You and Your Cranium

I admit that I am hopelessly and totally biased here-three months after getting the Sports Model Jackass, someone offered me a ride on another horse and I took it. I was 12 years old, naive as all heck, and gung-ho to get on anything with a whinny. She was a palomino with power steering and the girl who owned her had just gotten an English saddle. I’d never ridden the mare or in that kind of saddle. Mare was gentle as could be, it was in her pasture, and we were just having fun. What could it hurt, right?

Tessa saw the stump in the high grass and side-stepped it. Today, I would just go along with her. But that day-on that slick saddle-with no experience, I didn’t. I went off head first onto that stump. It is a million wonders that I didn’t break my neck because we were at a canter and there should have been enough force to do it. As it was, I was out like a burnout light bulb.

I don’t remember much from that afternoon at all. I remember vaguely being picked up from the ground, then being in the car going down their driveway. The next memory is of being at the hospital with very vague memories of xrays and exams. They sent me home with instructions to watch me. I had a concussion. That was in January 1964.

As a result of that concussion, I suffered short term memory loss, trouble with cognitive thinking and learning, anger issues, inattentiveness, and blinding headaches that would last for weeks. Now they call this Closed Head Trauma or Brain Injury. Then, they just said-she’s faking or she’ll get over it. I didn’t.

Kept riding horses though-worried my mother no end. She looked for helmets for me, but back then, helmets were just those black velveteen covered things for the English set that usually didn’t even have a decent chin strap on them. Problem there was-not only were they little to no protection, they sat on top of my head like a beanie cap. No way one was going to fit my skull.

Fast forward about 25 years-the horse world changed and manufacturers have ‘seen the light’. Helmets with true safety products are not only being produced for kids, but also for adults! They’re ugly as a mud fence and hotter than a pawn shop pistol, but you take what you can find. You look like you’ve stuck your head into a white bucket and strapped it on. Ridicule and finger pointing becomes a thing-you’re either a hopeless wimp for wearing one or a helmet safety nazi. Either way-you’re shunned in many circles.

Slowly, but ever so slowly, this has been changing. Prominent riders of all disciplines have had devastating head injuries that could have been prevented had they been wearing safety helmets. Now they are showing up in dressage arenas, cutting pens, practice areas, schooling barns, trail rides, Pony Club shows, Wagon trains, and many other events. People are recognizing what people like me have known for years-horses are wonderful creatures, but being around there creates the opportunity for brain injury.

Unfortunately, brain injury is something you cannot put vetrap on, ice soak, or use liniment. It is cummulative-meaning each knock on the head adds to the previous damage. It doesn’t go away-it gets worse. Any NFL or NHL pro or amateur player can tell you this. Professional boxers are notoriously addled by the time they retire-from brain injuries.

Don’t like the way helmets look? I’m not that fashion conscious-I know I’m going to look pretty awful until I hit the shower anyway, so I don’t care. But if it really means something to you, try these ideas from the Facebook group, Karen’s Hellhat Posse. You can DIY or find somebody to do them for you. (Warning: using glue or paint on a helmet within the first year will probably void the warranty from the manufacturer.)

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