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Why Wear a Riding Helmet When Horseback Riding?

First of all, why won’t some riders wear a helmet? 

Some people want to feel the wind in their hair, others say the helmet is too hot, or it will ruin my hairstyle. The helmet gives me a headache. Western riders do not need helmets. My horse is safe. The excuses run wild with what they come up with. Basically, they are ignorant to the dangers of horseback riding. I even know people who have had a head injury from riding and still do not wear a helmet. I just do not understand why they would take the chance. 

 Horseback riding is an extremely dangerous sport. No matter if you are a beginner or you’re an advanced rider or even an instructor. Riding is Dangerous. Repeat this at least 20 more times and maybe it will sink into your brain. 

Why? Horses can be spooky, unpredictable, they react to stimulus- pretty much anything that moves or makes a noise can scare your horse. No matter how good your horse is, someday someone may spook it and you could fall off. So now you are on their back, anywhere from 4 feet to 8 feet or more above the ground. A fall from a height is a much bigger trauma then falling off your bike, but most of us wear bike helmets now, cause it only takes one fall to ruin your life and your families life.  Yet many of you choose not to wear a riding helmet on your horse. 

So let me tell you why I wear a helmet. Everyone seems aware of football head injuries and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), but did you know the sport that causes the most head injuries is not football, it’s horseback riding.  Also, you do not need multiple head injuries to get CTE. Since a fall from riding is from a height, one bad fall can cause a major injury to your brain. Riding is the highest cause of traumatic brain injuries in ADULTS. It is even higher then motorcycle riding. You know the things they call DONORCYCLES.  Yes, riding is more dangerous then being on a motorcycle if you are not going to wear a helmet. 

According to the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, head injuries account for an estimated 60 percent of deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. 

 If riders in the arena wear helmets, why don’t trail riders wear helmets? Trail riding can be much more dangerous then arena riding, but many trail riders do not wear helmets.  Things and people jump out on the trail, bikes come flying down the trail, dogs chase us, cows can come running in groups to scare our horses, trees fall down, there are so many scary things and no fences to keep us in and no soft dirt to break our fall. You might think your horse is super safe, but even if he never spooks, he can trip or step in a hole and fall. You can fall off and hit your head on the ground in seconds. 

I wear my helmet because I want to ride my horse safely for as many years as possible.  I also want to be a good example for my students. I wear it in the arena, and I wear it on the trail, sometimes I just wear it around horses in case they kick on the ground, so I do not get kicked in the head. I do not want a brain injury and I do not want to get CTE. I do not want to ruin my life or the people who would have to take of me if I did get CTE. 

If the helmet fits you well, you will not get a headache, but a headache is better then a head trauma any day.  I would rather ruin my hairstyle then have blood inside my brain. If you get a helmet with ventilation, you will not get that hot, but I would rather get a little hot then have the symptoms of CTE. Common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia.

You cannot react quick enough when falling to prevent your head from hitting the ground, if you could, there would not be so many deaths from head injuries due to horseback riding. Years of riding, cannot prevent a head injury.  Just ask your friendly neurosurgeon how many head injuries he or she sees from horseback riding accidents if you do not believe me. 

You can make excuse after excuse of why you do not wear a helmet, but the life you save would be your own.  Your family will thank you for it. 

If you still choose not to wear your helmet at least sign your organ donation card. So someone who wants to live can be saved. 


Gaye is a lifelong equestrian of varying disciplines, Gaye DeRusso moved from her home on the east coast  and moved to the west coast in 2000. She previously had shown and trained in the Hunter/Jumper Discipline before going back to school to become an Orthopedic Physician Assistant.  She became interested in Gaited horses after moving to California and realizing how spectacular they were to ride on the trail. With their calm temperaments, and smooth gaits, they won her over. She enjoys helping others to improve their horses gaits and also teaches Gaited horses to canter. She is a great problem solver and has a unique ability to convey knowledge to others. 
Gaye DeRusso
Published on 2019-06-28