Saturday, January 1, 2011

What is Safety?

When I wrote my Helmets and Other Veneers of Safety, I pointed out that helmets, for all their promotion and marketing, are not magical force fields of protection. They can definitely save your life or prevent catastrophic brain damage, but you can still be killed or injured while wearing a helmet. Look at Christopher Reeve, Darren Chiacchia, or Laine Ashker. They are not the be all and end all of safety, and I get so frustrated when people judge how safe someone is by whether or not they are wearing a helmet.

So what is safety? Is precautions taken to prevent accidents? Is it something that reduces the likelihood of injury? Is it something else? I refuse to quote the dictionary here, because everyone views safety in a slightly different way.

Look at it this way: when I was leasing and first bought Royal, I was riding the equine equivalent of a paranoid schizophrenic. The horse was literally spooking at his own shadow and urine. Oh sure, I wore a helmet every time and every ride. I still fell off and lost my confidence. Confidence that took me two years to regain. But a lot of people would have looked at that helmet and proclaimed me "safe". But what if Royal reared and flipped while I was riding him (which was a real possibility for how reactive he was)? I would have been crushed, which the helmet would have done feck all to prevent.

Then look at Linda Parelli. She jumps! Bareback! With no helmet! How unsafe! What horrors! Think of the children! Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?! Except for if you listen her talk, you'd know she promotes staying on the ground until you feel your horse is ready to ride and getting off the horse the INSTANT you feel the horse is unsafe. That little piece of advice has prevented more accidents for me than any helmet ever could.

In the summer of 2009, Linda was riding her horse Remmer in a field when he tripped and fell. Linda was thrown off. She sustained a concussion and broken ribs. When people heard about the accident, many wondered if she would start wearing a helmet. But here's the thing: the concussion healed relatively quickly. The broken ribs took a lot longer to recover from. And a helmet wouldn't have necessarily have prevented the concussion. A concussion occurs when the brain bounces around in the skull, crashing into the sides. People have gotten concussions while wearing helmets. A protective vest may prevented the broken ribs, but again, not necessarily. Linda has been riding since the accident and does not wear a helmet or a protective vest.

It would seem that Linda has decided that she can be safe while not wearing a helmet. And, as a committed helmet wearer, I completely agree. Because safety is more than equipment and clothing. Safety is what you DO and how you react to situations. You can't wear safety, you have to live it. The day I went to the cross-country schooling, I was riding up the road while wearing my helmet and protective vest. At one point, after Royal spooked at a barking dog, I thought "I'm glad I'm wearing my helmet". The instant after that thought flashed through my brain, I stopped Royal, got off, and walked the rest of the way. That thought was a warning sign that I was not feeling safe enough. If Royal had thrown me into the path of a car going 60mph, the helmet would not done a whole lot to protect me. I should never need a helmet; it should always been a second line of defense. When I feel like I "need" one because my horse is acting up, that is a MAJOR HUGE warning sign that my horse is not safe to ride and I should not be on him.

So, I guess my point is: wear your helmet if you want, but make sure your horse is ridable.


  1. Hi Renee!
    Very interesting post about helmets, safety, and only getting on a horse if it is safe to ride. I used to never wear a helmet while riding dressage, hacking around my barn, on trail rides, etc. Though I would put it on if i was jumping or schooling at someone else's place, competing, etc.
    I agree that a helmet is not something that guarantees your safety on horseback.... but I was literally a CHANGED rider after seeing an old instructor of mine (who rarely wore a helmet, if ever) get bucked off (of a normally VERY safe horse who got a bit excited), landed smack on the top of her head, on the hard ground. Thankfully, side from some relatively minor neck trauma and a minor concussion, she was fine. However, I will never forget watching her fall.... and ever since then I always wear a helmet if I am on a horse's back. Just in case!
    Thanks for following along with my blog!
    Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks for your comment Jenny. Like I said in my other posts, I wear my helmet 95% of the time when I ride. It was the luge races at the Vancouver Olympics that convinced me. I just get so angry at the people who say "If you don't wear a helmet, you must hate yourself and your family or have a death wish". I didn't love myself or my family any less when I wasn't wearing a helmet than I do now.

    Love your blog! :)