Stable Advice: Wearing Helmets


Editor’s Note: Stable Advice is a place for our readers to offer their advice on some of those uniquely equestrian problems. These aren’t the questions that you’d normally ask your vet or trainer. These are questions about horse life, like dealing with interpersonal struggles at the barn, juggling horse commitments and “real world” obligations, and generally navigating the challenges of living in the 21st-century horse world. Think of this as a place to share advice with a group of your best equestrian friends.



I grew up riding at English-oriented lesson barns, and so I’ve always worn a helmet. Currently, I have a very safe horse and I mostly trail ride, but I still put on a helmet every time I put a foot in the stirrup. My best friend and I board at the same stable and we often ride together, and she never wears a helmet. She rides English now, but grew up riding western and doing speed events. I asked her once why she doesn’t wear a helmet and she sort of shrugged it off, saying she didn’t feel like it was necessary unless she’s showing in a class where helmets are required.

She gallops and jumps and even gets on green horses with a baseball cap on her head, and I worry about her. I’ve seen what can happen when even a good rider on a well-trained horse is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not wearing a helmet just isn’t worth the risk. Our boarding barn doesn’t have any enforced rules about helmets. How can I explain to her why I think she should wear a helmet—at least during high-risk activities like jumping—without sounding like a nag? Or should I just butt out?

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  1. I’d buy her a helmet for her birthday, to serve as a not-so-subtle clue about her head safety–yet remaining civil and kind about it. If nothing else, at least she’ll know you care enough about her riding habits to say something!

  2. As much as I believe that her decision not to wear a helmet is dangerous and downright stupid, in the end, if she decides not to protect herself while riding, that is her choice, and there’s not much you can do as her friend to change her mind. That being said, if they are riding on a stable property, the barn owner REALLY needs to implement a helmet requirement to circumvent riders like this – if not to protect those riding on property, to protect her own farm in the event of a fall (insurance, liability, lawsuit, etc).

  3. I work with individuals with disabilities. Some were born with their disabilities. Others have brain injuries. There is a fine line between providing services and needing services.

  4. Tell her you won’t ride with her unless she has a helmet on. I actually used to ride without a helmet, and my friend told me that she wouldn’t go with me unless I wore one. As a long time endurance rider, she said she had seen too many accidents–she wouldn’t let friends take risks.

  5. Let her know that she is going to look and feel way less stupid in a helmet than what she will if someone ever has to wipe her butt for her and change her everyday. That sounds crude, and I know that a catastrophic injury like that can seem unlikely, but why on earth would any intelligent person take the risk? It’s just a helmet and it’s been proven over and over again to have saved lives and to have prevented horrific brain injuries. You never know when something unexpected will happen. Show her videos of the famous dressage rider, Courtney King Dye, a 2008 U.S. Olympic Dressage team member, who suffered at terrible head injury from a fall during training, who is still undergoing therapy and may never be the same. It can happen to anyone, on any horse, at any time.

  6. I know that before I was ready to wear a helmet no one could have pushed me into wearing one. Do you wear a safety vest? (I do not right now) Imagine if a friend tried to push and guilt you into always wearing a safety vest because they believed it was unsafe to ride without one. For now I believe the best thing you can do is wear yours by example and quietly lead the way. The more you pressure her the more she may push back and resist wearing a helmet.

  7. I know that before I was ready to wear a helmet no one could have pushed me into wearing one. Do you wear a safety vest? (I do not right now) Imagine if a friend tried to push and guilt you into always wearing a safety vest because they believed it was unsafe to ride without one. For now I believe the best thing you can do is wear yours by example and quietly lead the way. The more you pressure her the more she may push back and resist wearing a helmet.

  8. I’ve noticed that helmet use is a very cultural thing, and it sounds like your friend comes from a background where helmets just weren’t a part of riding. It’s hard to override someone’s lifelong perception, and to be honest, you will probably never change her mind completely. It sounds like your heart is in the right place. You’re not trying to “win” this; you truly want your friend to be safe. So maybe on a day when she’s about to jump or school a greenie, say, “Could you wear a helmet while you’re doing this? I know it’s silly, but do it for me?” If you’re sincere and only bring the issue up on those specific occasions, she’ll humor you. And who knows? Once she’s used to wearing one sometimes, maybe she’ll be more apt to use it for everyday rides.

  9. All you SHOULD do is encourage once or twice and then let it go. Your friend’s choice of risk management is HER choice; not yours. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should respect it, just as you would expect her to respect the choices you make.

  10. You’re a good friend. Ultimately it’s her choice but depending on your level of friendship I would let her know that it makes you worry when she rides without a helmet. The unexpected can happen to even the most experienced rider on an experienced horse. Our brains are worth protecting! Is her life worth the comfort of a baseball cap?

  11. Since it is your friends choice, I would just ask her to wear a helmet only a few times. I may also make a reasoning game out of it. But it is completely her choice and it is definitely hard to make someone see your side of things if they refuse; it’s also hard to force someone to do something they do not want to do.

  12. It is good that you are concerned for your friends safety. I have noticed that the main reason that people don’t wear helmets is because they are not “in” or that they appear cumbersome. In truth, helmets can be pretty comfortable and nice with the sun visor and all. Perhaps take your friend to a tack store and have her try on some super nice helmets just so she can see that they aren’t so bad. Explain to her that helmets are like seatbelts, not everybody uses them, but there is a strong reason why. Helmets save lives, and there are plenty of documentations of them doing just that! Of course, don’t lecture her about this since she will most likely get defensive and resist wearing helmets even more. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink!

  13. Your concern reflects your loyalty; she is lucky to have such a friend. You have expressed yourself, however, and now need to respect her decision. People make choices based on intellectual, emotional, and moral inclinations. Therefore, sometimes, behavior that seems simply a mistake may actually be the result of many more complex nuances of the decision-making process, not easily explainable. Just enjoy riding out with her– and try not to cringe!

  14. Normally, I don’t get involved in riding issues. However, the helmet issue is one that unfortunately is not going away. There are responsibilities on both your parts – one is to yourselves and for you own safety, but the other responsibility is to your partner. Unless you have been partisan to a riding accident where a rider was either mortally wounded or severely wounded, it is hard to advise what is right or wrong. Each person and each situation is individual to the people involved. I can say from experience, before horse helmets as we know them now, I had a head injury. I was riding with my daughter (who may sometimes ride, but lacks the enthusiasm for it now) and a friend who has not been on a horse since. I struggle everyday with migraines from the head injury. I did not stop riding, but did wear a helmet. A few years back, as a group of us were riding, one friend was killed when her horse ran her into a tree. She was not wearing a helmet. I struggled to keep the joy that riding always gave me, but it was no use. That day kept creeping back into my conscience. I no longer ride and thankfully, my horse has aged out, so we are retired from riding together. You never know when you start out, how the ride may end – same as wearing a seatbelt. Will there be a situation where the helmet/ seatbelt will save a life? Well, the auto industry made our minds up for us. It is now the law. So….. whether you decide to put on that helmet or not, riders need to think about the consequences: what about your safety?; what about the consequences that may affect your partner- will the partner have to witness your death/accident/suddenly be faced with a life/death situation that will forever change his/her life?; finally, by refusing to wear the helmets now, will legislation someday enforce them on us? Just food for thought.


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