Can a Braid Kill Tradition? The Helmet Hair Debacle


Recently, I seemed to have caused quite a ruckus by announcing that I would be wearing my hair down outside of my helmet in a braid for the fore seeable future in the name of safety. Anyone outside of the sport would have had the initial reaction ‘by God that seems bloody obvious that a person would want to prevent injury’. Instead, the reaction I got was a mixed bag of everything from three cheers for safety to outrage over the loss of tradition, the appearance of a braid, or the fact that brand of helmet I choose to wear is ugly.

Let’s start from the beginning. I fancy myself a champion of reading the rulebook (something many should try instead of just following the crowd), and it does not say in there that hair must be worn up under the helmet, only that it must be neatly restrained. Safety headgear is designed to be worn with nothing between your skull and the helmet.

Now every helmet sales rep out there is going to scream, because their job is to fit you for a helmet and sell you one, that is how they make money, but you had better remember that if your helmet is fit with your hair up, your hair better be exactly the same every time you put that helmet on. It can’t be cleaner, dirtier, curled, straighten, shorter, longer etc. Anything that affects the volume of your hair, affects the fit of the helmet and if your helmet moves you are in trouble.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Maloomian

Now I don’t know about you, but my hair is unruly when freshly washed, and slick and straight as a pin when not washed for 2 days. I would need two different sized helmets just to make it through the weekly hair washing cycle! No other sport with a helmet wears their hair up under the helmet (hockey, cycling, football, skiing/Nordic) and though these sports have more impact on a regular basis they have far fewer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) then do participants in equestrian sports whom are also wearing helmets. Helmets in other sports are more secure on the head. They move less, and cover more surface area. Since we can’t find riding helmets with the same amount of skull coverage, the easiest thing to make sure the helmet is properly secured in place. We have all witnessed a rider take a jump a little funny or see a horse trip and the jolting moves their helmet and causes their hair to fall out. That helmet is also going to move on impact. Easiest way to keep the helmet from moving is to remove the item between the skull and the helmet, the pony tail.

There was some cause for concern over the fact that my helmet has a clicker in the back to help tighten the helmet against the skull. Apparently, these clickers have been known to malfunction which would indeed be a slight disaster. I was informed that One K sells an air bladder for their helmet to help create the perfect fit. This is something I should probably test out. I can’t wait to be late to the AO ring one day and get to announce, “sorry, but I couldn’t pump up my bladder this morning!” That should turn a few heads!

Now some choose to rag on the fact that I use an Ovation brand helmet instead of the uber cool Samshield or Charles Owen or GPA. I should probably really take up their advice to change brands to something cooler. After all, my helmet was probably what kept me from winning 4 blues at Devon on my way to the Grand AO championship in 2014. In one photo, Urlala does look exceptionally displeased with my fashion statement… like that was what kept from earning more then an 88 on her way to the top check in the $250,000 Hunter Prix Final. Listen up people, if the brand of helmet is the difference between first and second place, then the problems of this sport are not fixable and we should all just go home. If you say that comment makes me a female dog, well then you are correct — but the truth hurts sometimes.

Spotted in the wild – An Ovation helmet at Devon. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Maloomian

I actually LOL’d when I read one comment that said a braid was causing a ‘loss of tradition’ in the sport. Anyone who ACTUALLY knows me fully realizes that if any amateur my generation understands tradition, it is a 5th generation horseman (on both sides!) with the last name Maloomian. Foxhunting, show hunters, side saddle, saddle seat, thoroughbred racing in this country, and the breeding and training of prized Arabian horses in Armenia.

I get tradition. It was not an exaggeration when I said that I was pissed when Top Hats were taken away, but I can also see that tradition can be maintained in areas where safety is not the top concern. Everyone has seen me sporting my rust breeches, and those pants get more comments on show grounds then probably anything else. When I’m not in my rust, I typically only wear these old, 2-way stretch, high waist Tailored Sportsmans. Who remembers those puppies?! They aren’t suctioned to my thighs and ass (because let’s face it, that is not an attractive look for anyone) and when I button up the shadbelly my shirt and belt are fully covered. It keeps me from looking like my shadbelly is fancy sports bra with inches of show shirt making an appearance between the points and lower rise (read ‘popular’) breeches of today. I have also been seen at Capital Challenge in real shadbelly pants – how many of you out there even knew those existed?? They are flared on the side and have 2 rows of buttons going up the front. Braid-nay-sayer-Judges, do I get bonus points for keeping my outfit traditional?

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Maloomian

We are at an interesting point in time in our sport. Participants are starting to understand what happens when things don’t go as planned. After all, while there are many things we as humans can control, there is one thing we cannot — the fact that we are sitting on or caring for a live animal with its own beating heart and own thinking brain.

The medical community is starting to understand the complexity of not only what happens during impact that creates a TBI, but also what happens to people’s ability to function years and decades later after the injury. As time goes by, the outrage over my braid shall pass… just like my sunglasses and rust breeches. Not only do I hope that braid saves my brain, but I hope it can save at least one other. Maybe we can come together and find a way for equestrian sports to no longer be the TBI causing sport with a bad rap.