While it's fresh on my mind, I'm going to bring up a controversial subject in the "cowboy" world: riding helmets.
I can't stop thinking about this, and the subject keeps coming up in conversation.
First, I have to preface this by telling you that I didn't grow up wearing a helmet for ANYTHING. My husband and I have been lenient with our kids in this area as well. If they're gathering cows, or riding through pasture, they wear a cowboy hat or ball cap. On the other hand, when we are involved in 4-H activities, our club has a strict helmet rule and all of the kids wear one in the practice arena. Our club is one of the only ones in our county with a helmet rule, and when we go to invitational horse events, there is a mix of hats and helmets in the arena.
I know many a cowboy who wouldn't be caught dead with a helmet on their kid's head. Whether stubbornness or vanity plays a role, it seems to be the "cowboy way" to take that risk. In fact, I never really gave the whole issue a second thought until recently. Last weekend, a young gal in our club was at a horse event and preparing for the bareback class. (She's an excellent rider.) Moments before she entered the arena, a nearby train passed and the noise of the train whistle spooked her horse causing it to rear back and fall on top of the gal. After an ambulance ride and an MRI, she walked away with nothing more than scrapes and bruises....thanks to her helmet that probably saved her life. She wanted to wear her cowboy hat that day, but her mom made her wear the helmet. Thank God she did.
I think we all know of horse wrecks that have gone really badly. I heard of a seasoned cowboy who worked at the sale barn for years. One day as he was working in the pens pushing up cows, his horse stumbled, he hit his head on the pipe corral fence and died. A helmet would have saved his life. I've read of an Olympic equestrian who suffered a traumatic brain injury after her horse tripped, and the rider hit her head. The ability of the rider had nothing to do with any of these injuries, but a helmet would have saved them all. Horses are big, unpredictable animals that sometimes fall, sometimes spook, and sometimes buck.
In nearly every other sport, athletes wear helmets. From baseball and football, to biking and English riding. No one thinks twice about protecting their head in these sports. But for Western riding events, there is a HUGE stigma attached to the helmet. Some associate it with in-experienced riders who fall all the time, and others fear that the judges would mark their child down for wearing one in the arena. Right or wrong, people have always associated the traditional cowboy hat as part of the proper attire worn when riding.
We've always had trusty, older horses for our kids to ride; horses that are well broke and wiser than the kid on their back. But now that the kids are getting bigger, they're riding younger, faster steeds and I find myself getting less and less lenient on the helmet rule. When they're competing, they usually wear a cowboy hat, but when we're practicing at home, they wear a helmet. When I see my precious babies flying down that practice arena on a horse 10 times bigger than they are, it's a little more comforting when they have a helmet on. On the other hand, when we're moseying through the pasture to check the cows I'm less apt to worry about what they're wearing. The kids still complain about the helmets every time we make them wear one, and they're still annoyed by the whole thing, but when every other rider in the arena has one on, they don't seem to mind as much. It's a constant battle.
I read an article the other day that said we may never be able to change the ways of old cowboys, but if we can get the younger generation to start wearing a riding helmet, perhaps one day it won't seem strange to see them in the arena. When my most precious cargo is out there riding, I'd do anything to make sure they stay safe.
So...... It's apparent that I'm really torn about the issue of helmets. I understand the rich traditions of the cowboy, and the toughness that is associated with the lifestyle. I know first hand how practical it is to wear a big brimmed hat to protect your face, neck, and ears from the blistering heat of the sun's rays. after all, the cowboy hat was born out of practicality and necessity. I also know that I LOVE my babies and would do anything to keep them from harm's way. I can't keep them in a bubble, and they take risks when riding horses, but if I can minimize the severity of a fall with a helmet, then that makes me feel a little more at ease. If my kids had their way, the helmets would go in the trash can.
My question for you is:
How do you feel about riding helmets? Are cowboy hats a thing of vanity for kids, or a necessity?