I have long been a supporter of wearing helmets while riding and I have done my best to use my influence to set a good example in the horse industry. Unlike other so called “adventure sports,” equestrians have been resistant to the common sense approach to safety equipment. You wouldn’t think of mountain biking without a helmet and it is standard equipment for the hardcore skiers and snowboarders. Just like most of us wouldn’t dream of getting in a car without fastening the seatbelt, why then would we climb on board a 1000# animal that is capable of spontaneous violent combustion without a simple thing like a helmet?
After hearing of Courtney King-Dye’s accident, I cried quietly, knowing firsthand the suffering she and her family were going through. Last fall, my son and only child was in a motorcycle accident, sans helmet (even though he had recently promised me he always wore it), and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Nine days in a coma, three weeks in ICU and another three weeks in the hospital was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I know firsthand the heartbreak and anguish Courtney’s mom has gone through and I know exactly the pain and suffering that Courtney and her family will experience as she goes about the business of reconstructing her life. Now ten months post-accident, given the chance I would say to Courtney and her mom that it will get better; just be patient. One day, life will be normal again. My son is doing well and defying all odds in his recovery.
In the case of my son and of Courtney’s accident, a helmet would not have prevented the accident from happening and there would likely still have been some serious injury. But no doubt a helmet would have lessened the severity and protected the brain. Broken bones heal; scars fade away; but the brain is far more delicate. I have to say, from what I have seen, the capacity of the brain for healing and compensation is huge—I have witnessed it myself and I know that no matter what the doctors and researchers say, there is no accounting for individual strength and determination when it comes to dealing with a brain injury. But the brain is a delicate organ and once it has endured severe injury, it will never be the same again. So why not do the best we can to protect it from injury?
I struggled, as a young and up-and-coming clinician some 15 years ago, with the decision to wear a helmet when I did presentations. I saw an opportunity to set a good example and be a positive role model; why not do it? I was concerned that some people might think I was not cool and I was reluctant to be the one to stand out because none of my peers wore a helmet. In the end, and with the encouragement of good friends, the decision was easy. I realized that no one was going to not like me because I wore a helmet and that the positive impact I might have by setting a good example in an industry sorely lacking that, far outweighed my slight discomfort at being “uncool.” As part of my efforts to resolve this coolness dilemma, I joined forces with Troxel, whose design team has worked hard to make helmets look great. After all, it’s important to be safe, but why not look good too? Although I confess to an occasional lapse of a helmet on my head for a photo shoot—for the “vanity shots,” I try to set the best example I can when riding in front of the public.
Wearing a helmet when you ride is nothing more and nothing less than common sense. I would encourage everyone, but especially professionals and leaders in the industry to be a good role model and set the right example. Although nothing could make Courtney’s tragic accident worthwhile, if this helmet awareness campaign saves just one rider and one rider’s mom from going through the pain and suffering Courtney and her family are enduring now, perhaps some good has come of it.
Ride hard, but ride safe!