Helmet Safety and the Ability to Buy Hay

If my horses could see the big picture, they’d still say my job is hay. They have not read one of these blogs over the last dozen years or attended any of my clinics. They don’t care about how I brilliantly jabber on. It’s the hay.

Boarded or at home, that’s what your horses care about, too. Not the inner fantasy of the person who throws the hay. The actual hay. Yes, hay prices are higher than ever, there’s a drought in the West, and fuel costs are outrageous, but none of that matters because horses don’t know what “buy” is. Just hay.

In hushed moments, we know that is our sacred promise to horses. We buy their hay. I was sternly corrected for these words, so I’ll double down and be more clear. Call “buying hay” the tip of the financial and emotional iceberg, call it an abbreviation for the ways we alter our lives for horses, for the love and commitment that we offer freely. It’s the base level, the easy task, cheaper than the list of pros we hire for their care, but it stands in front of the rest… if you ask horses. We’re romantic; horses are pragmatic. Hay.

Can you tell I’m winding up to talk about safety? I know it’s boring for some and preaching to the choir for others, but it’s the annual reminder. Maybe one more somewhat repetitive essay will push someone over the line, and they’ll become a believer. Maybe hearing it from a different angle will encourage someone to comment more wisely on social media. This time I will try to strike a note of equine pragmatism. I continue-

It takes a certain amount of courage served-up with the hay. Horses are huge, their legs are hardwired into their amygdala. Flight! Their reaction time is seven times quicker and their senses are each better than ours. They react to things we don’t know exist and we can’t outsmart them. Because horses can sense danger and panic as quick as a sneeze, we are obliged to share a corner of that fear but also develop confidence.

Our confidence is theirs, as theirs is ours. We hand it back and forth, depending on who spooks first and who manages to start breathing again. And you may have lofty ideals about your connection, your awareness, or your experience, but the horse will always think it’s about hay. Eating for life or eating for self-soothing. Horses eat pretty much around the clock, so yes. Hay is survival. Hay is the prize. It should feel a bit humbling and a bit practical. Admit it, you love to listen to them chewing.

Still, we wrestle with our pesky frontal lobe that says look at the bright shiny thing, or get me a photo of our profound connection, or safety is boring. We like to show off.

I confess, showing off is the best fun if it’s the horse showing off. When I see someone standing on a horse’s back, I know the horse isn’t thrilled. When a line of kids is perched wither-to-rump to prove the horse is safe, the seller isn’t knowledgeable. Or maybe the kids are included? Tell me how it benefits the horse if we lie down next to them. Is it a party trick? Of course, we know that horses are dangerous. Isn’t that the point of showing off?

If that’s true, then wearing a helmet in the age of social media must be totally brag-worthy. You risk the dangers of peer pressure to stay safe enough to buy hay. Hay is love. Hay is a promise. Hay is dependable beyond illness, injury, or age. Hay is forever.

Back in the day, farmers had large families and kids were sometimes lost to farm injuries. Also dirt bike crashes and horse accidents. It was tragic and sobering but on the high side, we didn’t have social media. When did children become props for memes so people could take pictures of toddlers leading draft horses to post with a comment about ‘starting ’em young’? Why do we put kids on fence posts in a circle of horses and then back away for the shot? How will you get to her if something ordinary happens and she is down under their hooves? Shame on you if you “like” photos of such dangerous situations. Are little girls expendable now?

Or maybe you don’t get the requests for prayers and donations for medical care for children with brain injuries on the same pages. It’s rude to connect the two but shouldn’t kids on medial tubes scare us more than horses? I understand that parents want to brag about their barefoot kid cantering a young horse with the notion they will grow up together. I hope they do, but in 4-H or Pony Club with helmets rather than apart, one in a hospital bed and the other at auction.

Here’s my problem. I’m a trainer who has lived long enough to have seen some horrible things. What I haven’t seen, people have told me about in minute detail. My mind is haunted by descriptions of horrible things. People hire me to resolve issues that result from these horrible things. On a good day, it’s my job to see all the horrible possibilities and put a smile on my face and do my job. I feel anxious for you and your horse. And I’m selfish. I can only take so much and a helmet cuts the chances of serious brain injury in half, math even I can understand. Those are great odds. Put your horse first; wear the helmet.

I require helmets at my clinics and I’ve written about them extensively, but lately, I was asked to write about vests, too. Yay. I love them as much as horses love hay. Please, consider a safety vest or an air vest. Even rodeo is coming around, but I’ll let others take on the vest:

Indra says, “I wear one every ride. Even when the summer heat makes me want to leave it off. I figure if it might help it’s worth wearing. The herd needs me.” (She’s right. Hay.)

Peggy says, “I ride in a vest every ride… and it paid for itself a thousand times over when Bella launched me last December. I landed with my neck protected. I got banged up but no serious injuries. Without the vest, I don’t think I would have been so lucky.” (Neither would Bella have been, because hay.)

The pros use safety vests and helmets and they are the closest to having a reason to be overconfident yet also smart enough to know coming off is inevitable. But what do they, or the national and international equestrian organizations, really know? Why listen to experts?

Okay, say you truly are the exception to the rule. Your horse doesn’t eat.  Of course, serious riders wear safety gear but you’re tough. You don’t care, it’s about tradition. You are opposed to change (although you have managed to adapt to a cell phone.) Besides, you don’t do what the pros do, maybe you “only” trail ride. No jumping and really, your horse is old and seriously lazy. He is as bombproof as a horse can be.

The problem is that we have it mixed up. Humans are the ones who aren’t bombproof.

Please read this current list of statistics on horse-related TBIs. https://horsesonly.com/horse-riding-accidents/

Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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Anna Blake

38 thoughts on “Helmet Safety and the Ability to Buy Hay”

  1. Anna,
    Thank you for this post. A helmet saved my life many moons ago coming off a horse. Does your Barnie group have any favorite vest suggestions, the air vest can be a hot mess!
    Jane Mishkind

  2. As I lay in the hospital this past March, after getting bucked off, it occurred to me that maybe I ought to add a safety vest to my riding kit. I am the recipient of 10 titanium screws in five vertebra. I also learned that there was a special issue with the extent of my injuries. I am an old lady (well, 74) with severe osteoporosis. So I have a high risk of bone injury because the quality of my bones is really bad. For those of you who don’t know your numbers, they rate bad osteoporosis: 0 down to -4. I’m a -4.2 (I literally don’t show up on the chart). The good news is that as a result of my injuries, I was pushed by my doctors to do something about it and I am now on a drug called Evenity which has the potential to increase my bone density by maybe 15-20%, thus moving me into a lower risk category. I don’t know – can I hope for a -3?

    Over the past months I have heard stories – one especially stuck in my mind. A man got bucked off his horse and broke his back. He had screws put in. When he was cleared to ride again, he got bucked off again. Only this time his surgery was really complicated by the fact that his existing screws had been partially displaced so his second surgery was not as successful. But at least for a while that didn’t matter, because his wife had sold his horses while he was in the hospital.

    So yes, I finally got around to ordering a Charles Owens protective vest. It came with good reviews. Hopefully I won’t have to report back to you all on whether it really works when put to the test.

    • Yikes and glad you are on the mend, Linda. Good point for us women of a certain age, I’ll remember that extra! I am afraid of the screws in my foot getting smashed, but it does make it easy to stand back a ways… Thanks, great comment!

  3. Thank you Anna. I have a traumatic brain injury that will impact the rest of my life. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I likely would not be here.

    I now also wear a Tipperary vest under a Point Two Air Vest. My last fall was two years ago and I lost a week of work instead of months and months. I highly recommend them. I describe myself as a cautious rider, and I wear my vest even in the arena. I figure that with my fragile head, I need to do this every single time. I wish more folks would consider this.

    I have been riding since childhood and I can think of three or four occasions when I did not wear a helmet. I always knew I should, and for the very most part, I did. My helmet has saved my life on at least two occasions. It does bear mentioning that if you fall and hit your head, you MUST replace your helmet. Unlike hockey helmets, our helmets are designed to be one fall items.

  4. Words to live by. Thank you, Anna. Please have a great weekend. I have a riding lesson tomorrow and yes, I will be wearing my helmet.

  5. Anna,
    Excellent. My husband is an ER physician and could tell you many tales of woe (but HIPPA prevents that).
    And by the way, as we both (70 and 74 this year) do only in-hand work now, horses are
    still huge. British Horse Society rules require helmets for ground work too. It just makes sense.
    Thank you for bringing this — and hay — to our attention once more.

    We have just acquired an off-track thoroughbred (Ecliptical Jack) who was pulled from the PA kill pen, almost lost.
    Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue did a fabulous job bringing him back to good health — it took one year of hard work.
    He has some epiglottis issues, and arthritis in his knees; he’s otherwise doing very well. He cannot be ridden and
    has to do slow work (due to breathing), but has recovered very well. He’s only eight and it’s unthinkable he was so abused.
    Now he is in the best possible situation, with equine and human caretakers, eight acres, a solid Quarter Horse for
    and two miniature horses for friends (he gets along with all of them), and he’s improving and calming daily.
    He’s 16.3 h.h. and re-learning to walk/work slowly and calmly.

    All your posts are of immense help to so many of us. We love you.


  6. So well put. I have a vest and if I could recommend the K Kan riding vest: https://youtu.be/0wK75XAwUJY.
    Not an inflatable. Body armor. It’s pretty remarkable. Watch the You Tube video. After lots of research this is the one I chose. You can drop a bowling ball on the back of this vest and it doesn’t even dent it. Thanks, Anna. Safety first.

  7. Like you, Anna, I have seen and heard the worst over the decades. I was converted to wearing helmets all the time when two of my trainers, one Dressage and one H/J, had freak accidents within a couple of months of each other. These were top riders, national champions, and one ended up with temporary blindness for a couple of weeks, the other with amnesia (never could remember the two weeks before the wreck). What makes me sad is when I see trainers I otherwise respect, who will post pictures without helmet, reacting to people’s concerns over the lack of a helmet with a very flippant answer … as if their influence over those who follow them doesn’t exist and cannot have grave consequences. I am glad to see an increasing movement toward making helmets normal in many disciplines. Keep spreading the word! (Oh, and the nightmare of not being here to give hay is a constant!)

  8. “If that’s true, then wearing a helmet in the age of social media must be totally brag-worthy.” I love your helmet reminders. I was just thinking along these lines yesterday, though nowhere near as clearly: watching a friends hay field (doesn’t the idea of our own hay field make us drool?) being raked, then baled, then picked up by a stacker. I literally just got home from QH ranch sitting In California’s Central Valley. Brought my own helmet. Watching the raker and baler especially, I thought about how much we can’t afford to get hurt. Complicated dangerous machinery. And I quite possibly may be the only rider within 100 miles wearing a helmet. But. Hay. I needed to be there to feed it, clean up after it, change water, and check bodies/legs. They have colts. Don’t ride em, but wear a helmet to work quietly around them. I still don’t understand why wearing a helmet is often considered at best a nuisance and at worst a “tell” that you lack skill or confidence. Just the choir chiming in. Keep it coming!

  9. I was a fearless kid who loved horses and had never heard of riding helmets; thankful that God (sometimes) protects children and fools. One of my good friends preached helmet use for years, but it wasn’t until I became (or was in process of becoming) an ‘old’ (at 40) mom that I became truly converted. Par for the course among my dressage friends and acquaintances, but sadly neglected and even poo-pooed by the trail riders I know. I have shared previous articles of yours with some of them before to no avail. I hope they’ve made arrangements for their horses, because . . . hay.

  10. I used to buy any old helmet, what’s the difference right?, but looking at my husbands state of the art motorbike helmet made me think. Is his head more valuable than mine? I went and ordered the latest MIPS one, I now have a spare. In Australia in order to complete you have to have your helmets inspected and tagged to make sure they meet safety standards.

  11. my horse is pretty chill BUT I even wear a helmet while lunging him. My motto is, with horses, “if something can go wrong, it will”. Not that I am looking for trouble, but I have seen enough weird stuff that I don’t take chances. A good friend of mine was sitting on an older, steady horse, at the HALT, wearing a helmet, and the horse just collapsed. She ended up with a brain bleed, and months of recovery. they weren’t doing anything, just standing there. Without a helmet, she would be dead. So yes- always where a helmet.

  12. Anna —so articulate,so honest. I agree totally on all counts and I’m so glad to finally be at a barn where the other riders happily comply with all sensible standards. Also children not allowed. My last barn had a certain contingent of clients (I won’t mention their preferred type of riding but it wasn’t dressage or jumping ). I saw far too many
    « accidents «  happen —never the fault of the horse. The feckless foolish riders were pretty fortunate to only have concussions etc. Just a matter of time however before someone gets truly hurt. Thank you for your excellent post today.

  13. Forget the horse…think tree limbs if you’re trail riding. My helmet has come in handy a time or two on the trail, keeping my head safe from more than a few low-hanging branches! And all my trail riding buddies wear helmets, too. Remember the Marlboro Man ads that encouraged people to think smoking made you cool? Finally, the tide turned, and people discovered it was cool not to smoke! So, keep it up, Anna. You’re cool now, but one day you’ll also be known as the original cool helmet lady showing everybody that hay is really where it’s at!

    • Oh boy – all those rides on horses I didnt know – bought at auction – and for years after I bought Chico – no helmet altho a friend of mine did wear one & that friend was the one whose young horse backed up, caught her foot & went over on her. She was so so lucky, broke a couple ribs & had a concussion AND? put a split right across her helmet. And still I didnt wear one – bought one when my granddaughter started at 4 or 5 (ponies) but when we moved to another barn where the owner made it a rule? Yeah from then on I wore one. Beck – my granddaughter always wore one & still does.
      And yeah, Lynell those cussed trim limbs!!!

      • Hey, Maggie. I think your story is a good reason for Anna to keep getting the word out. Hopefully in the future, wearing a helmet will be a no-brainer!

    • Thanks, Lynell. I hope people pull it together. I confess, I wacked my noggin with a t-post building fence and thought maybe wear one for barn chores?

  14. I cannot say enough about both helmets and air vests, I wouldn’t be writing this comment if I hadn’t been wearing both several years back. I was not eventing or jumping, just heading out on a quiet trail ride with friends. I turned around in my saddle to check on them, and next thing I knew was on a bucking bronco… literally. I lasted a few big bucks (my friend said she could see the mare’s lady parts from behind us), then got tossed up 6 ft, flipped and landed on my shoulder and back on a quite hard century-old roadbed. The ER Dr said I would not have survived without the vest. My neck would have broken without the vest blowing up around it. Had a slight fracture in a neck vertebra and a shattered clavicle. The helmet also served me well as it had a big crack in it. It’s hot and humid here in Virginia but I’ve learned my lesson and put both on.


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