By Erin Gilmore
Use Your Head – Wear A Helmet
Last winter Beezie and John Madden went on a skiing holiday. Between the busy schedules of an international show jumper (her) and an FEI official and coach (him), it had been at least six years since the couple had taken time off from horses to hit the slopes. Once suited up, the pair quickly realized they were missing an essential element. Halfway down their first run, John and Beezie became acutely aware that they were the only two skiers on the mountain not wearing ski helmets.
This realization made the vacationers feel uncomfortable on many levels. So much in fact that post that initial run down the mountain they went straight to the ski shop and bought helmets.
In January Beezie attended the Riders4Helmets Helmet Safety Symposium 2011, held in Wellington, Florida, and retold this story to illustrate a very important point. She explained, “If more people did it (especially well regarded Olympic level riders) more people would get comfortable doing it.”
Beezie was attesting to the importance of helmet use while riding horses, and pointed out that if a sport such as skiing, in which helmet use was nonexistent a decade ago, can experience a universal shift to helmet wearing, there’s no reason that the horse industry can’t do the same.
New Rules, New Trends
Recent rule changes by the U.S. Equestrian Federation to enact stricter helmet laws in the disciplines of dressage and eventing are a good step, says Beezie, but we still have more to do.
Referring to the recently passed rule change for dressage that requires helmets with the exception of those “competing only in FEI levels and tests at the Prix St. Georges level and above.” Beezie agreed with one exception. “I wish they [USEF] had gone so far as to say that dressage riders had to wear helmets at the grand prix level. It’s important that the top riders wear their helmets, and be seen wearing their helmets.”
The helmet-wearing campaign launched by Riders4Helmets.com in April of 2010 was initiated after Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye fell from a horse and sustained a traumatic brain injury that left her in a coma for nearly a month. Thousands rallied around Courtney, who was not wearing a helmet at the time of her fall, in the weeks after the incident, and since then the discipline of dressage has seen a remarkable shift in perception towards helmet use. At the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games last fall, dressage bronze medalist Steffen Peters donned his helmet during the awards ceremony, and dedicated his ride to Courtney, who was in the audience watching.
Show Jumpers Should Strap One On
Currently sponsored by Charles Owen Helmets, and previously sponsored by GPA, Beezie has longstanding relationships with helmet makers. She became one of the first three riders in the United States to wear a GPA helmet back when the popular style still leant towards the velvet hunt caps of yesteryear. At that time, a GPA “skunk stripe” noticeably stuck out, but “I figured if it was a safer helmet, it was a good thing,” the top rider noted. “If it got a lot of people to wear safer helmets and if it saved one or two lives, not to mention maybe my life, that was a big deal.”
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and show jumping icon, Beezie is fully aware that thousands of horse enthusiasts look up to her and other grand prix show jumpers as role models. She believes that not wearing her helmet, even in the warm up ring at a competition, sets a bad example for the up and comers who watch her and tend to emulate her every move. “For the last four or five years, I’ve always had a helmet on, every time I’m on a horse.”
“I think that USEF has already gone a long ways in saying that juniors at hunter/jumper shows have to wear a helmet all the time, and lots of venues have helmet rules,” she commented. “Saying that everyone at hunter/jumper shows has to wear a helmet is the next step for sure.”
Old habits are hard to change, but as we all know a random spook or misstep can happen at any time, and can cause any level of rider to fall off unexpectedly. Beezie sincerely hopes that it won’t take a serious head injury incurred by a nationally known jumper rider to change rules and minds in her discipline. As skiers on the slopes can attest, global acceptance and change is possible.
Ride smart and strap one on. Everyone’s Doing it! Check out:
Information on what’s happening with helmet rules and more:http://sidelinesnews.com/blogs/whatshappenin/usef-passes-new-safety-helmet-rules-for-eventing-and-dressage-riders.html
USEF Press Release:
Dressage & Eventing Rule Changes: