L. Williams at Viva Carlos recently asked about unpopular opinions, and I'm working on a post about that, but in the meantime here's one that is unpopular in certain circles.
I believe that if you are not wearing a helmet you are an idiot. Pure and simple. I'm sure you have many other fine qualities. But at some level, you are a fucking idiot. If you fall off, you will cause misery and grief to your friends and family; incur thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars worth of medical bills, and ruin your life. I do not say these things lightly.
Go ahead, gauge the impact: take everything in your life, and erase it. Now put yourself in a hospital bed. For months. Perhaps years. Perhaps even underground. How is that trade-off worth a few seconds of inconvenience? IT'S NOT.
If you post a picture of yourself on horseback without a helmet, I am judging you. I believe you to be a fucking idiot. It's that simple.
Here's my helmet story. About six years ago, Tristan and I had a bad ride at a home show. The next day, I took him back out to the arena where he'd lost his marbles, and I rode him for an hour and a half through bucking, bolting, sourness, crankiness: you name it. He was an utter shit for 80 minutes straight.
Finally, dripping sweat, he gave up. He walked calmly on a loose rein, and was content with the world. I was proud of him: as soon as he cooled out, he was going to get a few days off.
Then several things happened very quickly. The herd of cows across the street startled at something. Tristan's head shot up to look at them, and at that moment he stepped in or on something. He stumbled. He went down, hard, tired from his exertions of the last hour plus.
Tristan went down onto his knees, and I was wholly unprepared. I shot forward and slid straight down his neck on my stomach. My head hit the ground, and I had a split second's thought that my stomach was trapping his head on the ground. I rolled over my shoulder and onto my back, and then I blacked out.
Honestly, I don't remember anything after glancing over to see the cows startling, save for that brief, dizzying sensation of my stomach pressing against my horse's head on the ground. I don't know how long I was blacked out for, or whether I was actually unconscious or simply have no memory of lying there dazed.
It didn't seem like a bad fall at the time - probably because of that memory loss, which I hadn't quite realized yet. I just assumed it had happened very quickly.
So I got back on. Yep. I rode for another 15 minutes, at a walk, around the same field. Then we went into the barn.
Here's where my memory is crystal clear. I took off my helmet, and put it down on a bench. Only I didn't. I kept missing. I could not for the life of me set it on the bench: three, four times I missed, and then I finally put it on the bench and looked at it.
I had landed on my right temple, and that corner of the helmet, right where the visor met the rest of the helmet, was crushed in. The visor had snapped half off. The foam underneath the plastic shell was compacted, and I could pop the plastic shell in and out over the spot with ease.
It was like confronted with that reality everything else started to sink in. A dull ache started through my head, and my occiptal lobe, around my eye, started to throb. I got dizzy. I got tired. I felt thick and woolly headed. I put Tristan away and called my mother, an emergency room nurse, and talked to her on the way home (yes, stupid again) to keep me awake, then called another friend when I got home.
I was really, really lucky. If I'd fallen slightly differently, I could have broken my neck. I could have smashed several bones in my face. I could have fallen with much more impact and really truly jostled my brain.
I had about two weeks of headaches, off and on. The initial dizziness and thickness faded after a day or two. I sported a ghost of a black eye around my right eye for a few days.
The much large problem turned out to be my lower back, which had compressed and nearly slipped two vertebrae with the impact. I spent two years in PT, from chiropractic work to massage. It's still not right, and it probably never will be, though it is vastly better than it could be because of that early attention.
If I hadn't been wearing that helmet? I would be dead, or severely injured. My life would be totally different. I have no doubts about that.
So, don't be a fucking idiot. Wear your helmet.