University of Vermont AAHS

HARMONY:  Her Helmet Saved Her Life
By Jan Dawson
President, AAHS

[reproduced from Spring 2002 Caution:Horses]

The trainer had just finished schooling an 8-year old, experienced horse.  They had completed a highly successful show season a couple of months before and were moving on into some new territory including flying changes and some more sophisticated lateral work.  The horse worked well and had worked hard, so the pair headed for the trail to cool out.

About half a mile from the arena they crossed a dry creek bed without incident, taking a path they had taken many times before.  They often had schooling sessions in the pasture so the arena work would not be so boring.

That was the last thing the rider remembered until she woke up in her house and heard someone on the telephone.  Her first thought was, “Oh my, here I am in the middle of the day, lying in bed, fully dressed with my spurs on and I still have horses to ride.”  The voice on the phone was the 911 dispatcher who wanted to know if she needed an ambulance after her fall.  “I guess so,” she said, “since I don’t really remember much about riding the horse.”

The doctor in the emergency room told her that if she had not been wearing her helmet she would have been a fatality; as it was she had a mild concussion.

* * *

That was January 23, 2002 and I still have no memory of the incident.  The ground was all torn up where my horse blew up and all I can think is that something must have really jumped up underneath him.  It was too early for snakes and he isn’t afraid of them anyway.  Not much bothers him.  Ground bees?  Who knows?

I sent my helmet in to the distributor thinking that it would find nothing and that I was really being a wimp.  All that was on the outside was a little smudge.  Little did I know.  The engineers determined from analyzing the material inside the helmet that I took a 1400 G-force blow on a 2 square inch area of my head.  They estimated that the helmet reduced the blow to 450 G-forces.  The helmet definitely saved my life or at the very least kept me from drooling on my shirt in a vegetative state for the remainder.

I have been used to wearing my helmet for nearly 10 years now to the point that sometimes I will catch myself still wearing it when I drive to town.  I wear an Aussie Outback and find that even in the summer my head doesn’t sweat.  However, before this accident I have begun to look longingly at the cute visors my friends wear.  Some visors have dressage horses on them. Other visors can match your tee shirt or your britches.  I had begun to think that both of my show horses were too old and had too much training to really commit an atrocity.  In a million years I would have never believed that this horse could have been made to blow up that badly.  Yet all over the country I teach just the opposite. A horse is always a horse and will always be a horse and horses are always unpredictable and can react suddenly.

I still have no memory of the incident.  The effects of the accident are still around but much less and not as funny.  I no longer call home several times to tell my husband that I have arrived at my destination safely.  I can remember now that I have already done it.  I have stopped calling people two and three times for the same thing – that got a little embarrassing.

Forty-eight hours after the accident I was presenting two workshops to the American Youth Horse council and I had to begin by telling the audience that if I started talking gibberish to just stop me and I would start over.  The talks apparently made sense but I do not remember giving them.  The periods of disorientation have subsided and I no longer am dizzy when I ride.  Do I expect this horse to do this again?  Of  course 

Would I have been better off in a sell-worked arena?  Sure, but will I now only ride in controlled situations on soft, well-worked surfaces?   No way.  Will I ever consider trading my helmet for a visor or cap because it looks cool?  When pigs fly!


Return to Top of This Page
Return to Harmony Between Horse & Rider Page