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About 20 years ago I was in between horses and was riding horses for a friend who owned a small boarding facility. I don’t recall if there was a helmet rule or not but we mostly wore them, though I don’t remember it being discussed much one way or the other.
I don’t remember having much of an opinion about it myself. I had never had a head injury and it just wasn’t something that I thought about very much.
Really nice little barn, well kept, safe facility, nice horses, good people.
I am going to leave out a few specifics out of respect for the people that were involved. The story is really more about how one small decision changes the rest of your life – your perspective, your attitude, what you think about every time you put your foot in the stirrup.
One hot day three kids went out on a trail ride in the preserve behind the property. The kids could all ride – had grown up in pony club, took lessons, were capable riders. The boarders hacked out in the preserve pretty regularly as I recall.
There was absolutely nothing unusual about that day. Except that something went terribly wrong and one of the kids ended up coming off.
When I was a kid we never wore helmets. Only at horse shows, and we actually cut the chin straps off. So I completely understand why these kids thought it was no big deal to skip the helmets that particular day. They were just being kids, being a bit casual.
Only two of the three kids survived the trail ride. A simple trail ride on a hot summer day, and a child is dead. Likely because she wasn’t wearing a helmet. We’ll never know if the outcome could have been different. It was a freak accident. Kids being kids and horses being horses.
Going to that funeral changed me. No child should die at such a young age. And no family should have to live through something like this. That experience entirely changed my perspective on helmets.
I’m a dressage rider these days but I board at a multi-discipline facility. Not one of the western riders wear helmets. Most folks are casual riders. They don’t want to hear my speech.
Some of the responses shock me. The western folks tell me that you won’t fall when you are in a western saddle. Then I hear that it isn’t the tradition. One trainer actually told me that they like the helmets without chin straps because they are “all about the look.”
I simply can’t comprehend the logic.
But they haven’t spent and afternoon at a funeral for a child who died out on a trail ride.
I don’t want to be right about this. I don’t want to see one of my friends die or suffer a life altering traumatic brain injury to prove that they should wear a helmet.
I’ve seen how riders4helmets and publicity around Courtney’s accident has changed dressage, and I am truly hopeful that folks in other disciplines join in. Every ride, every time.
- Sheila Hatch