By: Corinne Schnur
I grew up in the 80s. Not really too long ago, but my how the times have changed! I’ve been riding all of my life, and my mother insisted that I wear a riding helmet even before all of the fancy life-saving data and statistics were there to support it. Helmets back then were pretty much just for looks… a plastic shaped hat covered in velveteen (or real velvet for the hoity-toity riders). The helmet itself was probably no thicker than that of a nickel. The chin strap was a piece of elastic that went under your chin. Of course, I was just a pee-wee and my helmet was as small as my mom could find at the local tack shop, but still too big for my head so I had to wear a tussle cap underneath, and to make it more secure, my mother pulled the elastic as tight as she could and knotted it under the chin. Yep, that thing was not going anywhere (sarcasm).
So back in the day we did A LOT of trail riding… like pack your saddlebags with food and drinks. The horse I rode was 3 years old and I was 5. There was a hill on the trail that our whole group would race up, and the winner got bragging rights. And then there was the poor soul that had to hold their horse back and wait on me… not because my horse was the slowest, but because my horse always knew how to buck me off before the race, and run to the top of the hill – without me. And EVERY time I got bucked off, my helmet was never attached to my head by the time I hit the ground. Yet, my mother insisted on putting that helmet back on. I never questioned why and never argued with her.
At 8 years old, I joined the United States Pony Club (USPC). First and foremost, no rider was ever allowed to be mounted without a helmet. If you were caught on a horse without a helmet, or even mounted without the chinstrap fastened, you were eliminated from the competition. Of course, my mother already had that same rule at home, and I was more afraid of my mom than getting disqualified from a competition. By this time, there were harnesses that fit over the plastic dress cap helmet, and had a chin cup, which made the helmet stay in place in the event of a fall. I no longer had to chase my helmet when I got bucked off at the bottom of race hill, and that was victory enough at the time.
By the time the 90s rolled around, helmets had greatly improved in fit and comfort; however, they were HUGE! The cost of these new “approved” safety helmets ran between $75-$100, but my mom never skimped and bought me the best helmet money could buy. When I was in 4H, they began to require all kids to show with an approved helmet, but ironically didn’t care if they rode around the show grounds or schooled their horse without a helmet. I was one of the lucky kids that had my own helmet. Other parents complained about the expense. There were a few clubs that had a community helmet that was passed from kid to kid as they entered their various classes for the day. I was never allowed to share my helmet, because my mom’s rule had always been, if I’m on a horse I had to wear my helmet.
When I was about 17 or 18, the only “made” horse we ever bought was a skilled barrel horse named Jack Daniels. He ran competitively on the rodeo circuit, and he was pretty darn fast! Helmets were allowed in competition at this time, however, were not yet being used by the cowgirls on the rodeo circuit. I went to a Don Martin rodeo and asked if I could wear my helmet, and was told I was not allowed – I had to wear a western hat as the rules called for. So in the 2000s, when the rodeo circuit started buzz about wearing helmets in barrel racing, I was not as “wowed” as everyone else because I had been doing this my whole life, but I was pleased to see people take notice (and hopefully put on a helmet – every ride).
Helmets today are quite fashionable. They are part of the attire and most people don’t give it a second thought. Even though some folks might only wear a helmet because they find it to be stylish, I’ll take it. At least they’re wearing one, right? I wear my helmet every ride. The best part of the experience is going to open shows or breed shows. I’m easy to spot: the adult wearing the helmet. I’ve had people stop and ask me if this was my first horse show or how long I’ve been riding because they thought I was doing very well. It cracks me up when someone assumes that I’m a beginner because I choose to wear a helmet. Well, I'd like to say I've done a bit of everything: team penning, eventing, barrel racing, etc. I have to bite my tongue, but I’d love to answer, “No, actually I’m quite experienced – you’re obviously the beginner or you’d know better than to mount up without your helmet. Mind your melon!”
The last fall I took from my horse was one of the dumbest moments I’ve ever had. I was riding around the pasture checking the fence. I leaned over to fix a plastic cap on top of the post, and a critter ran through the brush, spooking my horse. She ran out from underneath me and I landed on the back of my head. It was the easiest fall I’ve ever taken. Nothing hurt – not even sore. The only thing that hurt was my pride. After collecting my horse and untacking, I discovered that my Troxel schooling helmet, was cracked and split right up the back, where I had landed on my head. Thanks to my helmet, I was perfectly fine. No concussion, no pain. That helmet was worth every penny when I saw the impact it took for me that day. And with all of the fun styles and colors out there, I was not upset to throw the helmet away and get a new. (And thanks to The Carousel Horse
, I am sporting a new Charles Owen JR8, and I love it!)
So you’re probably wondering why I feel like Superman when I’m wearing my helmet? Because with my helmet I am braver. I try things outside of my comfort zone. I know if I fall off, I’ve got my head covered, and odds are in my favor that I’ll get up, walk away and try again. I hope the next time you tack up, you’ll think about what your brain is worth, and I hope that an investment in a helmet is one that you don't want to skimp on. I guess my mother really did know best.
Mind. Your. Melon.
About our guest blogger:
Corinne Schnur is all-around competitor, competing in AQHA breed shows, mini-trials and hunters. Corinne is a Carousel Horse