by Cynthia Foley - Mar 16, 2013
It takes leadership to make a difference in this world, and we've seen strong prominent horsemen and horsewomen take the reins and advocate for safety helmets. It's helped a great deal, but we need to do more. It's time for us to petition our sports organizations and demand that they change the rules for every discipline. As I think back, increasing helmet awareness has been a long, slow process . . .
Hunter/jumper riders can thank Olympic veteran Anne Kursinski for their safety.? She was one of the first to trade in her velvet ?hunt cap? for an ASTM/SEI-certified safety helmet. And that was back when the helmets were big (I mean really big) and homely (god-awful ugly). But Anne clearly understood that protecting her head was more important than vanity, and she wore the helmet?with chin strap buckled?and campaigned for its widespread use.? Now, decades later, few h/j riders would consider getting on a horse without a helmet.
Most event riders, of course, were already wearing the old ?Caliente? helmets. The Caliente didn't have an ASTM/SEI safety standard to meet like our modern helmets, but it offered much more padding and protection than a hunt cap. The event riders also took a page from the rodeo bull riders and adopted crash vests, too, even before there were our current safety standards and third-party verification process for these vests.
Few people realize it, but the credit for developing safety vests goes to bull-riding legend Cody Lambert. However, his inspiration for the idea is sobering, as it occurred after he witnessed the tragic, horrifying death of his friend, rodeo superstar Lane Frost (see Lane?s story).? The vest was invented to protect against blunt-trauma injuries, like Lane sustained. I don't think there could have been a greater memorial to this handsome, vibrant young man who lost his life to a bull named Takin' Care of Business.
Another heartbreaking but significant incident that increased safety awareness came from dressage star Courtney King-Dye, who was riding without a helmet in a schooling ring when her horse stumbled. (The strangest part of this was that Courtney was already a great advocate of not riding without a helmet.) Courtney survived her fall but suffered a traumatic brain injury, requiring major rehabilitation and a herculean effort to come back. She started back riding as a student in a handicapped riding program. She?s one gutsy woman. Courtney?s accident resulted in the development of Riders4 Helmets organization, and she spends a great deal of time educating all riders on helmet safety. Hear Courtney discuss helmet safety.?
Mainly as a result of Courtney?s efforts, as of April 1, dressage riders are required to wear a helmet when on the showgrounds of a USEF event, regardless of age or level or riding. ?There could be no more fitting tribute.
Perhaps endurance riders will wake up now, too, as one of their legends recuperates from a horrible riding accident. In December, American Endurance Ride Conference Hall-of-Fame rider Dave Rabe was bucked off his horse and sustained a brain injury. Now Dave wants everyone to realize that we should all be wearing helmets. ?Dave is spreading the word from his hospital bed, truly an act of valor.
We need to demand that our governing sport organizations require safety gear for every riding discipline, include Western and Saddle Seat competitors. At a minimum, it needs to be an ASTM/SEI helmet, as crash vests protect against blunt injury but not twist injuries. ?That traditional look they so desperately want to hang onto needs to go the way of not ?wearing white after Labor Day, so one day we will look back and wonder why we hung onto that for so long. However, without enforceable rules from strong groups like the AERC, the AQHA and the USEF, safety helmets will never be fully adopted.
In addition, our prominent natural horsemanship clinicians should put their Western hat aside and wear a safety helmet when they mount up on a horse for a seminar. If we begin seeing photos of today?s trainers and clinicians wearing ASTM/SEI helmets when they're training and riding, their incredibly huge number of followers will follow suit. We should see safety helmets for sale on their websites, alongside their bridles, saddle pads and other gear. We should read safety reminders on their website that are real, not just legal disclaimers. We need major manufacturers to refuse to sponsor individuals who won?t wear a helmet when mounted on a horse. Get them where it hurts: Their wallets.
Like you, I've heard every excuse in the book for not wearing a helmet, and it's said that only about 12% of all riders wear helmets. it's incredible, really, these people who think they're infallible. Riders have gotten hurt aboard the most bombproof horse who happened to step wrong or was stung by a bee. I believe we owe it to our loved ones to wear a helmet. Yes, it's ?your life? and you can do what you want, but a serious injury to you will result in great hardship and sadness for your family and friends. Who wants to cause that'