2016 Best of HN #18: 9 Things Western Riders Who Wear Helmets Are Tired of Hearing

I’m not sure why my personal choice to wear a helmet has got you so upset, but seriously, people … chill out.

The author aboard SM Playful Cat with clinician Josh Veal. Helmet and hat. Why can't we all get along? Photo by Maria Hurd.

The author aboard SM Playful Cat with clinician Josh Veal. Helmet and hat. Note that no one is shouting about their superior moral high ground to anyone else in this photo. Why can’t we all get along? Photo by Maria Hurd. (Updated 12/27/16 to add that Josh Veal wishes it to be known that he is not opposed to anyone wearing a helmet, nor does he share the beliefs of those opposed to others choosing to wear one.)

Now before you get the wrong idea, I’ll start this off with the fact that the vast majority of horse people with whom I interact say absolutely nothing about the fact that I’m wearing a helmet — they either support the decision, don’t really have a strong opinion either way, or are at least polite enough not to say anything if they disagree.

However, I’ve also experienced a surprising amount of open distaste from fellow western riders about my choice of protective headgear — and I just don’t understand it. How is what I choose to put on my head at all offensive?

Let’s also get one other thing clear — I’m not a helmet crusader. I don’t run around trying to jam helmets onto people’s heads. Yes, I do have a farm policy that guests and friends who want to go for a ride need to wear a helmet, and yes, I do choose to wear one now 100% of the time (if you’re seriously interested in stalking me on social media you will see some throwback photos to horse shows and events where I am, gasp, not wearing one for whatever reason seemed good at the time). But I’m not going to judge you for your personal decision, nor am I going to quote statistics about traumatic brain injuries at you.

I respect the good work that organizations such as Riders4Helmets do out there, and I believe that horseback riding is a potentially dangerous activity and we need all the help we can get in not being killed. But I also respect the fact that right now for most adults, the decision remains a personal choice, and there is absolutely no need for me to act as though I’m riding some high horse on the moral high ground. You do you, boo.

That said, why can’t this be a two-way street? Why do people feel the need to say these things to those of us who choose to simply put a helmet on? These are all things I have heard in my years of being a helmet-wearing western rider.

“Don’t you trust your horse?”

Yes, I do … but accidents happen, people. Horses trip, other horses run into you in the warm-up pen, someone in the stands does something goofy all of a sudden and your horse squirts off in an unexpected direction … yes, I do trust this thousand-pound animal, but let’s face it, he’s not the most intelligent creature in the world. There’s a big difference between “trust” and “leaving my life totally in your hands.”

“Helmets look stupid.”

And if I wanted to look cool all the time, I’d take up some other leisure activity. Look, I’m very kindly paying that person standing in the middle of the arena or sitting up in the box to judge me, so please pardon me if your free opinion ranks a little lower on my priority list.

“Christopher Reeve was wearing a helmet and he still got paralyzed.”

There’s not a lot else I can do when I hear this one other than walk away.

“What are you wearing? Western riders don’t wear helmets.”

*consults rule book of any western discipline* Actually, it says here that it’s cool, so I think I’m okay. Thanks for asking though.

“A helmet!?! Do you think you’re gonna fall off or something?”

A seatbelt!?!? Do you think you’re gonna crash your truck or something?

Seriously, though, my discipline of choice for a long time was working cow horse. It’s fast, it’s unpredictable, and you’re not relying just on your own riding and your horse’s ability to stay out of trouble but the active mind and quick reflexes of a cow that’s not necessarily very happy about what’s going on. Going down the fence on a fresh steer is quite possibly one of the most unpredictable and dangerous activities that you can attempt to do on horseback. Sure, no one ever expects to fall off, but it’s the unexpected falls that get us every time.

“What are you, some kind of English rider?”

Why is there an entrenched belief that certain disciplines have a monopoly on safety equipment? If all I did was change my saddle and ride the exact same horse around the show grounds while wearing a helmet no one would even bat an eye.

“I never wear a helmet and I’ve never had a major injury.”

Congratulations. No, seriously, congratulations. It take a lot of luck to make it this far in the horse industry without ever suffering a major injury. Please don’t mind that I’m trying not to tempt fate, myself.

“Do you think you’re better than me by wearing that?”

… excuse me, what? That doesn’t even make any sense.

“When are you gonna cowboy up and take that helmet off?”

When are YOU gonna cowboy up and mind your own cattle? Anybody can wear a cowboy hat. But not many can actually do what we do and do it well. Apologies if I choose not to judge your riding ability by what you’ve got on your head.

The author and SM Playful Cat at a reined cowhorse clinic. Photo by Maria Hurd.

The author and SM Playful Cat at a reined cowhorse clinic. Photo by Maria Hurd.

Go riding!

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *