These days, most English riders wear riding helmets, but you almost never see a Western rider wearing a helmet. Why is that?
I’ve tried to look at the reasons why Western horseback riders tend not to use a helmet. I also explain whether or not these reasons are valid. Read on to learn more.
It’s About The Hat!
Cowboys and cowgirls wear cowboy hats. This very simple fashion reason is at the top of the list when it comes to Western riders avoiding wearing a safety helmet. It’s a matter of peer pressure and fashion consciousness.
It’s also a matter of comfort. Helmets can tend to be hot, and they don’t have a nice wide brim to shade your face and shoulders. This can be a real concern on trail rides and in other hot, sunny settings.
It’s Also About Invincibility And Fatalism
Younger cowboys and cowgirls may tend to think that they are invincible. They may feel that head injuries happen to other people, and they may have little or no concern for their own safety.
Older cowboys and cowgirls who spent a lifetime riding hatless or with a cowboy hat may also have spent a lifetime engaging in dangerous activities such as smoking. They may feel that you’ve got to go somehow, and whacking your head on a rock when thrown from a horse is as good a way as any.
Are These Reasonable Excuses?
In a word, “No!”
Tradition should not cause you to take your life in your hands every time you mount up. Even though the cowboy hat is traditional headwear for cowboys and cowgirls, you have to think about the many crossovers between Western and English riding today.
For example, most Western riders these days post a trot, and many English riders have chosen to sit the trot. Not fifty years ago, this was not the case at all. Western riders scorned English riders for posting the trot and vice-versa!
What happened? Western riders learned that posting the trot is a good way to cope with a horse who has a rough trot. English riders learned that it’s quite enjoyable and comfortable to simply sit the trot with a smooth horse.
This is just a matter of practicality, and so is choosing to wear a helmet. As more and more English riders have made the sensible step to wear safe headwear, more and more fashionable helmets have been designed, so it should be a simple matter for Western riders to follow suit.
One case in point is the very attractive line of riding helmets created by Fallon Taylor, who is a world champion barrel racer. Ms. Taylor suffered many head and neck injuries before she finally decided that wearing a helmet is a smart thing to do.
She’s very fortunate that her injuries did not render her incapable of riding, walking, speaking or thinking. Instead, they inspired her to design a line of nice looking, well fitted helmets which go by the name of Troxel.
Is It Difficult To Find A Good Helmet?
Finding a comfortable helmet is a matter of trial and error. While comfort is a valid consideration for any garment or safety equipment, it is also one that can be addressed. If your helmet is uncomfortable, it probably doesn’t fit right.
It’s important to go to a good tack shop and try on a number of different helmets. Get advice from the clerk and talk with friends who wear helmets to find the right size, style and cut to fit your head and keep you cool and comfortable.
Look for a helmet that gives you full coverage for the back of your head. Most head injuries experienced by horseback riders are on the back of the head.
Taking Risks Is Neither Smart Nor Stylish
While most young people feel that they are invincible and can therefore engage in all sorts of dangerous sports without a care, this is not really true. Traumatic brain injury is very common in people of all ages, and especially in those engaged in potentially dangerous activities, such as horseback riding.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that very young children, older teens (ages fifteen through nineteen) and seniors are the most likely to suffer from traumatic brain injury.
Head injury is the most common type of injury experienced by horseman and women, and it is the leading cause of horseback riding related deaths. Even so, being thrown without a helmet does not always result in death. Sometimes it results in lifelong disability.
While an older cowboy or cowgirl may romanticize the notion of exiting this lifetime wearing a Stetson, the fact is there’s nothing romantic about head injury. It can leave you with physical and/or intellectual impairment, seizure disorder and an enormous stack of hospital bills.
Horseback Riding In A Helmet Is A Smart Choice!
The bottom line is that just as with any other risky sport, safety equipment is important when horseback riding. You should wear good, sturdy shoes or boots with a heel; comfortable riding pants that protect your legs from excessive sun exposure and cactus and mesquite branch scrapes; a long sleeve shirt with a collar to keep the sun off your arms and neck, and top it off with a well fitted, good-looking safety helmet.