Choosing to Use a Helmet

This article is part of our Helmet Awareness Week, brought to you by Troxel.

Have you considered ditching your Western hat for something more protective than felt or straw? But something’s holding you back. You’re concerned that a heavy, bulky helmet will be hot and uncomfortable on the trail. Or you’re worried what others might say if you enter the show ring sporting a helmet. Or maybe wearing head protection seems silly for someone like you—you’re an experienced rider, or you know your horse well, or you don’t jump or compete in high-speed events. Maybe you rarely travel at a pace faster than a jog. How could you be at risk?

We talked with Natural Horsemanship trainer, Julie Goodnight, who gave us some things to consider when deciding whether to wear a helmet.

We’re not here to tell you whether or not you should wear a helmet, and unless mandated by your breed association’s rules, it’s ultimately your choice. However, accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and for many riders, it pays to protect the head.

Adobe Stock Photo. Photographer Terri Cage

Worst Case Scenario

Consider this scenario: You head to the mountains for a long-planned day ride. You decide to wear your hat instead of your helmet. After all, you have a trustworthy horse. Your helmet is in the truck, but it’s so hot in the sunshine. You think your hat is an acceptable choice.

Twenty minutes into your ride, the trail opens up onto a rocky climb. The smooth, slick terrain is covered with small rocks. You trust your horse to move on. He tries, then slips backward. You lose your balance and roll off of his back onto the hard rock. Your head hits with a thud.

“When I decided to wear a helmet when I conduct my demonstrations and clinics, it was difficult, because none of my peers did the same,” Goodnight says. “I was concerned that it would make me appear uncool. I also worried about getting too hot and not looking nice later. Then I realized that no one was going to not like me because I wore a helmet. No one else cares that much about what you do. Now, if anyone comments on my helmet, I tell them that obviously I’m smarter than them and my brains are more important.”

If you’re still arguing that you have a safe, well-trained horse, Goodnight lends this wisdom: “You’re in an uncontrolled environment with unmanaged footing. Even the best-trained horse isn’t guaranteed not to slip or fall. There’s more of a chance that your head would hit a rock if you do fall off on the trail. It just isn’t worth the risk.”

Show Pen Choices

If you’d want to wear it in the show pen, Goodnight has suggestions.

“When it comes to showing, find something that has a Western look to it and that fits in with your colors and outfit. I use the same judgment as when I’m picking out a cowboy hat. I make sure it’s stylish, the right color for me, and matches my outfit.”

The soft dirt of an arena might not seem as daunting as a rocky trail, but landing hard on any ground can cause injury. Even if your horse is experienced, seasoned, and sure-footed, they can always slip and fall.

Although helmets have become more of a common sight in the Western world, there might still be some stigmas attached.

For many people, they choose not to wear a helmet as they don’t want to appear as inexperienced or insecure in their riding. However, this simply isn’t the case. There are many accomplished riders that choose to wear helmets, and this doesn’t reflect on their experience or accomplishments. We recommend not letting the opinions of others influence your decision when it comes to wearing a helmet.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. If you decided to wear a helmet, find one that fits well, is comfortable, and works for you. If you’re unsure, but you’ve been leaning towards wearing a helmet while you ride, it can’t hurt to try and see if you like it.


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