Yesterday I asked the question whether BNRs should feel morally obligated to wear helmets because of the example they set for young riders.
There have been some interesting responses — I, for one, hadn’t thought about the riders’ responsibilities to their teams, but it’s a very valid point. To become an upper level rider requires a huge commitment on the part of a large team of people: sponsors, grooms, owners, family members and friends.
As for me, I feel that becoming a role model is part of the package, whether it was something they asked for, or not. When I see how the equestrian world is driven by trends (ironic for a sport that is, in many ways, steeped in tradition), it worries me when riders choose not to wear helmets. Just look at how riders choose saddles, bits and other equipment — they fly off the shelf when average riders strive to emulate their idols.
Recently, German dressage trainer Johann Hinneman was quoted as saying:
Not the helmet but the top hat is part of the official attire of a rider of the highest level of dressage. There is nothing against wearing a helmet while training but obedience is the top priority of the training of a dressage horse and then a helmet does not necessarily fit in a dressage test.
To me, he is saying that if you wear a helmet, it implies that your horse is not well enough trained. What a shame that many tragic accidents happen not because of disobedience but because of clumsiness or bad luck.
I have ridden with some wonderful trainers, who have helped me tremendously, but who to this day don’t wear a helmet. “It’s too hot,” one said to me. Another complained that she rode five or six horses a day and if she wore her helmet, her hair looked bad. It’s a shame when your hairstyle is more important to you than your brain! But there have been days when it was hot and sticky and I didn’t want to wear a helmet. I know they wouldn’t have blinked had I made that choice (I wear my helmet every time I ride and have done so since this incident when I was 16).
However, another incident has stuck in my brain for the past 17 years. I was at a USEF dressage camp and one of the trainers there refused to let one of the participants ride in her session unless she wore a helmet. The young woman hadn’t even brought a helmet to the camp and was most disgruntled about being asked to wear one. Eventually, she capitulated and borrowed one from a boarder. That incident drove home the importance of wearing a helmet — even when riding on the flat. The fact that it was a BNR who made that pronouncement made it all the more meaningful.