I almost got in a bar fight a few months back. It was bad: I got frustrated and when that happens, I resort to sarcasm. It was not professional of me, and I would feel better about this whole episode if I was sorry. The problem is that I’m not sorry.

Riders4Helmets International Helmet Awareness Day is coming right up. On Saturday, July 12th, equestrian retailers around the globe will be offering special one-day only discounts on helmets. I don’t get a free helmet for saying so, I just want to remind everyone it’s a good time to shop. (Dealer link here.)

Is it getting old? Every year at this time I write about helmet awareness. Some times I write in the horse’s voice and some years I try to appeal to common sense. I am most haunted by the blog about my biggest personal fear (read here). This day still sticks in my mind years later.

This has been a rough week in the equestrian world. We lost a couple of elite riders. Whenever we lose people, we want to draw an arbitrary line between them and us, a line that keeps us safe from their fate. “I don’t ride horses like that, I don’t jump that high.“ It couldn’t happen to you because you are safe in another discipline. “I am only a trail rider, I don’t even canter.”

That’s crazy talk, of course. No horse is bomb-proof. Horses are flight animals and in the worst case scenario, instinct will win over training. Where serious injuries on horses are concerned, the disabling or fatal ones are all most all head injuries. No surprise, and most active sports require helmets these days.

This year it seems there have been more than the usual number of injuries, especially out on the trail. It’s hard to come out ahead in a tangle with a thousand pound horse but helmets do balance the odds a bit.

Statistically, western riders are the hold out group. The most common argument has to do with a western heritage. That western hat habit is about 200 years old, a decent period of time as habits come and go. Dressage is about 2000 years old, most of us consider Xenophon the founder, riding and writing about it in 406 BC. If Dressage riders can wear helmets after centuries without them, it should be possible for western riders to at least give it a try when riding.

Maybe you are rocking the backyard cowgirl image. Maybe you think your heritage, (and mine by the way), is so patriotic and pure that gravity doesn’t work on you. I notice you defend it…well, defensively.

It isn’t that I don’t remember being a kid riding bareback in cut-offs. I still see online photos of girls like I was back then, smiling in the sun on a kid-broke horse. Only the byline is asking for prayers; she’s in a coma. Or a photo of a little boy who loves rodeo but needs donations for medical bills after his horse fell on him. Someone usually comments, “Where’s his helmet?” but it’s painfully too late and almost seems mean to mention by then. Is his mom comforted remembering that she didn’t wear a helmet as a kid?

Disclaimer: I am an equine professional. I read the small print when I buy liability insurance that says I’m responsible for the safety of others. Being knowledgeable about safety is part of my job and I would require helmets for my riders, even if my insurance didn’t already. Are you the sort who hates laws put on personal freedom? We wouldn’t need them if we all showed more personal responsibility. And this is the conversation that gets people defensive.

I know I can’t change the minds of cowboys and cowgirls who think their proud heritage will save them from brain injury. Riders who think a fashion statement is more important than… okay, the rant begins again. Sorry. I’ll take a breath…

Because there is no debate, nothing to defend. Helmets save lives, just like seat belts. And still, we needed the law. So there are helmet laws in a couple of states. The USEF has passed wide sweeping helmet requirements. Excuses are flimsy in the face of brain damage but years later, the resistance is still there. It seems hopeless. How many times does human ego get in the way of common sense in the horse world? Should we give up on these riders?

My almost bar fight was with a woman who had a concussion with memory loss and was still proudly bragging about riding without a helmet. Should a stranger be more concerned about her and her kids than she is? Will this bicker-fest ever change?

Then there’s Hannah, our barn rat. She got a pink helmet for her second birthday and the rides started. Now she is almost big enough for the breeches that she wears under a pink sundress or a princess costume. Her tiny paddock boots almost stay on her even tinier feet. The pink gloves are huge but they match her helmet, which does fit perfectly.

She climbs on top with her mom’s help and calls, “Walk on!” Namaste and I obey and at the end of the ride, she always has a hug for him. She leans down and in a very quiet voice, she whispers, “I will love him forever.”

Girls and horses: It is the oldest story in the world. With one pink improvement.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Anna Blake on June 28, 2014 at 7:11am

Thanks Paul. We'd be a different kind of bar gang, might be a good thing!

Comment by Geoffrey Pannell on June 27, 2014 at 9:25pm

I'd stick up for you in the bar Anna, Always have a lid on my head. 

Comment by Anna Blake on June 22, 2014 at 5:44pm

Jumpers were always smarter than the rest of us! Thanks. I live to fight in bars.

Comment by MagsNMe on June 22, 2014 at 1:24pm

I started riding over fences 30 years ago, so, we wore 'helmets'.  Okay, they were hunt caps, but still.  So, I tend to be habitual and wear one.  I've been plowed face first into the dirt more than once (once Maggie fell on her big old head at a canter, graceful she wasn't at 5).  Now and again I forget that I have a hat on, and don't put my helmet on, and I can tell you, I don't push Mo those days, or I go back and get it.  I make my living on my brain, it's worth the $150 I pay per helmet.  I also always keep a spare, so I can't say that I fell and have to replace my helmet so I don't have one to wear...  keep talking Anna, if even one person listens...

Comment by Anna Blake on June 22, 2014 at 9:28am

Jackie, thank you for the pink affirmation... I clearly need it.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on June 21, 2014 at 12:20pm

A comment on pink.

I NEEDED ventilated half chaps.  The only one in the tack store that fit me was SHOCKING pink.  My riding teachers LOVE them, they can see my lower leg clearly and get to correct my position of my legs when it starts going bad.

I hate pink, but I have gotten excellent results from wearing my pink half-chaps!

I totally agree about wearing riding helmets EVERY time I mount a horse.  In the past forty years I did get up on a donkey without one once, but I did not have a saddle, bridle, halter or lead rope either.  But his owner was right there by his head, I found out what I wanted to know and got off quickly.  My total ride was just a minute or two, I was not willing to tempt fate any longer.  If it had been a horse I would have passed on the ride.

One fall, well my helmet probably saved my life. 

Comment by Marlene Thoms on June 20, 2014 at 7:13pm

I will always stand up for helmet safety. I've eaten dirt a few times in the last few years, and landed on my feet once, never regretted having my helmet on. But last year, on a lovely spring day when I thought a ride was going pretty well and my horse was just a wee bit "springy" something happened, and the rest of the ride I can't tell you about because I was knocked out. I was lucky, all I suffered was lost memory for a few hours. It could have been a lot worse. Wear the gear. One day you will be glad you did.

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