Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Bigger They Are...

....The Harder They Fall

A week or so ago, Grey Horse Matters and her readers were discussing the pros and cons of riders wearing helmets. I didn't add my two cents worth, as many had expressed my feelings perfectly well: I don't get on a horse without my brain bucket.

I have expressed here in the past that my being able to think and speak coherently (really) are essential to performing my responsibilities as a school counselor. And my salary from school is essential to pay for my horsie habit.

But I have always debated with myself about the issue of wearing a helmet around horses, when NOT mounted. I use all the same excuses that non-helmet-wearing riders use: It's inconvenient; I forget; I'd have to go all the way to the barn to get it; I'd be wearing it essentially all the time I wasn't in the house.

One of the worst wrecks I've ever had was when I was 17, and knew everything. A young Arab mare flipped over onto me, and we slid through the gravel for several yards, on the side of my face. My cheek healed well, but I lost the outer portion of my ear (inner ear mechanism was unaffected). I was on the ground when she panicked, bolted, and got tangled up in the lead rope. If I had been wearing a helmet, the injury would not have been permanent. (Though I don't think I had started wearing a helmet even riding, at this point--it was two weeks after I got out of the hospital that I first started riding a jumper. Sorry, Mom.)

Grey Horse's discussion began in response to the recent, highly publicized skiing death of Natasha Richardson , who took a tumble and hit her head hard, but returned to skiing and only collapsed and died later, as a result of brain injury.

I have fallen and conked my noggin hard three times that I remember: once was on an icy street in Kalispell, Montana; once when Maddie's brother Dodger didn't dodge her (meaning me) as he raced out of his stall;
and last night.

My western saddle is heavy. I had wanted a fully rigged roping style saddle for it's ruggedness, but this one has gotten really awkward for me to swing up on a horse. At one point last year, I took to putting it on Kate with the aid of my mounting block. At the show last week, I had some difficulty getting it on Maddie, really having to heave it at her. In the barn, in cross ties, she stands more quietly, but at the fairgrounds, tied to the trailer, she had more leeway to move about. And she did. If I remember right, it took me two tries to get it in place, and then I had to do some finagling to get it a little farther forward where it should be, without displacing the pad and rubbing her hair all the wrong way. I didn't think too much of it at the time.

So last night, I groomed her in the barn,then led her out to the trailer to fetch said humongous saddle back to the tack room. I wasn't even sure I was going to ride (still fighting the crud). When I went to swing the saddle pad up, Maddie looked at it like she'd never seen it before. Did a little sacking, then took two tries at swinging the saddle up. On the first, she swung away from me parallel to the trailer, looking backwards. Okay, so she can't go any farther, right?

On the second swing, she skittered double the length of the lead (to the tie point and then past it), then hitting the end, started to swing into my body. Her left hind stepped on my left hind just as the saddle settled onto her back. But her swinging hip caught my now firmly anchored body and shoved me backwards onto my back.

I must have rolled some, as I didn't hit really hard, but most of the landing seemed to be focused on the back of my head. She had hit me hard enough that as I fell backwards, the toe of my admittedly not-very-heavy-duty rubber barn shoe actually ripped apart before she got off of it. I chose to lay there for several minutes, until my head cleared. Maddie waited patiently, complete with un-cinched saddle, looking somewhat contrite.

We spent the next 35-40 minutes on sacking and saddling, then rode for 10 (nice beginnings of vertical flexion), then saddling again in the barn for a few.

My point? you ask (all two of you)....

Despite the fact that I, at my decrepit stage of life, ride very young, green horses, I am careful enough doing so that most (save one) of my most dangerous accidents in the last 30 years or so have been while I was unmounted. Doing routine barn activities. Playing with my horses on the ground.

I think I may start keeping my helmet at the back door of the house.


  1. So sorry to hear about that. :( Champ was my first horse, and I bought his saddle with him. I traded that sucker in right away. It was a very nice roping saddle, but it was just too heavy for me. (I'm not a featherweight, either, and I thought the saddle plus me was just too much weight.)

    I put on my helmet when I get saddle, bridle, and pad out of the tack room. One less thing to carry over to where ever Dixie is. Stupid ugly brain hat, grumble grumble. I am a very reluctant helmet-wearer.

  2. Oh dear. I am glad that your noggin' is still working, but very sorry to hear about the dust up. I was intrigued by the standards around GHM's barn. Although I take helmet-wearing very seriously, I usually put it on just before I bridle up and have never considered wearing one for general work around the horses. I have never in my life been run down or knocked over by a horse, amazingly. Knock on wood.