A Helmet on Your Head

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!