Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can We talk About Helmets?

A proper ASTM approved helmet!

And here I am in an old fashioned helmet, riding Sir Tally, 1980

The use of riding helmets has always been a controversial subject, but with the recent injury of Dressage legend Courtney King Dye, it seems there is a renewed interest of the topic. It is surprisingly how many riders adopt the attitude that "Well, I rode as a kid without a helmet, and nothing bad happened, and 20, 30 years later, nothing bad has happened yet, and besides, it is my body, I can do as I damn well please". Well you know, lots of us grew up with mothers who smoke and drank when they were pregnant with us, a whole lot of us did not wear seat belts ( we would routinely drive the whole way from Pittsburgh to Florida and back, stretched out in the far back of the station wagon, never buckled in!) and yes, alot of us did ride without helmets. But what about those who did end up being born prematurely, those who did suffer serious injuries or death in car accidents, and those who did suffer injuries or death from falls from horses? Just because you or I did not happen to have anything bad happen, well, that just means either we are lucky or our time just hasn't come yet.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with a pasture full of my grandfathers horses, I have pictures of me as a toddler, sitting on a horse, no helmet on. Fugly would have a field day with that image! At least my parents never wandered from my side! I really don't even remember when I started riding daily with a helmet...when I think of all the crazy stunts I did as a teenager, with no helmet on, I am convinced I must have had a guardian angel looking after me. My scrap book is full of pictures of me jumping my beloved Sir Tally, over 4' fences, with no helmet on! I know I had one to show in, but that was the only time I wore it. At some point though in my teens, for some reason that I don't remember, I started to wear one every time I rode...but even then, it was the helmet without a know, the one that has a warning label in the catalogs that "this helmet is not to be used for riding in?" Um, hello, then why in the world are you selling a helmet for a hundred dollars that you issue a warning label not to ride in? But for years, that is what I wore, as did many of my friends and competetors. A helmet with a harness was absolutely hideous. It was hot and sweaty and lets face it, in the professional photos that you shell out good money for, well, you look awful! That is what I used to think anyhow.
What changed my mind? My daughters always rode in an approved helmet. Period. Nothing to discuss. But I was still riding in my old fashioned helmet. Then I watched the video "Every Time, Every Ride" at a regional pony club meeting, and literally, my first stop on the way home was at a tack store to purchase an ASTM approved helmet. I have never ridden without one since. Yes, the video made that much of an impact on me. That was in 2001.
I never understood the argument that riding one discipline versus another was so much safer that helmets were not the normal standard of attire...western riding or saddle seat for example. I about had a melt down watching a video of a friend's teenage daughter, riding a very high strung Saddlebred, wearing a top hat! I mean, a fall from a horse, whether the horse is wearing a western saddle, a dressage saddle or even if bareback, is still a fall, and it can have devastating results. Lets face it..all horses spook. There really is no such thing as a bombproof horse, no matter how much we like to think that we own such a creature. Things happen. They spook. And if they don't spook, they can trip, they can fall. It happens in a blink of an eye. It happens regardless of our riding experience, or the saddle we are riding in. I know personally of two local riders who suffered permanent brain injuries, when their horses tripped at the WALK. Because neither were wearing a helmet, their lives, as are their families lives, forever changed.
And speaking of experience level, advanced riders are just as likely to fall as a beginner. It is a fallacy that the more experienced rider just doesn't fall. I think that Courtney King Dye's fall is proof that this just isn't true. In fact, since more experienced riders may be more likely to be riding a green horse, jumping higher or riding a rank horse, this really can't be a legitimate argument.
Eventers seem to always be one step ahead of the industry when it comes to protection. ASTI approved helmets, along with safety vests have always been considered normal attire, even when schooling. Even so, riding in a top hat at the upper level dressage tests has been acceptable, but the appearance of Allison Springer at the Kentucky Rolex this past spring, riding her dressage test in a helmet, brought about much accolades in the eventing forums. It seems more and more eventers are opting for helmets instead of top hats. And the racing industry reports that jockeys now suffer fewer head injuries than pleasure riders since requiring approved helmets.
In the United States Pony Club, head injury rates were lowered by 29% with mandatory helmet use.

Need more facts?

-Approximately 80% of injuries occur while riding. This means, 20% of injuries occur on the ground. My daughter Jen suffered a concussion and mild memory loss when the horse she was mounting, inexplicably bolted, leaving her on the ground, unconscious for 10 minutes, until she came to. Her trainer thought she was in the barn, late for a lesson, and I, seeing her leave the barn, thought she had joined her lesson group. Had she not been wearing a helmet, she may not be walking or talking today.
-Most injuries occur during pleasure or trail riding. I know the reason why. It is because this seems to be the group that is least likely to wear a helmet. For whatever reason, maybe because they think they aren't doing anything dangerous, they feel they don't need one. Well guess what? Just standing next to a horse can be considered dangerous! I know way too many riders that fit this way of thinking.

More facts?

-Most common reason for riders being admitted to the hospital is for head injuries.
-A fall from 2 feet can cause PERMANENT brain damage. Think about where you are on a horse...6 feet? 8 feet above ground? How high are you off the ground while jumping a four foot oxer?
-A human skull can be shattered by an impact of 4-6 mph. How fast are you going at that canter? Gallop? About 40 mph!
-A rider who has suffered from one head unjury has a 40% chance of suffering a second head injury. Two years ago, after eventer Darren Chiacchia was severely injured in a fall at Red Hills, there was an uproar when he returned to riding within just a few weeks of being released from the hospital. Yes, he was wearing an approved helmet...I don't think he would be here today had he not been. Many argued that it was not safe for him to be riding so soon after a brain injury. Months later, interviews show that he was clearly not 100%. Had he suffered another fall so soon after his return, he probably would not have survived, or at the least, he would most likely have suffered permanent brain damage. Children, teen and young adults are most vulnerable to sudden death from secondary impacts.
-There are things far worse than death. Those who do survive may do so with epilepsy, memory impairment, paralysis and more.
And how about this fact? Head injuries are the number one horse related cause of death, accounting for 60% of deaths.
SIXTY PERCENT! And this number is so preventable! It is a proven fact that helmets work! Modern helmets greatly reduce the risk of head injuries by cushioning the landing of a fall with a layer of crushable foam. The foam slows the stopping time of a rider's head as it hits a surface. A bare head will just come to an abrupt halt when it meets a hard surface, which causes the rider's brain to crash into the inside of the skull. The secondary impact of the brain into the skull is when the majority of brain injuries occur. This is why the old fashioned helmets that I used to prefer are useless. They don't have the lining that today's ASTM helmets do. Also, I can vouch that upon landing, helmets without a harness can and will, go flying upon buckle up that harness while mounted!
When my daughter went away to college, I gave her the book "How Not to Die" by Dr. Garavaglia. It provides tips on how to live longer, safer and healthier. Obvious tips like eating healthy, staying out of high crime areas, and not smoking. For me, whatever I can do to prolong my life, I am all for it! As I told two pony clubbers I was examining recently, "Always, always wear your pony club pin! You would hate to have points taken off at a rally for something you could have prevented"! Well, wear your helmet...wouldn't you hate to have your family preparing your funeral, or feeding you jello because you can't feed yourself, when it could have been prevented so easily? Save death for another day, for a reason that you cannot old age!

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