I pulled the helmet poll due to lack of response. Either you all wear them, or are afraid to admit, after my diatribe, that you don’t. There wasn’t enough response to generalize, but here’s the results: you will wear helmets if the release at your barn requires it, or your trainer wore one. No responses to design issues.
This flummoxed me. Helmets, if you’ll pardon the pun, are a no-brainer. A friend who is an ER nurse tells me that in the black humor of the ER, equestrians who ride without helmets are referred to as “body donors”. Honestly, I could not understand what peer pressure would make anyone hesitate.
And then I went to watch Hudson and Bella rope in February.
Inside the arena, there were probably 30+ horses: four rows deep, maybe 8 horses to a row, all standing quietly head to tail, stirrup to stirrup, with riders mounted to save room. Everyone congregated near the boxes and chute, to clear space for the header and heeler to rope the steer. Some horses were cocking a rear hoof, and using the wait time to catch a coupla Zzzz’s. (While ropes whirled overhead, metal clanged and other horses galloped past.)
I couldn’t help but picture them as dressage horses. Head to tail, row upon row, stirrup to stirrup. Think any dressage horses would be nodding off? Can you imagine if someone started whapping around a rope that was puffing up baby powder? Jackets being sluffed off? Someone’s horse accidentally bumping up against yours? It would be Melt-Downs-R-Us.
I was immediately greeted by people nearby, then Bella saw us, made her way over on Hudson, and introduced us around. There was so much friendliness and warmth…perfect strangers made their way out of the line-up to be polite, introduce themselves, shake hands, and make small talk.
Soon, I was forking over talcum powder to ropers in the first row. I was digging through a pile of rope bags to find the sky blue rope that a heeler 5 horses over decided to switch to: it was easier for me to grab it. I watched it travel hand to hand over the horses, back to the heeler.
I was being pleasantly teased and teasing back. No one rolled their eyes at my ignorance. A couple of guys answered my novice questions as though this they had all the time in the world, and not a nervous bone between them.
When a team didn’t do so well, there was a collective, supportive, groan from the crowd. The whole thing had a feeling of comradery and inclusiveness. I’d love to win this thing, but the next best thing would be if YOU won it.
The announcer would call out who was in the box, who was in the hole, and who was next in the hole. It was pure order. Teams that finished a round went to the back row, and everyone moved up a space.
Daisy, leaning casually on someone’s horse’s butt, said, “I knew you’d like this. It’s pretty fun. Lots of times people bring more than one horse, and they’re looking for a rider to warm up horse number two while they’re running horse number one. Everyone knows Bella, you can catch ride if you want.”
A guy in the third row turned in his saddle, hearing part of what Daisy said: “You catch ride? You with Bella? Might need a hand later if you’re interested.” He turned back after tipping the brim of his baseball cap at me.
I love riding different horses. This is SO up my alley. I got very excited. Friendly, nice, supportive people, athletic horses, relaxed atmosphere, and catch rides? Did I die and go to heaven? Where do I sign up?
Daisy said, “Yeah I do it sometimes. It’s a blast.”
“Hey Daisy,” yelled a guy in a red ball cap, “wanna warm up Twister for me?”
“Do I LOOK like I want to ride?” Daisy rolls her eyes, “Jack…duuude…I’m going to Bloomingdale’s after this.”
Everyone in hearing range laughed.
Then it hit me. Not a helmet in the crowd. All baseball caps. I don’t ride without a helmet. Ever. I’m alive and not drooling because of helmets. I got a wife and kids. I promised. Wow, did I just question my own PROMISE? Whoa.
For the first time in my life, I felt a lot of pressure to go without a helmet. No one said a word to me about it. This was all going on inside me. I wanted these people to like me. I wanted to be part of this..feeling. I had the uncomfortable thought that if I raced to my car for a helmet, I wouldn’t have any catch rides when I got back. They’d think I was ridiculous. Stuck up. English Rider. In that bad, stuffy, sniffy, critical way.
To everyone I so blithely said “what’s your problem?” to about helmets, I humbly apologize. I still think we all need to wear them, and it may mean I never catch ride at a roping, but I have some empathy now for where you might be coming from. If this was my primary community, I sure wouldn’t want to alienate myself from it. These people were LOVELY.
So what can we do? What do you think it would take to change the helmet-less culture of many Western events?