Did you know that equestrian sports are the biggest contributor to sports-related traumatic brain injuries? A study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery found that horseback riding contributed to 45.2 percent of all sports-related brain injuries. As horseback riders, we love our sport. The thrill of working as a team with an animal much larger than you is empowering and exhilarating. But it can also be very dangerous. One of the best ways to mitigate the hazards of working with horses is to wear an equestrian helmet every time you ride. Unfortunately, we still see that many riders do not prioritize equestrian helmet safety, instead choosing to wear top hats or cowboy hats. This International Helmet Awareness Day, prioritize your health. Here’s why you should be wearing an equestrian helmet every time you ride.
The Impacts of Traumatic Brain Injuries
Many equestrians either don’t recognize the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries or don’t believe them to be a big deal. After all, it’s only been over the past decade that scientific research has shown us just how serious these injuries are. Previously, riders were encouraged to “walk it off” and get back on the horse no matter what. Now, we’re starting to realize that even mild traumatic brain injuries, colloquially known as concussions, can have serious long-term health effects. According to the Journal of Neurosurgery, “Emerging research suggests that even comparatively mild injury—especially when repetitive—is not without cognitive or neuropsychiatric consequences and may contribute to the development of neurodegeneration known as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
Patients that have suffered from a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) have reduced cognitive performance on tasks that assess attention, memory, executive function, and information processing, even more than 3 months out from the initial injury. Some impacts of a traumatic brain injury can last months or even years after the initial injury.
Cognitive deficits aren’t the only symptoms you have to worry about. These symptoms include: persistent headaches, light sensitivity, dizziness, insomnia and drowsiness, extreme mood swings, problems with learning, insufficient short-term memory skills, slow attention and processing speed, even depression and anxiety.
Recognize the Signs of a Concussion
It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a concussion. Call emergency medical services right away if you think someone has suffered from a traumatic brain injury.
According to the Center for Disease Control, a mild TBI can appear as:
- A brief loss of consciousness in some cases. However, many people remain conscious after the injury.
- Blurred vision or tired eyes
- Ringing in the ears
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Fatigue or lethargy
- A change in sleep patterns
- Behavioral or mood changes
- Trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking
Signs of a severe traumatic brain injury include:
- A headache that gets worse or does not go away
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Not being able to wake up from sleep
- Larger than normal pupil (dark center) of one or both eyes. This is called dilation of the pupil.
- Slurred speech
- Weakness or numbness in the arms and legs
- Loss of coordination
- Increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms after a riding accident, call 911 right away.
The Solution: Equestrian Helmets
When most people think of head injuries, contact sports like football may come to mind. However, horseback riding causes more than twice the amount of sports-related traumatic brain injuries than contact sports. Whereas equestrian sports caused 45.2 percent of TBIs, contact sports like football and soccer accounted for just 20.2 percent. The overwhelming margin between contact sports and horseback riding is not widely known by either equestrians or the public. Because of this, the association between traumatic brain injuries and horseback riding remains a well-kept secret, despite the fact that equestrian sport carries a higher injury rate per hour of exposure than downhill ski racing, football, hang-gliding and motorcycle racing according to the University of Connecticut.
Because head injuries cause more than 60 percent of equine-related deaths, choosing to wear an equestrian helmet can save your life. The American Medical Equestrian Association has estimated that ASTM/SEI approved helmets decrease all riding-related head injuries by 30 percent and severe head injuries by 50 percent. Unfortunately, as little as 9 percent of adult riders wear equestrian helmets on a regular basis and of those that do wear them, even fewer take proper care of them. Over 40 percent of respondents to one survey had no plans to replace their current helmet within the manufacturer-recommended 5-year time frame, and only 4.8 percent of those involved in a riding accident replaced the helmet they wore after the incident.
Every Rider, Every Time
Equestrian helmets aren’t just for beginner riders. Even though it’s not against the law to ride without a helmet, you’re at risk of injury when you get on a horse, no matter how experienced you are. Think of Courtney King-Dye, who was the youngest member of the United States Dressage team. By all accounts, an amazing experienced rider who was going to go far. Until one day her horse tripped when she wasn’t wearing a helmet. Courtney hit her head, went into a coma, and injured all four lobes of her brain. Years later, she now has limited use of her body, but is hoping to represent the United States in the para-dressage ring. One misstep on your horse’s part can change your life in a heartbeat.
The risk for head injuries is statistically similar across all riding disciplines. You’re at the same risk of injury whether you ride in a Western or English discipline. World champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor suffered from a fall that left her paralyzed for three days and with a fractured C-2 vertebrae. After reteaching herself how to walk and talk, she is back in the ring winning championships with her horses. A pioneer in the world of Western riding, Fallon is an equestrian helmet safety advocate and has collaborated with Troxel to create her own line of helmets.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or professional, Western or English rider. If you’re on a horse, you need to wear a helmet every time.
Every Horse, Every Time
Even the most laid-back horse can trip, fall, or spook. Think of it this way. At some point in its life, your horse has spooked, tripped, bucked, or reared-- probably all four! Whether in the paddock, with you, with a previous owner, or when it was first being started under saddle, your horse has exhibited some form of “dangerous” behavior. Why? The answer is two fold.
- Because your horse is not a lawn mower or car. It has a thinking, feeling brain and is able to make its own decisions and mistakes.
- Because horses are prey animals with a highly-developed flight instinct.
They developed these instincts in order to keep themselves safe. Unfortunately, this definition of safety doesn’t always include keeping you on their back. Even the most sane and bombproof horses can shy, spook, or move in unexpected directions when startled. This risk can be greatly decreased by desensitizing your horse and by choosing to ride horses with generally calm and unflappable dispositions. However, it can never be eliminated completely as even the best laid plans can go awry thanks to a tree root, rock, or soft spot in the arena that causes your horse to trip.
Prioritize Your Safety: Wear an Equestrian Helmet
There’s an equestrian helmet out there for everyone. Whether you’re looking to make a statement at your next rodeo or dress traditionally for the hunter/jumper ring, there’s a helmet on breeches.com for you. From Charles Owen to Troxel, we carry ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmets to meet every budget and personal style preference. Stand out with the Troxel Rebel equestrian helmet in a dreamcatcher design. Or show off some bling with the Charles Owen Sparkly JR8.
Whatever you need, we’re here to help. View our selection of safe and certified equestrian helmets here.