The Helmet You’ll Forget You’re Wearing

I still didn’t always wear a helmet, especially when camping or trail riding or ‘on a trusty solid horse.’ Yes, I know what happened to Courtney King Dye, but that wouldn’t happen to me. Until it did.”

I hate helmets. I really do. I grew up riding western and trails and while my first lessons were English, I was that kid in the suburbs that would do anything to hitch a ride to any barn and ride whatever horse it was that no one wanted to ride. I started mucking stalls for the chance to take out trail rides when I was 14 (I even had to get working papers).

Back then you wore a helmet when jumping. Usually. But even then there were exceptions. Technology wasn’t what it is today and the helmets back then were flimsy and barely offered much in the way of protection anyway. Plus they were hot. Then came the “toilet bowl” helmets. Oh yeah, there’s some great summer camp photos of me in those… thick, heavy, but hey they were safer (as every kid groaned when their instructor or camp counselor made them wear one).

Eventually we got to the helmets of today where ventilation mattered, style mattered, and helmets started to become a fashion statement. But I still didn’t always wear one, especially when camping or trail riding or “on a trusty solid horse.” Yes, I know what happened to Courtney King Dye, but that wouldn’t happen to me.

Ah, the days of the “toilet bowl helmet”. Also please don’t ask what I was doing in this photo from summer camp circa the 80s. I believe I was asking for the canter, not actually trying to dive off the horse into the center of the ring. Photo from CJ Millar.

Until it did, sort of. Fortunately far FAR less serious. But numerous injuries, head trauma a and even intermittent vision loss later, coupled with seeing a good friend in an absolutely life-threatening fall (she survived thanks to her safety equipment) and I was singing a different tune. That’s why when a few weeks ago my horse and I fell, my helmet was the farthest thing from my mind.

Why? Because I was wearing one. A Uvex to be exact. And I forgot I had it on until at the walk (yes, the WALK) my horse slipped at the end of a hunter pace and fell on me. Hard. My ankle is presently broken in multiple places and I have cracked ribs and bruising on my right side that all could have been much worse (I also had an air vest, on thank goodness), but I never worried about my head. No, we didn’t fall anywhere near a jump, we fell in a field coming back to the walk from a trot on wet grass with hard ground. No, we didn’t have on special shoes (ironically, the farrier was coming the next day to add drilled / tapped shoes for studs as we headed into full hunt season). Thank goodness this didn’t happen a few years ago on a summer trail when I usually wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Jumped a bunch of stone walls just fine. Fell a few miles later coming back to the walk on wet grass and hard packed ground. Photo by CJ Millar.

Why not wear a helmet? It can save your life!

Sure. I’ve heard that and I know it’s true, but I also used every excuse not to. It’s too hot. I am heat sensitive (I am, I had heat stroke as a child). It gives me a headache (see above reference to multiple brain injuries and nerve damage and vision loss). I don’t feel comfortable. I am worried if any of those things bother me, it will affect my riding.

Helmets were so “not cool”. What was cool back then? Putting me and my sister and my brother all on my poor saint of a QH and riding around… (photo from Joan Millar).

You know what is really cool? Eden teaching her green horse to barrel race bareback. In a helmet. Photo by Alix Didrich.

All legitimate concerns. And while none of them truly outweigh the benefits of actually saving your life, it’s still hard to always put a helmet on when it’s just not comfortable.

But what if it was comfortable?

At any given point in time I have somewhere between six to eight helmets in my possession and I don’t even show these days as I am far too busy with work. Of all of those helmets in all of the various best, most stylish brands there’s only one I wear every ride without fail. Actually since riding in this helmet, I’ve had to replace it twice already because I had two different friends walk off with mine! The very first one was sent for me to try from a friend and it was a hair snug and promptly went home with my best friend, so I ordered the next size up. That helmet was the only one I wore for the next year until a very hardworking teenager I know came to ride with me after our annual camping trip and wanted to learn to fox hunt. He never wears a helmet. I lent him mine, and it went home with him. So I ordered yet another one!

Morgan learning how to jump with my field hunter, Cole in my – now his – Uvex, that he even wears when riding western. (Don’t worry, we’re working on shorter stirrups and heels down!). Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

Now that I’m injured, another friend and her teenage daughter Eden are helping me with my horses and Eden also wants to learn to jump more and potentially field hunt and event. So I let her try on my helmet – she loved it and handed it to her mom who trail rides. Her mom said “WOW, I’d actually ride in this. I usually don’t ride in one because I get headaches and most helmets just aren’t comfortable. I never thought I would ever find a helmet I would actually wear but this one changed my mind.”

That’s now three western/trail/not-usually-in-a-helmet riders that I’ve helped convert to riding in a helmet. Does it really matter? Well, it does to me. Not only because of my personal experiences but because we live in a world where “that won’t happen to me” is really just a poor excuse for “I don’t want to because [insert lame reason here].” But most importantly, these are my friends, and accidents to happen and if we could plan for them then they wouldn’t really be accidents, now would they? So why not be prepared and ride safer, especially when it can be comfortable, too?

Maybe it’s just me and while I won’t preach to you and I won’t be that keyboard warrior that comments on every helmet-less rider with some internet rant because please! There are a ton of photos like that of me too! All I ask is – consider it. I don’t care what brand you ride in, just that you ride in one. Find one that works for you. For me, that’s Uvex, I bought mine from Big Red Mare because I like her brands (I am an Effax/Effol junkie too) and she has excellent customer service. For you, that could be any brand out there — but give it a try. Whether you’re on the trails or in the ring or on that dead broke quiet horse that you can set a bomb off around and he doesn’t care. Because accidents do happen, and you’ve only got one brain. #brainmattermatters

Who needs a helmet? Um, me. All the time. While riding in the river my horse tripped on a boulder and I almost hit my head and he almost landed on me. We got lucky, but it could have been catastrophic. Even “just trail riding” I wear a helmet now. All the time, every ride. Photo compliments of CJ Millar.

Ride on! (Just with a helmet, please?)

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

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