Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Something I'd change

Now write a blog about something you could change in the riding world, something that you think is important, maybe its how people don't give horses time off after a big show season, or in the Hunter world how the trainers can ride the horse right before it goes in the ring then the kids hop right on? Or maybe its just how you wish horses pooped less!?

Hmm.  I've been thinking about this for a while.  I can think of a few things I would like to change, but only one of them is something I'm willing to harp on.  There are some habits that I see out there that I'd like to see changed, and mistakes I see happening that I'd like to yell about, but in the end, I can't throw stones because I live in a glass house.  So here's my real pet cause:


I have heard all the excuses, rationalizations, and reasons for not wearing a helmet:  you're an adult and you can make your own choices; your horse is bombproof; you're just going ten steps down the road; helmets are hot; you can't find a helmet that fits right; your kid is just too small for a helmet; you're standing right there next to your kid and what can happen; et cetera.

To be perfectly honest, even though I've said I'll buy excuse #1 in the past (you're an adult and you can make your own choices), and even though some of the riders I respect most in the world ride without helmets sometimes, I think it's a bad choice.   I don't want to criticize people I care about, respect, and like, and I certainly don't want a confrontation, but ... damn, I wish everyone would wear a helmet anytime they got on a horse.  Especially the people I care about, respect, and like -- my life would be severely diminished if they were to get a TBI.  

Now, I recognize that most people who read me here agree with my Every Ride, Every Time philosophy.  I also recognize that I have occasionally gotten on my horse, registered "something on my head = helmet obviously," then noticed the pleasant feeling of wind through my hair ... oops.  So I'm not perfect either.  However, that hasn't happened in a while, and when I did notice, I damn sure stopped immediately and went to get my helmet.

The human brain is an amazing organ.  It can overcome damage and create new neural pathways.  BUT, it's a very delicate organ.  Its tolerance for damage is limited, and cumulative damage matters.  Some damage is unrepairable.  And some of that unrepairable damage isn't immediately obvious to the injured person or to lookers-on.  Even if you can walk and talk normally after even a mild TBI, your personality and emotions can change forever.  You might lose some intellectual capacity, you might lose some of your ability to control your temper, all of that.  

In my own limited experience, I can tell a difference in myself after several hard hits WITH a helmet on.  For example, I came off Reveille not last winter but the winter before.  I hit my head rather hard, but not hard enough to make me worry and not hard enough to keep me from getting back on and going back to my lesson.  When I left the barn, still a little dazey but not really worried about it, I stopped by the bank to hit the ATM.  Suddenly, when the machine prompted me for my PIN to start the transaction, I couldn't remember it.  It was just gone.  I knew it was four numbers, I knew it had one of the numbers repeated, but I couldn't remember which number went in twice, what order the numbers went in, et cetera.

That scared me.  I recovered and can now still remember most of the PINs I've ever had, for example, but the fact that it was gone like that, that my brain was that scrambled before it reset?  Holy crap.  Terrifying.  

I don't know about you, but the primary part of my self-image is as a smart person.  My ability to learn, understand, and retain information, then analyze and use it in complex ways is the basis of who I am.  The first adjective I use when someone asks me to describe myself is 'intelligent.'   The idea that I could lose that forever, simply because I made the choice to not protect my head, is the stuff of nightmares.   And even if you don't consider yourself intelligent, imagine this: you can no longer use your voice or your hands to communicate your needs, because you don't have the ability to communicate any more.  It's a brain function, that translation of need and thought to language -- any language.  Can you imagine being locked in your mind without even words to understand or express how you feel?   Or can you imagine having a hair-trigger temper, exploding into shouting and throwing things at the slightest provocation, no matter how laid back you were before?

How incredibly awful.  

And when you think that you're an adult and you can make that choice, consider this: your time in the hospital will cost you and at the very least your insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If you have family, they'll be taking care of you while you recover -- IF you recover.  If the worst happens and you're paralyzed or in a vegetative state, who will turn you in your bed? Who will help you to the bathroom, modify your house so you can get your wheelchair or crutches in?   Did you talk to those people when you decided to not wear your helmet and make sure that they're on board with your choice as an adult?

And if it's your kid that you're allowing to ride without a helmet, how would you feel if something spooked that pony and your child, your baby, was crippled?  Yes, you'd be there to help your baby through whatever came ... but would you wake up every day feeling guilty?  You could have done a small thing that could have helped.  You'd never know if you could have prevented your child's pain and difficulty for the rest of their life.  Could you handle that?

Yes, that's all worst-case scenario.  Doesn't matter to me.  It's worth wearing a helmet.  There are LOTS of helmets available at LOTS of price points and in LOTS of sizes and shapes.  You can find one that will work for you, I guarantee it.  

What's more, I'll back up my stance.  I'll make a deal with you right here and now: If you don't wear a helmet currently or don't make your child wear a helmet, I will buy you a helmet*.  I buy the helmet and you swear by whatever you call holy that you or your child will wear that helmet every ride, every time.   You can wash your hair, you can adjust the fit, whatever, but you can't get another brain.  That's how serious I am about this.

*: some limitations apply. I can't buy hundreds of helmets right now, though I'd be willing to help set up a foundation or take donations to buy people helmets.  


  1. AGREED! Every ride... All the time! Well said!

  2. Used to frequently ride helmetless, but now that I've started a youngster and had a few "interesting" moments, I have learned the error of my ways. Something can always happen, no matter how much experience you have. It's nice to feel the wind through your hair, but not worth the chance :-)

  3. Love this post. For me, if I got a TBI from riding it would cause my husband a huge amount of grief and possible financial ruin for our family. What if he had to quit his job to take care of me? There are so many what if's... it's just not worth it.

  4. Agreed! I join Team Helmet!

    And in fact I'm starting to get a bit of the same feelings for safety vests. The very first derby I attended (as a spectator), a gal fell off and took down 2 stadium rails with her torso. It wasn't an especially dramatic fall or anything, but she ended up with cracked ribs. As the EMT drove by later I overheard him say "if she had been wearing her vest, she wouldn't have broken ribs" and that is when I went "what is a vest and where do I get one?" Just this past week, Sinead Halpin fell in stadium and cracked ribs and her shoulder, and she's an Olympic level rider. I like my head a lot, so I wear a helmet every time. I also like my ribs, so I wear my vest too - all the time when jumping, and even sometimes on flat too.