On June 8th the Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist signed “Nicole’s Law” which requires that horseback riders 16 and younger to wear a helmet when riding on public roads and rights of way and while taking riding lessons. Rodeos, parades and private property are exempt.
Sadly, Nicole’s law is named for Nicole Hornstein, 12, who was riding a horse when it stumbled and fell. She fell off and hit her head on pavement. Nicole, who was not wearing a helmet, died in 2006 after 20 days in a coma. Under the new law, anyone who allows a child to ride a horse without a helmet would be fined $500. The law will take effect on October 1.
Head injuries are the most common cause of death for people who ride horses or ponies, according to the American Medical Equestrian Association. The advent of modern helmets, which must pass safety standards have been shown to reduce head injuries.
The U.S. Pony Club saw head injury rates among its members fall 29% with mandatory helmet use and a study of hospital admissions rates in England dropped 46% after helmet standards and designs improved and more riders used the safer helmets.
Even more convincing (because there is more data) is how much bicycle helmets have reduced the number and severity of head injuries. According to the National SAFE KIDS campaign wearing helmets has been shown to reduce head injury risk by as much as 85% and brain injury risk by as much as 88%. An estimated 75% of bicycle-related fatalities among children could be prevented by wearing a helmet.
As someone who always wears a helmet, I’m pleased that Florida has passed this law. I hope that the habit of wearing a helmet is ingrained into every young equestrian’s consciousness so that when they “age out” of the law, they continue to wear a one.
Surprisingly, the only other state to have an equestrian helmet law is New York. That state passed its helmet law in 1999 and it took effect in 2000.
It’s not that I believe that private actions should always be legislated; rather, I believe that not enough trainers and parents insist strongly enough that their students or children wear a helmet every time they get on a horse. Frequently I see trainers and other equine professionals ride helmetless. They are adults and they have the right to make their own choices. However, too often they set a bad example for the minors who want to be just like them.
I know that many people don’t like the way helmets look. Some don’t believe that helmets truly offer protection. But when riding around minors I wish that all adults would err on the side of safety and strap on their helmets, just in case.