Recently our four-year-old granddaughter has been begging to ride one of our horses. Before we even consider letting her get close to the horses, much less ride on, we’ve got a few things to prepare for first. Sure, there are the usual lessons on how to behave around horses, getting the right footwear (a boot with a low heel,) etc.. Most importantly, we need to find her an approved helmet that fits.
Now, I know some of you have possibly ridden before this ripe old age of four, and probably without a helmet. I have seen many pictures of children on the horse blogs and, no matter what age, none of them are wearing helmets - and neither are their parents. I’m not here to preach but, if as parents/grandparents/trainers, we can help to prevent a child from a serious or life threatening head injury, why aren’t we doing just that? It doesn’t take much to damage the brain and I know of a few people who have had permanent damage which could have been prevented by simply wearing protective gear on their heads.
We are currently in the process of purchasing one for her that fits and will insist she wear it, whether she is on the horse or anywhere near a horse. Why, you ask? Because even small horses or ponies are much stronger than you can imagine and we would like to keep her brain matter intact. Are we over protective? I don’t think so. I would say we are aware of the dangers of working in and around horses; that is why we insist on a helmet being worn at all times when grooming, picking out feet, longeing and any other activity that puts her in close proximity to an animal that could cause an injury. When we ran a boarding/training facility, it was a rule that anyone under eighteen had to wear an ASTM approved helmet when working with the horses in and out of the barn, and helmets were required of everyone when mounted. Lawsuits aside, it’s simply a good habit to adopt.
There has never been a time when we didn’t don a hunt cap for riding. However, I can tell you about incidents where it would be easy to see what can happen if you’re too cool for school and want to defy the odds, keeping the helmet off to avoid “helmet hair” while working on the ground. There was the time my daughter had this rogue horse she was training on the cross-ties and was grooming his front leg when he reared up and struck out, breaking her nose; she was not wearing a helmet which may have deflected the blow or saved her if he had aimed higher and caught her on the top or side of the head. The same horse charged her on the longe and reared up over her head trying to kill her (no helmet again, luckily she’s quick and moves fast.) She started wearing a helmet to longe after that.
But problems can arise even with gentle, well-trained horses. One time, by sheer accident, Nate was on the crossties being bandaged and tried to turn his head to bite a fly or look at something behind him – as he was repositioning himself, he picked up his knee and fractured her eye socket. He hadn’t meant to hurt her; he’s just big, so what for him is a normal movement is powerful enough to break something. She finally has decided to wear a helmet most of the time when working around the horses. As you can see even a seasoned professional can get hurt, you never think you will but things happen. I’m happy to report she is not disfigured and is still a beautiful girl.
Below is a rerun from a previous post that may come in handy when you decide to get and wear a helmet from now on:
Riding is a great sport, but there is inherent risk involved. Whether you are a beginner or advanced rider, eventually everyone will have a mishap. Obviously, this is not a cheerful thought, but a true statement nevertheless.
A riding helmet is the single most important item you will purchase and wear. All of us who ride or work with horses needs to invest in an ASTM/SEI Certified helmet. The American Medical Equestrian Institute says “Head injuries account for approximately 60 % of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. Properly fitted ASTM/SEI certified helmets can prevent death and reduce the severity of head injuries sustained while riding, possibly by 70 to 80%.” The United States Equestrian Association and the USA Equestrian also require it in competition. The United States Pony Clubs' Safety Committee recommends that helmets be worn whenever working around horses, as well as when riding or driving a horse; grooming, leading, longeing, bandaging, loading, etc.
Keep in mind, any helmet which has been in a hard fall should be returned to the manufacturer or be destroyed and replaced. There may be cracks to the shell or other unseen damage that would make the helmet unsafe for further wear.
Certified helmets are available in many different styles, including a line of attractive western style helmets by Troxel. It is important to buy a new helmet; never take chances with protection for your head. Visit a full service tack shop which stocks more than one manufacturer's products. Have the store personnel help you choose and fit a helmet properly. When a helmet fits correctly, it sits about an inch above the eyebrows, level on the head. The harness must fasten securely and have contact with the jaw or chin and should be snug and comfortable. To check actual fit, place one hand on top of the helmet and rock it backward and forward, and side to side. The scalp should move with the helmet.
To wear your helmet correctly, do not just slap it on your head and go. Take the time to put your hunt cap on properly. Pull your hair back and pin it up so it all fits under your helmet, the hair on either side of your face should come to about middle ear, also a hair net is used to keep stray hairs from escaping. they also sell barrettes with hair nets attached to make a neat bun if you have too much hair to put under a helmet. If you are not planning on showing, a neat pony tail or braid will also do. If you are unsure how this will look, ask the tack shop personnel to show you. Nothing looks worse than a rider does with untamed hair shooting out in all directions from under her hunt cap. Your goal is to look neat and professional.
p.s. I’d like to make a short commentary on one helmet that I will never wear; it’s the new “GPS” style helmet with a plastic strip running up the center like a skunk stripe. I also believe they came into popularity because someone famous must have won many ribbons while wearing this hideous looking helmet. I’m afraid that everyone I see in it reminds me of ‘Kazoo’ in The Flintstones. As you may have guessed, I’m sort of a traditionalist and don’t follow the current fads. If you feel this is the helmet for you then go for it, but I just had to add my two cents to make me feel better. I just hate it when everyone follows the flock and does what they are told by manufacturers trying to make a dollar. That’s it.
Please participate and take the poll on the sidebar if you like. It will be interesting to see how everyone feels about wearing helmets.
Until next time
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To ride is to take occasional trips into the dirt...