The Bay Area Equestrian Network highlighted one of their most popular articles today, The Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Cool to Wear a Helmet. The reasons listed in the article are sound, but it puzzles me that anyone would ever have to defend their helmet, or that anyone would feel too embarrassed to wear a helmet due to others not — or that one would reluctantly wear a helmet because others do.
I can’t remember anyone ever ribbing me about wearing a helmet, even on a dude string trail ride in the mountains. Maybe this is because I didn’t grow up in the world of rodeos or ranching? I can absolutely see that a wide-brimmed hat is necessary for ranch work, for all kinds of reasons: prevent sun headaches and migraines, shield one’s eyes, protect one’s skin, fan one’s face, support one’s body language for driving cattle and horses, cool one’s entire body by wetting and wearing, provide a makeshift water bucket, and so on. So maybe the kids growing up in that world make fun of the kids taking English lessons and helmets are one of the visible differences to tease about. (I’m sure it works both ways, with English riders scoffing at Western riders just as much, simply because some people who fear differences lash out at the Other in order to quell their own internal fear temporarily.)
I’ve seen criticism directed at Pat and Linda Parelli for not wearing helmets, or for not pushing helmets on their students, as if their choice not to wear helmets somehow forces other people not to wear helmets. When asked, Pat and Linda have both said that helmets are personal choice. I like that Pat and Linda do not attempt to become regulatory agencies or fashion consultants or safety inspectors or preachers. They trust us to figure out how to wear a helmet, or not, without running to a Parelli for direction or approval.
In Linda’s studies with biomechanics expert Colleen Kelley, Linda has been wearing a beautiful helmet. I suspect — but have no evidence to prove one way or the other — that this is one of those “If you’re going to be in my class, you’re going to wear a helmet” choices on Colleen’s part, and “I want to learn from this instructor so I shall wear a helmet” choices on Linda’s. And then both women promptly stopped thinking about the helmet and focused on the important thing: horsemanship.
I’m surprised that helmets are not mandatory at equestrian competitions, not so much because I want helmets to be compulsory for everyone just because I choose to wear one (most of the time), but because of the event insurance business. I certainly don’t want insurance underwriters in charge of equestrian businesses! I’m just surprised that they aren’t, yet. Remember Heinlein’s wisdom? The answer to any question starting, “Why don’t they-” is almost always, “Money.”
I rode a motorcycle for 15 years before selling it to buy a horse, so maybe I’m just more accustomed to the feel and necessity of helmets. California made helmets mandatory only a year or two before I bought my first bike, but I’d have worn one anyway. (Bare-headed bikers in Hawai’i and Colorado always look naked to me even when they are in full leathers!)
I wear a helmet about 97% of the time when I’m riding horses, in private and in public. The other 3% of times are when I spontaneously slither onto a bare back when I wasn’t intending to ride but the energy just feels right and the invitation is there, and it is easy enough to slither off again if the energy changes.
If you get teased about your helmet, I suggest grinning back and saluting and saying “thanks for noticing!” And then return your focus to your horse and get on with your day.