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An equestrian helmet is one worn by the rider of a horse, of course, not by the horse. (Horses do not commonly wear helmets.)

By some riders of horses at least.

I actually own an equestrian helmet, one I bought back when I was considering riding, but before I had gotten over falling off and breaking my arm. It is a regulation helmet, and would undoubtedly ... well, maybe ... increase my chances of intact survival should I hit my head when falling off a horse.

Actually I hit my head falling off a horse yesterday.

By practice if not by law (laws vary from country to country, and within the United States from state to state) in the United States children nearly always wear equestrian helmets when riding, at least in suburban stables. (Children probably do not do so in truly rural areas.) If there can be found no other reason, nearly all insurance companies, the ones who write insurance for the stables in wealthy suburbs, require it.

I have been told by doctors in my family that equestrian helmets have drastically lowered the incidence of deaths resulting from horse riding mishaps. I have this information only by telephone, from my doctor foster son; I have not checked it. Of course, even if this is true, this only works if you are wearing one.

I don't wear mine.

Right away we want to know why not? Some kind of death wish?

The answers are complicated, and probably liberally shot through with excuses.

1. Hopalong Cassidy, my childhood cowboy hero, did not wear a helmet.

Come on, this isn't worth discussing. The 1950's? Television? Really?

2. Moving right along, but maybe not too very quickly, fantasy cowboys don't wear helmets. This entire endeavor- me riding horses - is about being a fantasy cowboy (or in this case, cowgirl), so a helmet does not fit the whole reason we are doing this. Zorro the Bandit, may I point out, did not wear a helmet.

We could maybe talk about this, but it's still probably at least 80% bullshit. Is that a fantasy horse you are riding? No? It's a real horse? Well then, maybe it is time and more than time to bring this entire activity into, you know, reality...?

3. No professional known to me wears a helmet.

Now we're maybe getting somewhere. I have been urged by all sorts of professional horse people, trail bosses, wranglers, cowboys, horse trainers, horse instructors, to wear a helmet while riding.

Not a one of these people wears a helmet themselves.

Not one. The trail boss in the Inyo Wilderness does not. None of his wranglers do. Neither of my instructors do. These are all people who make their living by riding horses and leading other riders.

Now I know that some professional competitors, especially hunter/jumpers, a particularly dangerous activity, do wear helmets. But none of my teachers and none of my own leaders do. (I will never voluntarily be on a jumping horse. Sorry. In competition? You have to be crazy to suggest such a thing!) Some of these people, these non-helmet folks, are old cowboys who are simply being hard-liners. But I notice that none of my very young horse-trainer professionals ever wear one either.

These people, some of whom are young enough to be my grandchildren, know a thousand times more about horses and the hazards around horses than I ever will. They are rational people who care as much about their heads as anyone else does. And yet they do not take this precaution.

This suggests to me at least that, in the educated judgment of these professionals, equestrian helmets are more trouble than they are worth, and that helmets are urged upon children and clients solely in the interest of avoiding legal liability ("I told him to wear a helmet and he didn't so it's not my fault") rather than in the interest of taking real precautions to avoid real injuries.

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Wikipedia will give you the party line on all this.