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Helmets: 20 (More) Reasons to Put a Lid on It

June 2018 by Kirrilly Thompson, PhD
Dr Kirrilly Thompson is a cultural anthropologist, independent research consultant, dressage rider and President and Chair of the Board of Horse SA. She has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters and industry reports and co-authored a book which explores the practical and ethical implications of recognising horses as social agents in human-horse relations.
Assoc. Prof. Kirrilly Thompson image

Horse riding is dangerous. I’m not going to go into the statistics on horse-related injury and fatality because they are far from straightforward. Do you calculate injury rates per ride, per hour spent in the saddle or per jump attempt? 

Suffice to say that all accidents range from annoying to tragic, and the statistics for any sport as a whole are not going to matter when an accident happens to you or someone you know. 

Very few horse riders would deny the fact that a helmet will mitigate the severity of a contact injury to their head, but for many riders, this is not reason enough. Not every horse rider wears a helmet every time they ride for various reasons that might even make seem to sense (e.g. “I wouldn’t get on a horse if I thought I was going to fall off”), but which just don’t pass muster. Rather than focus on the excuses for not wearing a helmet, let’s consider at least 20 other reasons to embrace the skid lid.

1. Even your horse is dangerous

My research has found that many riders consider horse riding dangerous, but they don’t think they are taking risks with their own horse. Sadly, this is just not the case (See point 9 below: Manure happens), but this doesn’t mean your relationship with your horse or decision-making is any less reliable. In fact, a helmet is not a replacement for a whole host of safety-related decisions that horse riders routinely make. So, if you are going to make those, why not just add a little sugar on top? 

2. Helmets work

No - helmets will not stop your neck or back getting broken, but that’s not what they are designed to do. Whilst wearing a stack hat is no guarantee you won’t suffer a head injury, wearing one sure will reduce the severity of an injury and reduce your recovery time.

3. Helmets are easy to use 

Your confidence might be dented each time you try to find which string to pull on your bag of chaff, but you will always be a champion at putting a helmet on your head and doing up the strap. The ground is hard, wearing a helmet is easy.

4. Helmets are affordable

We all know you could spend close to a thousand dollars on a helmet if you wanted to, but you can buy an approved helmet for around the cost of a riding lesson. Maybe even less. You don’t even need a separate helmet for competitions. Helmet covers are a great way to keep show helmets clean and unmarked during training (see point 15 below: Helmets can be cool!). 

Many companies celebrate International Helmet Awareness Day each year on September 17 with special discounts. Follow www.riders4helmets.com for more information.

5. There is a helmet to fit you

Even the biggest egos can be accommodated by trying enough brands and styles.

6. Ain’t nobody got time for a head injury

You would rather be riding. Riders suffering serious concussions or bone fractures may need to stay off their horse for six months to reduce further injury. Trust me on this one.

7. Protect your investment

How much time and money have you spent learning the knowledge and skills that you bring to the saddle every time you ride? Most, if not all of that, is stored in your head. Do you really want to put that at risk? I didn’t think so. Put on your brain bucket.

8. Your horse is worth it

If you get sidelined in hospital, or worse, who will look after your horse, and can they do it as well as you do and for as long as you might need? You can even pledge to wear a helmet for the good of your horse at the Facebook group ‘Who are you staying safe for?’ Visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1409019799389433/

9. Manure happens 

Helmets aren’t just for falls. A helmet will protect your head if your horse slips, if you are hit by a car, if a magpie swoops you, if you misjudge an overhanging branch or if a eucalypt drops one as you pass below.

10. Helmets protect your reputation

They look professional. Professionals attract students, sponsors, goodwill, good fortune and other opportunities.

11. Experience is good, but not that good to justify no helmet

Experience is not nearly as good at protecting your noggin’ as a helmet. Novice riders might lack the experience to prevent an accident, but then they might be quite cautious. They may also spend fewer time around horses. In risk management terms, this means they have a relatively low exposure to risk. 

Professional riders, on the other hand have a high exposure to risk. That is, odds are the more time they spend around horses, they more likely they are to get injured - even if they know how to avoid them. Experienced riders might have less exposure than professional riders, but anyone can become complacent around horses and accidents can happen (See point 9 above: Manure happens). 

12. You might not blame someone else for an accident, but your insurers might

You could be putting your friends, family, clients or others you know at risk by not wearing basic personal protective equipment, like a helmet, when you ride or handle their horse.

13. Riding requires taking responsibility

You have a duty of care to people who ride or handle your horses, especially but not only when you pay them. Protect yourself from legal action and personal regret by requiring others wear a helmet when riding, or when handling your young or difficult horses. 

Yes, you can request your vet/farrier/trimmer/coach/rider/transporter/trainer wears a helmet. How seriously they take you will depend on many things, including how seriously you take safety. Culture change starts with individuals. Wear a helmet every time you ride and compliment others who do too - especially the role models and professionals in our sport.

14. You can be a leader 

If you take safety seriously, and you choose to support other people who take safety seriously, you can be a leader for the greater good for your sport. Does it matter that your idols don’t wear helmets? Have you noticed all the champions who do? Have I already mentioned culture change starts with individuals, like you? 

15. Helmets can be cool!

You don’t have to wear a golden helmet like Isabell Werth, but you can still personalise your helmet. Try googling ‘horse helmet decal’ or ‘horse helmet sticker’. You can order a bespoke monogram or silhouette to reflect your style, your horse, your club or a business. Add some bling if that’s your thing. 

Where altering the physical surface of your helmet may void a warranty or compromise the effectiveness, you can consider a helmet cover. Helmet covers can be purchased in a variety of materials - from velvet to lycra, in plains or patterns. They can be further enhanced with diamantes, personalised designs or ribbon bows. Covers can be a great way to change your helmet look for different purposes - personal and professional. 

16. You are an athlete

At some stage, you have probably argued with your non-horsey friends and family about whether or not horse riding really is a sport. Of course horse riding is a sport! How do you prove it? Your sweaty helmet head is a sure sign that you, my friend, are an athlete. Congratulations. Case closed.

17. Hat hair is your friend

Every hair dresser will tell you a little bit of nature’s own grease is the secret ingredient to a winning up-style. Plus, the ‘helmullet’ is, like, so cool right now.

18. Your actions affect the horse industry

We may live in a society where we think we are free to make our own decisions, but you cannot avoid the reality that your decisions impact other people. Even if you don’t make money from horse riding, you are part of the greater horse industry and you rely on it. 

For example, hospital admissions are used to calculate the risk of horse riding. These statistics inform insurance premiums (for you and riding clubs), but they also impact decisions made by riders or their guardians about participating in horse riding. The equestrian industry relies heavily on participants.

19. You are part of a greater community

You could even prefer the company of animals to humans and you might be the only human inhabitant on horse island, but you can’t avoid being a part of society. Every time you are treated for a preventable head injury, you are diverting medical treatment and services (including the ambulance) away from other people – including your friends and family.

20. The times, they are a changing

There was a time when helmets became mandatory for other sports and other occupations, such as working on construction sites. Unsurprisingly, there was resistance to wearing helmets and there were excuses. This was the case with the Australian mining industry over a decade ago. 

But, some of the most macho groups have made a transition from a culture where helmets were oddities, to one where they are just part of the uniform or, in the case of motorcyclists, part of their style and identity. So, get on board - no one likes a late transition.

Wearing a helmet isn’t just about protecting your head from a fall. It is about the reality that manure happens - even to good riders, quiet horses and perfect partnerships. 

If you don’t want to wear a helmet to save yourself, do it for the good of your horse and the benefit of other riders. With 20 reasons to put a lid on it, the excuses are looking more and more like, well, excuses. But, if you’re still resisting the chrome dome, then at least register to be an organ donor. The process is almost as easy as putting on a helmet.

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