Should BNRs wear helmets all the time?

George Morris
This image suggests that George Morris, one of the all-time great riders, is about to mount a horse while wearing a baseball cap.

When I was a teen, many of the people I rode with, lessoned with, and admired didn’t wear helmets. Not when they were on the flat, not when they were trail riding and rarely when they were jumping. Riding in a baseball cap was pretty standard and when we did wear helmets, they weren’t nearly as protective as they were today.

Fast forward 35 years and a lot more people have jumped onto the helmet bandwagon. Helmets are more comfortable and safer, and people know more about traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and how to prevent them. Courtney King Dye’s fall and resulting TBI had a significant impact on the riding community, especially among dressage riders — who are among the least likely of the English disciplines to wear a helmet.

However, there are a large number of riders who still prefer to feel the wind in their hair than to suffer from helmet hair. Some of them are high profile, “Big Name Riders,” otherwise known as BNRs. We’ve probably all seen some of them — warming up at shows, riding at clinics, or choosing to wear a tophat in dressage instead of a helmet.

I’ve seen a lot of debate recently about whether as role models for young equestrians and as spokespeople for our sport, BNRs should be expected to wear a helmet when they ride. Certainly, as adults, it is their choice.  But by becoming so prominent in the sport, is there a moral obligation for them to lead the way toward improving overall safety?

Before I voice my own views, I’d like to hear from you. Do you think that by watching riders they admire ride without helmets unduly influences young riders? Or is the choice to don a helmet the responsibility of individuals, and in the case of minors, their parents? Do you consider issues such as helmet wearing when you buy a product from one of the rider’s sponsors?

Let me know!

4 thoughts on “Should BNRs wear helmets all the time?

  1. I think it’s irresponsible for a trainer to ride without a helmet for the country they represent if international riders and for their clients who rely on them to work with their horses.
    I can fully understand the thought just not even crossing their minds prior to CKD’s accident, because I know growing up we just didn’t wear helmets, and it wasn’t an intention to throw caution to the wind – but rather people simply didn’t wear them if not jumping, and that was the way it was. In college I was required to wear one when mounted, and it made me think about it and realize it was a silly risk not to.
    Big name riders can no longer claim that lack of thought on it. Both Debbie McDonald and Guenter Seidel have possibly had their lives saved by helmets they were wearing because CKD’s accident made them think about it. I don’t think trainers owe it to the public, but think they owe it to their teams.

  2. I’ll bite… I think everyone should wear a helmet, every time they ride – no exceptions. With that said, I am disappointed when I see a BNR without one… very disappointed with them. But when it comes time to buy products, I often don’t remember who endorsed who… so it proably doesn’t change my buying habits.

    One day it might… who knows…

  3. As the above poster mentioned I rarely know who is sponsored by whom but I think that helmets are a MUST! I think that it projects a bad image when BNR’s don’t wear one. Then you are providing the image that “once you are good enough you don’t need a helmet”. I am in no way shape or form a anybody rider but I always make sure to wear a helmet when riding. Primarily for my safety but also because there are a lot of younger children at the barn I board at and I wouldn’t want to give them a bad idea or let them think it is alright.

  4. Lets throw in a different opinion. I think it is up to the individual. I do wear a helmet. However, if it gets really warm outside, I sometimes don’t. And I would hate to think of wearing a helmet whenever I am around a horse, grooming and such. It does not enter my mind whether the sponsored rider of a product I would like to buy wears a helmet or not, but I am an adult. When I take my niece out to her riding class, I feel it is my responsibility to tell her she needs to wear a helmet, rather than the other adults there.

    Setting a good example is great, but the responsibility lies with ourselves, with each individual. Requiring helmets at official and public appearances, I can agree with. But when a BNR trains privately at his/her own facility, it is their private affair.

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