Equine Progressive

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Hard Hats I Have Known – Part 1

with 6 comments

I remember every hard hat I have ever killed.

As the dressage community, led by Heather Blitz, continues to cope with the realization that sometimes even being beautiful in a top hat and tails has to be sacrificed for safety’s sake, and that life-changing injuries can occur from spills even when you’re working on the flat, I have to recall the hard hats that have been sacrificed to keep my head intact.

The first one was luxurious, a velvet International show helmet, with brown leather harness. I was ten, and the riding instructor at my Fancy Hunter Barn was anxious to see me outfitted properly. (So was my mother.) The helmet was heavy and thick and hot on those summer afternoons in Florida, just one generation prior to the new thin-shell hats that were coming out on the market. You mean helmets didn’t have to weigh eight pounds and drag your head down? Who knew?

That helmet died several deaths. It probably should have been replaced several times over, but we didn’t realize at the time that helmets were one-time-use only! They seemed a bit expensive to be disposable. The first dispatch came when I was learning flying lead changes. My riding instructor taught flying lead changes as follows:

1) Canter horse on right lead.

2) Turn right across center of arena.

3) Wait until you get to the fence and turn left hard.

I’m sure there was more to it than that, as he is now training high school dressage on the west coast, so he surely has some working knowledge of flying lead changes, right? But that was all I computed, anyway, and so I swung Figment left, and the handy hunter turned on his haunches, and I went scraping along the fenceline. The gouge that was left in the velvet, straight down to the base of the hat, was legendary. The number of stitches that I would have required, had that gouge been in my head: dozens.

The velvet hat at last met its match against a solid wooden roll-top. First horse, my Quarter Horse Smuckers (as in, “with a name like…”) took exception to the big green monster. Not even the lovely “guide poles” placed on either side of the fence dissuaded him – it was a truly dirty move. 2010 me wishes I would have had on a Tipperairy vest as well, since the guide poles did quite a number on my back after I bounced head-first off the roll-top and onto them.

The second was an International Pro-Lite, the first generation of air-flow style hats. They had a remarkable design flaw that no one remarked upon until later – the holes were so large that if you fell into a pile of brush or tree limbs, you could be impaled through one of the air vents. Fortunately my hat’s death came in an indoor arena, when OTTB Number 1 did a very agile spin/leap/capriole/twist move. He was athletic. I was less so. I hit the ground, sadly, underneath him. One hoof on my elbow, one hoof on my hard hat. Again, legendary. There was literally a horseshoe mark on the helmet. And if you flipped it over and looked inside, the styrofoam was split in two. I was a superstar. My elbow, I got over in a couple of weeks. The hat, however, saved my life.

In case you’re keeping score, in this little narrative I’m now up to age 14 or 15 and I’m already lucky to be alive. And only one of those falls came over a fence. Not to mention all the unsung spills that I can’t remember (which may say something in and of itself!) I’ll have to think extra hard about the next few helmets. . . but there is a good reason why I had to get a new one from the Large Man in Red this past holiday season.


Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 9, 2010 at 8:17 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I wonder the total number of falls with helmets we’ve had between us all and survived with our heads as intact as they were before. Head injuries too often have a long recovery with a poor prognosis and months of anguish for the people who love us, having worked in my real job on that side of things. While I envy the elegance of top hats and shadbellies, I’m 100% behind the Grand Prix dressage riders switching over to the safe side and salute them. Tradition isn’t so pretty for months in a hospital bed. Prayers for Courtney and her family, and for safe rides for all of us… Another good one, Natalie!

    Barb Fulbright

    March 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

  2. Thanks Barb. The last time I rode without a hat was at a horse trials in 2000. I rode my dressage test in a hunt cap. Then I thought, how ridiculous. I just rode an OTTB at a showgrounds in a hunt cap. I’m a complete fool. And I’ve never done it since.

    Best of luck to the Grand Prix dressage riders. It takes brains to ride at that level. Those wearing hats are proving that they have the brains.

    Natalie Keller Reinert

    March 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    • And heaven knows people with brains on this earth are often few and far between on this earth, not just among horse lovers/riders! Save the brains!!

      Barb Fulbright

      March 10, 2010 at 5:53 am

  3. The first time I remember a helmet saving my noggin I was about 8. We had to cross a ditch to get into a trail and my arab was a little hesitant about it. He finally decided to jump it and caught me off guard. I ended up in the ditch and one of his hooves glanced off my helmet on his way over.

    Of course I kept wearing that same helmet for the next few years. Ahh, the 80s. Gotta love them.


    March 10, 2010 at 11:08 am

  4. I’m afraid I have no stories of hard-hats saving me. I remember seeing a young girl die at a little horse show, she was wearing one of those old soft crappy helmets. (This was in the dark ages, a.k.a. the 60’s.)

    I landed on my head once, jumping a TB mare with no withers. I was helmet-less. Good thing my head is so darned big and hard and heavy. Scared the CRAP out of the idiot owner of the mare. He wouldn’t let me get back on and jump another. I lost my nerve, for an entire year. An old schoolie of mine (JohnnyBeGood) gave it back.

    If the horse lands on you, while you’re walking him back from pasture, you’ll still get dead.

    HardHats are no substitute for common-sense horse safety.


    March 14, 2010 at 10:05 am

    • No, but they help!

      Barb Fulbright

      March 14, 2010 at 11:31 am

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