Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Helmets and Other Veneers of Safety

Ah helmets. I don't think I've ever seen a "debate" where everyone is arguing for the same side, yet there is so much vehemence and not a lot to show for it.

If you think about it, there is only one side to the helmet debate: helmets are good things that save lives. I have never seen anyone say "helmets are bad things that don't save lives" but I suppose at least one person out there holds that view. I just haven't heard from them.

The two "sides" of the helmet "debate" (yes, I'm overusing the scare quotes) seem to be:
a. Helmets are good things that everyone should wear every single time they are on a horse. (Side note: I know there are lots of people who think everyone should wear helmets anywhere near a horse. Even when cleaning stalls)
b. Helmets are good things and it should be up to the individual whether or not they want to wear them.

That's it. Those are the two sides. But side B is always treated like they advocate banning helmets or they want people to end up in the hospital in a coma. Which is patently ridiculous.

Full disclosure: I wear a helmet 95% of the time when I ride. The other 5% are when I just decide to hop on bareback and don't have my helmet with me. I am firmly in the B side of the helmet "debate". But, I never hop on at all, helmet or no helmet, unless my horse is ridable. And by ridable, I mean calm, attentive, and not thinking that there are ninjas on the lawn. I do encourage helmets, especially with children, but I'm not going to insult people or tell them they have a death wish if they ride sans helmet.

I rode without a helmet for a number of years. I recently started wearing one frequently this spring. Those who keep up with horse news may think that I started wearing one because of Courtney King-Dye's accident. But while that did play a role, the main thing that got me to start wearing my helmet 95% of the time was watching the luge bobsled (oops, got the sports mixed up) races in the Vancouver Olympics. Especially the ones where people fell out of the sled. For some odd reason, I watched those and thought "I should start wearing my helmet more often." And I did.

For all the passion in the helmet debate, there are only two horse sports that require helmets at all times while riding: hunter/jumper and endurance. That's it. Dressage, eventing, cutting, western pleasure, vaulting, or any of the other riding sports don't require helmets at all times. Combined driving requires helmets, but I'm not quite sure how much good they'll do if you get run over by the cart. Or a horse, which is the other thing: helmets are not a magical force field of protection. They can only do one thing: lessen the chance of a traumatic brain injury. That's it. While it is important to protect your brain, that is not the only part of your body that can be injured if you fall off a horse. You can still break your neck or back. You can still puncture a lung. You can still rupture your spleen.

I point this out not to discourage people from wearing helmets, but to encourage people to be honest about what helmets can do. When you get on a horse, you can get injured in a number of ways. The best way way to prevent that is to make sure your horse is ridable. If you wish to wear a helmet, great! But the helmet should be a side component of your safety measures, not the main one

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