I’ve been riding for the majority of my life, and I’ve gotten up to some fairly odd horse-related hijinx in that time, and done some things that might raise a dubious eyebrow, like galloping bareback in the snow, playing bareback polo and ponying two horses two miles through a rowdy music festival site (never. again.)
But I’ve also always been a fairly conscientious sort in that I always find the time to strap a helmet on my noggin. There have been times I’ve been tempted not to, especially when it’s really hot and I’ve already ridden three horses and I have a pulsing headache and sweat-drenched hair.
In fact, quite recently I was tempted not to wear my helmet. It was this past Saturday, and it was hot and sunny. As a dyed-in-the-wool Manitoban, I can’t take too much heat and tend to start moaning and complaining as soon as we pass 26 degrees Celsius. So when I went to get my tack, I stared unhappily at my helmet hanging there on its hook for a moment before grabbing it.
I was just going to be working a couple of the horses. It has been really dry in my neck of the woods lately. So what used to be a pretty lush field is now a dry, crunchy yellow veldt of dust and dead grass. The polo mare I was riding, was a little lazy but very well behaved, as usual.
Anyway, long story short, we started cantering in the usual area at the usual pace, and halfway into our second circle she slipped, over-reached and went down on her face in a scrambling flail of limbs. I didn’t even have time to think. (I scoff at those people who suggest you should tuck in your shoulder and take the impact on your right side, etc., etc… I don’t know about you, but I have trouble registering a thought in 0.5 milliseconds, never mind contorting my body into an optimum impact-absorption position.)
Due to this unfortunate gap in my lucid instantaneous-response skills, I landed essentially on my noggin. I somehow also managed to scrape all the way down my left side from thumb to temple, giving myself that oh-so-coveted mysterious badass look. Dazed, I sat blankly in the grass for a moment, then tried to eagerly propel myself to my feet, resulting in my vision blacking out and me sitting back down again.
My mare got up and stood beside me, thankfully okay, though she had ripped her front shoe off (leaving me to deduce the over-reaching portion of the aforementioned falling spectacle. Elementary, my dear Watson).
Because I am not a very stoic or calm person, I instantly panicked and was convinced I’d broken my thumb. Later, I would discover that my thumb was only slightly scraped and sore, and what I’d really broken was probably a rib – on the right side. I don’t know how I managed this whole-body bang-er-roo. I’ve had a couple of très uncomfortable nights attempting to sleep, while gingerly avoiding pressure on whatever broken-rib/pulled muscle/bruised cartilage thing I did to myself.
But on to the gist and thrust of my story.
I quail to think of what could have happened to me if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet on Saturday. The helmet, as it is, is somewhat banged up and will have to be replaced. It probably should have been replaced a few years ago anyway, but as of now, it’s definitely getting a well-earned retirement at the dump.
I’m a pretty experienced rider, and I was riding a horse that’s as well-behaved and easy to ride as it is for a horse to be. We were doing something we do every day, in a place we ride at every day, in ideal weather conditions. I can’t think of a better scenario. So for those among us who ride helmet-less in much riskier conditions — well, buyer beware is all I can say. I’m now even more staunchly entrenched in the strap-one-on, every time, every ride camp. And you should be too.
Plus, hunter hair and a flashy helmet, polish up a look any day of the week.
All my non-horseback riding friends vigorously nod their heads in agreement: you look dang sharp and professional when you’re wearing the pro gear, so do it up! Retention of cognitive function is just a bonus!