I had a strange and thought-provoking moment as I was getting ready for one of my demos at a horse expo last weekend. Kindly, someone brought me a horse to ride because I was doing a demo on collection and lateral work. The horse I had ridden in other presentations throughout the weekend did not have enough training for the high-level skills.

I went out to the warm-up arena early to meet the horse and horse owner and to outfit the horse with my own saddle and bridle—I like to have the comfort of my own stuff when I am riding new horses. While I was there, I thought I’d get on the horse for just a moment and give him a test ride. Without thinking, I hopped on the horse sans helmet and went about getting acquainted with the horse.

As I rode in the warm-up pen, a woman and her 10 year old daughter came up to the arena rail to watch. I had spoken with them the day before and knew that they were loyal watchers of my TV show. They had therefore had seen that all riders, including me, wear helmets on the show. The young girl was watching me with obvious admiration and when it dawned on me that I did not have a helmet on, I felt terrible. What a horrible role model I was! I felt like such a hypocrite, after all the time I have spent espousing the use of a helmet when riding, here I was breaking my own rule.

It didn’t take long for me to fix the problem. In fact, I rode up right next to the girl and said, “Oh my gosh, I forgot my helmet! Would you hand it to me?” She gladly reached down and delivered my helmet to me, happy to be of assistance and pleased that I had singled her out to help me.

A long time ago, with the gentle persuasion of my good friend Polly, I made the decision to always wear a helmet when riding in public such as expos and clinics. It wasn’t an easy decision to make when I was just starting out as a clinician. Certainly none of my peers rode in a helmet and I was concerned about being accepted. But then I realized that no one was going to dislike me just because I wore a helmet—even the macho cowboy guys I am up against– after all who really cares? And more importantly, I realized that wearing a helmet was a small but significant thing I could do to set a good example and be a good role model to youth and adults alike.

I am not adamant that everyone else wears a helmet, unless they are riding in one of my demos. I think adults (but not children) should be free to make their own decisions on that score. But I feel that setting a good example is likely to encourage the use of helmets and may even possibly save a life one day. At every expo I do, people come up to me and thank me for that and I’ve yet to have someone comment negatively on it or tell me I was uncool because I wore a helmet.

What about you? Do you wear a helmet when you ride? Have you ever had a head injury that either was milder because you had a helmet on or worse because you didn’t? If you don’t wear a helmet, do you make your kids? Most of us wouldn’t think about getting in a car without fastening the seat belt. For that matter, most everyone wears a helmet bike riding or skiing/snowboarding these days. So why not riding? Why the big resistance in this sport? Is it because of a lack of role models or is it something else? Just wondering what you think. . . .

Ride hard but ride safe!

Julie

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21 Comments

  1. What a wonderful Post. It is such a debate, however as a trainer I do require ALL of my students to wear a helmet when riding with me. The reason for this is I have seen some upper level dressage riders get seriously injured without a helmet. Plus I came off of a training horse, right after mounting. And ended up with 5 staples in my head, and all becuase I forgot to buckle my helmet. It came off at the begining of the incident.

    I wish more trainers and clinicians would advise on wearing helemts. All it takes is one time, and we only have 1 noggin:)

    Thanks
    Sara

  2. I never wore a helmet growing up, but now, older and wiser, my husband and I never ride without helmets. We also insist that when our friends are riding with us on our horses they must wear helmets. We mainly trail ride, often on very steep and narrow trails in the mountains. Although our horses are very quiet, there is no such thing as a horse that will never spook. My husband took a fall from his green horse a couple of years ago, ending up in a trip to the ER with a mild concussion. We were told by the doctor that without his helmet, the injury would have been far worse.
    I want to thank you for being a role model for saftely first on your show. I attended one of your clinics as a spectator and was both surprised and pleased to see that all participants were wearing helmets. I am convinced that if all riders wore helmets, lives would be saved!

  3. I’ve worn a helmet all my life, for every ride. I’m sure it has saved my head from severe injury in the past, and I want to be around for my kids for a long, long time! I also wear one as a role model for my two daughters who are also avid horsewomen. My oldest says she can’t imagine riding without one (even when she did a Western horsemanship camp). It’s easier with today’s more attractive models and when someone like you, Julie, wears one too! Thanks for being a great role model for us all.

  4. The fact that people still DONT wear helmets whilest riding is something that amazes me, I mean, You’d wear a helmet on a motorcycle, wear a seatbelt in a car, whats different? Only the fact that it isnt mandatory by law. Count me in as someone who does wear a helmet!

  5. I didn’t use to wear a helmet, but at the new stable where I take riding lessons it is a requirement. Now that I own a helmet I will always wear one! I know I will be the only one wearing a helmet in my Horsemanship classes at school, but I don’t care, a horse spooking or tripping can occur at anytime!

    I really admire the way you wear a helmet on your show, even when the other riders don’t wear helmets. If it is good enough for someone as experienced as you to wear a helmet, it is good enough for me!

  6. I am 43 yrs old and grew up without a helmet – I did not even know that people other than ‘fancy English riders’ wore helmets. Silly me!

    My husband has two kids who are not horse savvy, and one of the rules was to wear a helmet. They ride their bicycles with one, they will ride the horses with one…just in case.

    Then I got to thinking that I need to be a good example too. Not to mention I have started messing with horses again, and you know Murphy’s Law! If it can happen, it will!

    Starting this year I ride with my helmet – and to make sure I wore it, I got one I liked, not the cheapest one I could find. Do I like it? Nope! I feel like I can’t see as good, and when I have things on my head I get headaches. But I still wear it. Better safe than sorry if you ask me…and like I said, I am an example and I would rather be a good one. 🙂

    Karen C.
    Mid-MO

  7. Count me in as one who always wears a helmet. My riding buddy will wear one on the trail, but rarely in the arena. Yes, I don’t look as “cute” in my helmet as in a cowboy hat, but drooling all over yourself because you are brain damaged is even less cute.
    I wear a Troxel Sierra helmet. Its rather fashionable as far as helmets go.
    I ran Craig Cameron’s Extreme Cowboy Race last year. I think I was the ONLY one in a helmet. A couple of people came off during the race. One guy landed head first on the jumps–luckily they were collapsible and he did not get hurt. If they had been solid, he would have ended up with at least a concussion.
    I have an incredibly bomb proof horse but still anything can happen. I feel better with my helmet on.

  8. I know of a top 30+ yrs experienced rider here in NY that is laying in a bed for the last 3 or so years after a severe head injury. She was schooling one of her own horses (high level dressage) and no one saw what happened, but the horse somehow fell on her. She was not wearing her helmet. Her family visits her everyday, but it’s hard to say if she even is aware of that. Some people think this probably won’t happen during ground work on a familiar horse, in a ring, etc. But it did, and it can happen any time. Just be SMART and wear the helmet, it’s not cool to be vegetative. I wear mine EVERY time I get on my horses, no exceptions.

  9. I usually wear a helmet. When I don’t it feels like I’m driving without a seatbelt.

    I’ve never had a bad fall on my horse just as I’ve never been in a car accident. (knock on wood!) Still, things happen and I’ve seen too many people come off their horse and not know who the president is twenty minutes later.

    So, for the most part I ride with a helmet and a “better safe than sorry” attitude even though I look like an alien with that thing on my head.

    Dilys

  10. I always wear my helmet and so do my grand kids and mother in law if they want to ride one of my horses. Unfortunately, I have never been able to get my husband in one. I told him if he got a head injury I’d put him in a nursing home but I don’t think he believed me.
    I also tell people if they can wear a helmet to ride a bike, they can certainly wear one to ride a horse.
    Thanks for being a good example.
    Sandra

  11. Julie,
    I love you post on this. In fact, one of the reasons I WATCH your show is because you try and do everything in the safest way possible, including wearing a helmet. I am not going to go out and make people wear a helmet. I ride dressage, but not at the upper levels so there is no stigma for me to enter into the show ring with a helmet on my head. I always try to be a good example for the younger riders. Right noe there is a huge stigma for upper level dressage riders to choose to wear a helmet and not a top hat. I really wish more upper level adults would choose to do it because then I think that more Young Rider’s would take the option. The argument that helmets just aren’t cool is a real one. I don’t care though. I know that my choosing to wear a helmet is noticed by the youngsters at that barn. Plus I figure that if I wear my helmet and still get a head injury at least I can say that I did try to prevent it. I really do thank you for being a good role model about helmets. Those of us trying to get the stigma away really love you for it!

  12. Yes, I wear a helmet. I have not always but a while back a student said Ms. Lea why do I have to wear a helmet and you don’t. Made me think of the example. Have never had a bad wreck and been protected by it BUT if that ever happens, my 70 year old head will be protected.

  13. I ALWAYS wear a helmet. ALWAYS. I look like a total dork in it. Years ago when the models were few I had a shiny black one. I am very thin and wear riding tights. My husband affectionately said I looked like a giant insect. However, YES, it has saved my head. I had a horse fall on granite once and I hit my head. I didn’t even realize it but the person behind me asked if my head was ok as she had watched. Another time I went off in a fluke thing and landed in a LARGE manzanita with my head hitting the trunk. THe helmet made a cracking noise. I also heard of a sad story of an endurance rider who always wore a helmet. She got on somebody’s horse at camp to feel the saddle, the horse went over backward for some reason, she hit her head on a picnic table and died in front of her kids. So, if I’m on a horse for any reason, the helmet goes on. I think people don’t wear them because they really do look dorky. I find them comfortable enough. One of my riding buddies, a man, wears one now after his friend ended up on life support when not wearing one. He says it’s hard to look macho in a plastic helmet but he bucks up and does it anyway.

  14. I am a 4-H leader in our county and I will tell you the helmet debate is a divisive one. In Kansas, helmets are not required for 4-H. I spent years doing competitive trail riding and know what can happen to the most experienced riders and horses, so I always wear one and my daughter has grown up always wearing one. We finally got a decision made to require helmets at our 4-H shows for the racing events. But, when we bring this up at the state level you can feel the air get sucked out of the room at the mention of the work “helmet”. The sad thing is that it is the parents that think it looks weird, the kids would all do it if everyone else was and would never think anything of it. Someone once told me “a broken arm won’t kill you, but a head injury can”. So, why not be safe rather than sorry? (especially when you are working with other people’s kids) Julie-I recommend your show and videos to our members and I really appreciate them seeing you wear a helmet. You set a great example for them, so keep up the good work.

  15. I think it’s admirable that you wear a helmet! You are a good role model.

    I do think it should be an adult’s decision, we’re aware of the risks and it should be a personal decision. Sometimes I do think it’s a discomfort thing, or it doesn’t “look cool”, or it is just not a habit for that person. I think it’s more acceptable to wear helmets in english riding styles than western. I do wish they made a cool western helmet! There is that new Troxell one but I haven’t tried it on.

    My sister was randomly thrown by her horse and her head slammed back when she hit the ground. Her helmet had a crack in the Styrofoam along the bottom. She probably would have sustained a concussion if she hadn’t been wearing it. Or worse.

    I wear a helmet off and on…on the trails pretty much always, and when I’m riding my horse alone in the arena, or he seems unusually fresh. I know it’s not safe to assume one day is any different from another, and I should always wear it!

  16. Ahh! The ol’ helmet debate… This should be an easy one, given the danger of a possible concussion should you take a spill when riding. Although we have a solid ranch rule that ALL children must wear a helmet before they can ride (we keep several on hand for this purpose,) I rarely wore my own because of the dreaded “helmet-head” effect on my hair. I know, I know – what a terrible example for the kids.

    But after a slight concussion & two broken collarbones last year when my hormonal mare bucked me off, I now wear my helmet AND a protective vest before mounting up. They’re both very hot & sweaty in our Texas climate. But, hey – safety 1st!

    Plus, I use the same gear when round penning a new, green horse. Got the idea from our trainer who’s foot was caught in a rope, causing him to be dragged while ground-working his mustang for the Extreme Mustang Makeover contest in Wisc. last spring. The helmet & vest protected him from severe injury as his head & body hit the metal panels of the round pen when the horse dragged him.

    I also like this gear for trail riding. Our ranch is heavily-wooded with lots of branches, some of which are thorny, that get in a rider’s way. A helmet & vest are very good protection on rough trails.

    Thx, Julie. Also, thanks for generating the discussion on the “unwanted horses” issue. It’s a tough situation for which we must find answers and the sooner the better – mzlin

  17. Ahh! The ol’ helmet debate… This should be an easy one, given the danger of a possible concussion should you take a spill when riding. Although we have a solid ranch rule that ALL children must wear a helmet before they can ride (we keep several on hand for this purpose,) I rarely wore my own because of the dreaded “helmet-head” effect on my hair. I know, I know – what a terrible example for the kids.

    But after a slight concussion & two broken collarbones last year when my hormonal mare bucked me off, I now wear my helmet AND a protective vest before mounting up. They’re both very hot & sweaty in our Texas climate. But, hey – safety 1st!

    Plus, I use the same gear when round penning a new, green horse. Got the idea from our trainer who’s foot was caught in a rope, causing him to be dragged while ground-working his mustang for the Extreme Mustang Makeover contest in Wisc. last spring. The helmet & vest protected him from severe injury as his head & body hit the metal panels of the round pen when the horse dragged him.

    I also like this gear for trail riding. Our ranch is heavily-wooded with lots of branches, some of which are thorny, that get in a rider’s way. A helmet & vest are very good protection on rough trails.

    Thx, Julie. Also, thanks for generating the discussion on the “unwanted horses” issue. It’s a tough situation for which we must find answers and the sooner the better – mzlin

  18. I also grew up not wearing a helmet. NOw that I have switched from Western to English, I always wear one, and both of my kids do too. It’s funny, when I ride when my kids are not around I still always wear one. It’s a habit now!

  19. I wear a helmet every time I ride and insist that my daughter, who is in her 30s, and my granddaughter, who is 5, wear one. I promised my husband that I would do this. This weekend at a trail ride with 5 other ladies, my best friend’s horse ran off with her. She hit several trees with her head, but because I had just kept at her over the years, she had on her helmet. My daughter, my friend and myself were the only ones with helmets. I know that she would have been hurt if she was not wearing the helmet because, I heard her helmet hitting those trees.

  20. I have to tell you, the hardest thing I did when filming for Horse Master with you in June was put on a helmet. I grew up not wearing one, I don’t wear one on a regular basis, and it was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done. I can’t really say why I don’t wear a helmet, except that I’ve just never done it and I haven’t gotten into the habit of grabbing my helmet instead of my cowboy hat (which does offer much more protection from the elements than the helmet does).

    Shawntel


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