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A couple of reasons for wearing a helmet that you might not have thought of

Chaps for the head

Chaps, or cha­pare­jos, are cov­er­ings for the legs, orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to pro­tect rid­ers going through thick­ets of shrubs. But shrubs come in all heights, even here in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the land of chap­ar­ral, and a hel­met pro­tects you from the high­er ones.

leaves and acorns
Leaves and acorns of coast live oak

This is coast live oak, a tree with stiff branch­es and leath­ery, spiny leaves. Hors­es gen­er­al­ly know how tall they are, but don’t have a good sense of how much high­er you are when you’re in the sad­dle, and so you learn to duck. And it’s nice to know that your hel­met pro­tects you from all the stray branches.

Sure, you could wear a cow­boy hat—oh, and use the chin­strap to make sure it’s not ripped off your head (it does have a chin­strap, right?)—but hats cost about the same as hel­mets, they don’t pro­tect your head as well, and they tend to get ripped up a lot faster.


There are plen­ty of rid­ers and train­ers who demand blind obe­di­ence from hors­es. (For the hors­es’ sake, it would prob­a­bly be bet­ter if these folks did­n’t wear hel­mets.) For the rest of us, an impor­tant part of our rela­tion­ship with hors­es is trust, and peo­ple will tell you that they don’t wear a hel­met because they trust their horse.

A friend once wrote of her horse, “My life is in his hands.” That’s cer­tain­ly true, and most peo­ple who work with hors­es under­stand this. But I respond­ed, “It is also cor­rect to say that his life is in your hands.” We all know many ways our hors­es could kill us. But it turns out that our hors­es have mis­con­cep­tions about how we could kill them.

What will hap­pen to your horse if you are killed or severe­ly impaired by a trau­mat­ic brain injury? Yes, there are sport hors­es that could be eas­i­ly sold and con­tin­ue their careers with new own­ers. There are own­ers whose fam­i­lies have the resources to take care of a horse when the own­er is unable to. But the major­i­ty of hors­es are one sale away from the kill buy­er. It does­n’t mat­ter that we don’t play the preda­tor and kill and eat them. The com­mon­est way we kill our hors­es is by not being there when they need us.

The major­i­ty of hors­es are one sale away from the kill buyer.

When I ride Bud­dy, I know that he goes out of his way to avoid killing me, and there are times when he has believed him­self to be in great dan­ger that he clear­ly want­ed to take me to safe­ty with him. I trust him. But I know that he can make bad decisions.

Bud­dy does­n’t expect me to kill him (even when I squirt med­i­cine into his eye). He trusts me. He may not real­ize that I, too, can make bad deci­sions, but I know it.

When I wear a hel­met, I am acknowl­edg­ing that he can make bad deci­sions. When I don’t wear a hel­met, I am mak­ing a bad deci­sion, a deci­sion that in the worst case will result in his death. I owe him more than that.


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