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!