Helmet or No Helmet?

The 5th annual Riders4 Helmets International Helmet Awareness Day was yesterday–Saturday, July 12, 2014. Some tack stores, including my favorite Dover Saddlery, offer a sweepstakes for a free helmet, and many more tack stores–Smartpak, Stateline Tack–offer one-day discounts on their most popular helmets.
Riders4Helmets was founded following the accident Dressage Olympian Courtney King-Dye’s had a few years ago. King-Dye was not wearing a helmet, and the accident resulted in a brain injury, for which she is still undergoing rehabilitation. Riders4Helmets shared the following tips for Helmet Awareness Day this year:

  • If you have a hard impact blow while wearing your helmet, immediately replace it with a new helmet. There may be damage to the helmet that is not visible to the naked eye.
  • Helmet manufacturers generally recommend replacing your hat every 4-5 years. Helmets take a beating over time from sweat, heat, dust and rain, and the styrofoam liner in the helmet, relinquishes its ability to protect the head over time. “Replacing your helmet sooner than 4 to 5 years may, in some circumstances, be necessary,” said White.
  • A ponytail or different hairstyle can affect the fit of your helmet. When you try on helmets prior to purchase, wear your hair in the style that you expect to wear it when riding.
  • Only purchase a helmet online if it is brand new and unused. Check the date of manufacture. Purchasing a used helmet can be very risky and is NOT recommended. The helmet may have sustained previous damage that you are not able to see.
  • Riding is considered more dangerous than downhill skiing and motorcycling.
  • There is no statistical correlation between skill level and injury likelihood. Professional riders are just as “at risk” to sustain injury due to a fall as amateur riders.
  • Approximately 20% of all accidents which result in head injuries happen while the person is on the ground
  • Head injuries are cumulative. An original head injury can be made much worse by ­additional concussions.
  • Even a fall from a standing horse can be catastrophic. Your injury risk depends on the height from which you fall, as well as the speed at which you are traveling.
  • It is best if you invest in your own helmet, regardless of whether or not you own a horse. “It is a personal safety product purchase. Your helmet is designed to fit your head,” reminds White, “as a poorly fitting helmet offers very little, to no protection.” In addition to wearing a properly fitted helmet, the harness must fit snugly, in order for the helmet not to rotate should you have a fall.

In recent years, the discussion of helmet or no helmet has moved to the forefront of many forums, magazines, and social media discussions. Most notably, many top level Dressage riders are giving up their traditional top hats and bowlers for helmets since rule changes no longer require traditional headgear. In fact, those same rule changes require helmets for riders under 18. Even Western Riders participating in Western Dressage classes at USDF-sanctioned shows are being required to wear helmets.
But the debate is far from over…
Most Western competitions still require a traditional headgear, meaning riders are not allowed to wear a helmet in the show ring. The American Stock Horse Association allows riders to wear helmets, but some argue that riders who wear helmets are penalized by more traditional judges. Most junior competitions allow riders to wear helmets, but many trainers insist on a cowboy hat rather than a helmet for their junior riders, insisting that it is “more professional”.
Personally, I grew up wearing a helmet and wear one every ride require my adult daughter to wear a helmet when riding my horses. Unless someone can give me a good reason NOT to wear a helmet I will wear a helmet whether riding English or Western. To me, a fashion statement simply isn’t a good enough reason. Since I have a vented helmet, the heat isn’t a good reason either. My horses are great horses, but you just never know. I’ve seen great “kid broke” horses buck like broncs when attacked by fire ants. I just can’t see any reason NOT to put safety first.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

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