I don’t ask why often enough.
If I am open and curious, the answer to why is frequently eye-opening, and if I’m lucky, humbling.
I asked Kimber, a highly experienced horsewoman, why she chose not to wear a helmet when riding. When I heard her answer, I asked if I could share it with you. Very generously, she said yes.
Because wearing/not wearing a helmet is such a hot topic, this is a risky thing for her to do. I’d like it if we could not debate her choice, and use her answer as a springboard to ask each other more whys. Why do you choose to wear one? Why do you choose to go without? When would the scales tip for you?
I’d like to see if we could suspend judgement, or feeling ‘right’. I’m not being holier-than-thou. I’ve had a rigid position on helmet wearing, (if you missed Jane’s Decree: Everyone Should Wear One All The Time) and broadcast it ad nauseam. I’m a bit ashamed of that. Not because I changed my mind on my personal preferences. But because it totally shut up all dialogue with rational, interesting, experienced, and decent people. And I was a judgmental moron. (Sorry to my long-suffering, rational, interesting, experienced, decent friends and readers.)
I realized in her shoes, I might make the same choice. I don’t know how you ‘get over’ something like this.
One summer, I was working for a reining horse trainer, helping him with his green colts.
He was careful. Everyone that worked for him had to wear a helmet. This was no big deal to me. My mom always made me wear one when I was little.
We were working in the big arena one day. There were about six horses being worked, all at the same time. I was on a new colt that had been there about a week. He was a little fresh, but nothing out of the ordinary. One of the other riders, a little way away from me, was working on the rail doing roll-backs on a mare that had a reputation for having a bad attitude.
At some point, the little mare started bucking and raising a commotion, and she bolted in my direction. This was the last straw for the colt I was on. He went to bucking. Nothing too bad at first. But as I got him away from the fence, and toward the center of the arena, he really went to bucking.
Now please let me clarify – this trainer hired me because I am good at working with green horses – I can handle a bucking horse better than most – but there are always horses that can unseat their rider. When I finally got out of rhythm with the colt’s temper tantrum, I came off. Unfortunately I was not thrown away from him.
I ended up with the chin strap of my Troxel helmet caught on the horn of the reining saddle. Not good. I was hung up there by my head.
I don’t think I could have repeated this if I’d tried.
Thank God for the cheap plastic buckles on those helmets. The buckle broke after three or four bucks. The whole time I was scrambling to stay on my feet and not end up under the colt, or being dragged around by my head.
After this, the trainer did not want us wearing helmets.
Now please do not get me wrong: I am a true believer that helmets are important! All of the kids that I work with who are just starting must wear them.
I think for some sports, helmets are a must (racing, jumping, etc), but I also believe that they are not always the best.
The words that I said in the comments section: helmets are always a safe choice when riding, haunted me after hearing her story.
My brain, scared, started throwing miscellaneous stuff at me: like Kimber said, it would probably be impossible to repeat, it was a freak accident, etc. I caught my brain, red-handed. If, in the moment of hearing her experience, I started rationalizing why or why not this didn’t apply to me, it meant I stopped listening.
I shut my brain off, so I wouldn’t lessen what she was telling me about what happened to her. I closed my eyes, imagined hanging by my neck like a rag doll, hoping the nylon strap, and not my neck, would break. I honestly asked myself how would I feel about putting a helmet back on.
My answer: it would feel life-threatening. Clearly, witnessing this, the trainer felt it so dangerous he changed his entire policy, which I’m sure affected his insurance rates, and many other areas of his professional life. Saying “no” to helmets is not usually a positive move for a professional trainer.
I respect Kimber’s decision, and I admire her ability to weigh the big picture, and still decide yes, there are situations and riding sports in which helmets are imperative.
So, without judgement, what went into helping you decide wearing/not wearing a helmet was the right choice for you?