Monday, September 10, 2012

Helmet Perspectives

When I was young, my friends and I  rode our horses through fields and trails just about every day. We'd take our horses swimming, jump fences, play cowboys and Indians, and make a valiant effort to play polo. Not once, not at any time, did any of us ever wear a helmet. Not when we sat backwards on our horses, bareback, to read our homework assignments when our horses were grazing freely in the pasture. Not when we tried (without success) to slide off our horse's back and under their bellies, then scramble onto their back from the other side––all without touching the ground. And certainly not when we raced up the red gravel hill of County Line Road, three or four abreast across both lanes. I remember one day when a friend and I not only practiced standing on the bare backs of our horses while they were moving, we decided to go tandem, two horses with two helmet-less people, our left feet on one horse and right on the other. It didn't seem to matter that one horse was 14.1 and the other 16 hands.

Today, I am horrified and can't imagine even doing most of those things. I certainly do not recommend them now, even though we had a lot of fun and I can't recall that anyone, horse or human got hurt. The potential for disaster, though, was extremely high. All I can say is that we must have worked our guardian angels way past overtime.

The other day I was in my barn getting ready to ride my mare. Tessie is an unflappable Belgian/Quarter Horse cross and I'd feel completely comfortable with a six-year-old riding her. When I ride her, we typically walk/trot around the arena in school horse fashion and work on leg yields and bending. As a former driving horse, these are major gaps in Tessie's education.

 Just as I was putting my sunglasses on I realized I couldn't find my helmet. Oh, well, I thought, I'll ride just this once without it. Tessie is perfectly safe. But Tessie and I got half-way to the arena when I stopped. I couldn't do it. I knew I couldn't get on this, arguably one of the safest horses in the world, without a helmet. So, we trudged back to the barn and I pulled out a helmet that was several years old. It was heavier than my new helmet, not as comfortable, not as attractive, but I could not get on my horse, any horse, without it.

I've been riding for forty-nine years and have trained horses professionally for most of my adult life. The difference between now, and the child rider that I was, is perspective. Over the years, I have seen many falls when the helmet saved the rider. I have seen so many unforeseen, freak accidents that I know that anything can happen at any time. As safe as Tessie is, as experienced as I am, I know the next accident could be a simple stumble away. That's why you will never see me ride without the protection of a helmet, because I value life, my life, too much.

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