Do you wear a riding helmet?
There’s a growing faction of pro-helmet activists in the equestrian community. One of the most visible, Riders4Helmets, includes some alarming statistics on their website. Horse riding, the organization states, is a dangerous sport on level with motorcycle riding, and head injuries are the leading cause of equestrian-related hospital admissions and deaths. http://www.riders4helmets.com/2011/02/equestrian-sport-statistics-facts-what-you-should-know/
And in a Canadian study of patients admitted with equestrian industries, 60% of related deaths were caused by head injuries to riders who were not wearing helmets. (Other causes of death included attacks by a bear and a cougar. One might argue that riding without a helmet is just as dangerous as riding your horse past a bear den.) (Study: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/6/1/59.long)
But even with this data on the significance of head injuries in the equestrian industry, there are still riders who choose not to wear a helmet. Whether it’s cultural — the cowboy hats of Western attire, for example — or simply old habits — the majority of riders hospitalized with equestrian-related head injuries are older horsemen who didn’t grow up with helmets the way that children do now — there are still riders mounting up every day without a helmet.
A common argument bare-headed riders make is that adults are free to make their own choices about wearing helmets — “it’s my head and I’ll risk it if I want to.” Medical professionals disagree, however, reminding horsemen who eschew helmets that even a non-fatal head injury can create life-long debilitation, and hospital bills in excess of $25,000 a day — a situation which affects family and friends, not just the rider. There is far more at risk than one person’s head.
Fashion doesn’t have much to do with it anymore, either. Disciplines which once required fashionable headgear have relaxed their rules in response to very public injuries and deaths of top riders. Dressage in particular has made a huge shift towards helmets, after Olympic rider Courtney King-Dye fell from a horse while schooling and spent thirty days in a coma. The incident sent ripples through the dressage community, and now the top hat is falling out of favor, as riders realize that looking dapper is not the same as surviving an unexpected tumble from atop their horse.
But not everyone has put aside their top hats. Steffen Peters still takes off his helmet and goes back to the old style for FEI-sanctioned dressage tests. “It’s tradition, you know,” Peters told the Chronicle of the Horse in a recent interview. (http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/tradition-vs-safety-helmet-discussion-continues-us-dressage-festiva)
The tide is gradually moving in the direction of riding helmets for all. And with a young generation of riders who are accustomed to wearing hard hats from the minute they get on a bicycle, it seems likely that bare-headed riding is on its way out. But for now, the debate continues.