear a helmet, it’s just which one! – Elizabeth R., Customer Care

angiePFor my college internship, I went to Long Island to ride with Debbie Wilcox. I lived in a tiny apartment with another student that was off the barn that housed 50 horses. Needless to say I never slept in! I worked as a groom for Debbie and got to ride and show her horses. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from her and her horses.
In October of 2003, we went to Canada to visit her trainer, John MacPherson for Thanksgiving (which is celebrated in October). When we went to the barn, we were given horses to ride. I was the last to tack up and some people were already out on the trails. The horse they gave me was almost 18hh. I was pretty excited to ride him because I adore big horses.
As I got on, something happened; I didn’t even have my foot in my right stirrup before he was taking off across the ring. I was trying my hardest to get my balance and stop him when I saw the wall coming straight for us. Right before we were about to hit it, the horse turned to the left and off I went. It was a long fall and I felt my head bang into the wall. The horse also somehow stepped on the inside of my right thigh and the back of my left thigh. I immediately thought my legs were broken but (after I calmed down), I realized they weren’t, but there was a lot of pain. John was by my side in no time to calm me down and help me up.
After I was done freaking out, they wanted me to get on a different horse. I was extremely hesitant but knew that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it and it would be difficult for me to ever get back on again. This horse was more experienced and actually very fancy. Not only did I get on and ride but I pretty much got a lesson from John which was a nice bonus. The pain in my leg was almost unbearable, given that it was on the inside of my thigh that was against the saddle but I somehow fought it and ended up having a good experience on that horse.
For the rest of our trip we were very entertained by watching my leg swell and bruise. I almost couldn’t wear my jeans since it was getting so big. I spent the Canadian Thanksgiving being extremely thankful my helmet and the fact that I wasn’t badly hurt! It could have been much worse. – Angie P., Merchandising

sarahPWhen I was young, I thought the older girls who rode without helmets were the coolest, and I hated that I had to buckle up every time I wanted to ride. During those same years, I thought the same thing about seatbelts. Being safe was for dorks, and cool kids got to be reckless and fun – right?
Wrong. Much like many of my childhood beliefs about life (being a parent is easy, adults get to do whatever they want all the time, school is torture…) I was way off base. I’m glad my parents raised me to be safe and smart, and to protect my brain – it’s got a lot of important thinking to do! – Sarah P., Marketing

elizabethCI always wear my helmet for a ride, no matter what! The therapeutic riding stable I use to volunteer at had the typically old reliable draft cross horse that was the level headed therapy, who was literally just walking too fast for his lesson that day. So I just sat on him quick with no helmet. As soon as I sat down he reared then trotted off and proceeded to buck, needless to say I quickly dismounted grabbed a helmet and got back on for a very interesting 10 minute ride. – Elizabeth C., Customer Care

kristenPowersYes, a helmet has saved my head (and my life!) in three different but all scary falls.
Fall #1: Had a riding lesson during a far away thunderstorm; horse spooked while I was mounting, I went over his side, and he kicked me in the head, on the left side up near the crown of my head (thank goodness it wasn’t a few inches lower). I didn’t feel anything because of the helmet, and I will also never ride in a thunderstorm, regardless of how far away it is.
Fall #2: Doing a gymnastic line, crossrail, bounce, bigger crossrail, one stride, vertical. Horse tried to make the vertical in a bounce, took off in a SUPER long spot. I was unprepared, got left behind, bounced off his neck and hit the ground on my back, with my head bouncing as I bounced along. Thankfully, horsey was a good school horse and didn’t run me over, as my head was at his front legs. Got the wind knocked out of me, couldn’t breathe, and also couldn’t feel my legs for a few minutes. I actually have this one on video…
Fall #3: Trotting up centerline, warming up for a lesson. Horse tripped and went down to his knees. The momentum threw me forward, and I sailed a couple feet away. As the ground was coming up to meet me, I tucked my head and somersaulted away from him, just in case he flipped over. It was a Christopher Reeves-esque fall (and happened just after he became paralyzed from falling off his horse), but the helmet + gymnastics training saved me.
I haven’t known anyone personally that was saved by a helmet, but I will NEVER get on a horse without one. If I’m lunging, long lining, or doing groundwork, I wear a helmet. I usually keep my helmet on after I’m done with my ride as I work around my horse, untacking and sometimes I’ll even bathe them with a helmet on. I should really be wearing it while tacking up, too!
Courtney King-Dye’s accident was the turning point for me. I’d say before she fell, I wore my helmet 95% of the time (unless it was mandatory). After she was hospitalized, the first thing I did was go out and replace my helmet and get one that properly fits. I don’t even like to borrow helmets, so most of the time no brain bucket = no ride. When I briefly went back to riding saddle seat, I was the only adult wearing a helmet in all of my lessons; they have a very similar attitude towards helmets like dressage does. Traditions be darned, you’ve only got one brain and one life! – Kristin P., Creative

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3 comments on “We Heart Our Helmets
  1. Peggy Z. says:

    Many western trail riders don’t or won’t wear a helmet. I wear a helmet for my family as much as myself. They are the ones that will be taking care of me if I end up with a brain injury. I’ve seen too many freak accidents over the years, to not wear a helmet. Just last summer I was walking along a very nice flat wide trail on a very seasoned, broke horse. Out of no where, she stumbled and we neither one had a chance. I landed on the back of my head. Luckily the helmet saved my life. I’m 100% positive that I would’ve had a serious head injury without it. Never ride without it!!!

  2. Andrea says:

    As a young western pleasure rider I wanted ti try something new. So we loaded up my horse and tack and went off to a barrel clinic. I had raced barrels and smaller level shows and kicked butt, but I wanted to “do it right”. All went well but when it came time to for me to do my first race my horse took off!! We were both having the time of our lives. We went around the last barrel at top speed I checked in with her by pulling back the reins and she flicked her ears back as if to say I’m here mom lets go.” And thats what we did we crossed the line. Then she did a uncalled for flying lead change and took off to the left. During all if this I ended up under my horse and had landed and banged my head. Keep in mind that this was one of my first rides back after I had a nasty concussion. I am so greatful that I had my helmet on my head. (It was early spring when I took my fall and the ground was still frozen under the nice looking arena sand.)

  3. Marianne Sobchak says:

    I can add my name to the list of folks who had their lives saved by their helmet. The horse I was galloping cross country had a heart attacked and died. He fell on me – broken arm and nerve damage. While I was in the hospital my mother saw my helmet and started crying. The velvet was completely torn off the side of the helmet and there were dents, scrapes and gouges in the metal. The hospital staff had paid no attention to my helmet. The minute the doctor saw the helmet’s condition, I was back in x-ray to check for concussion. I did not have one and the doctor was amazed at that fact. My mother need drugs to calm her down. It was a long road back to the saddle with my mother wanting me to quit riding – but that is another story.

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Jen and Tally
Apparently I've been obsessed with horses since I was born, and I used to beg for pony rides on a regular basis. I started showing in 4-H, progressed to equitation and jumpers in high school and rode on the IHSA team in college where I also discovered the joys...

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