A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ok, controversy time! Riding Helmets

 So, because I have been backing so many young horses lately (both my own and client horses) I have gotten into the habit of wearing a helmet every time I ride.  Before last summer, I rarely wore a helmet, but I still backed many horses.  I ride at least 4 horses each day, about 5 days per week on average.  In other words, I am on horseback approximately 20 hours/week.  For another 10 hours each week, I am working horses in hand. (yep, there's a reason for this)

I have been "involved" with horses since I could be.  As a child I was in 4H, but I didn't own a horse.  Instead, I was trained to be a judge's assistant, and I learned a ton about conformation, gaits, and how to compare one horse to another.  After that, I begged to work in barns.  Not to ride, just to shovel poo!  The smell of horses was addictive, and just to be privileged enough to smell and see them was all I needed.  More was always great, like a pet on the nose, or joy of joys, being allowed to brush one!  My parents didn't know about such things as riding lessons, so instead, I spent weekends paying for dude type trail rides.  Evidently I was charming enough of a child, that the "wranglers"  (mostly students in the dressage courses) would give me pointers and let me try things with the horse I was riding.  A little canter, how to sit a hill, and such.

Now, let me just say, that back during that time, helmets were a rare thing.  Yeah, I'm old enough to remember those days.  One way that I impressed many of the wranglers, was when as an 8 year old, I was on a horse that spooked.  Well, the horse behind us bolted, almost running into my horse, who took off toward the rest of the group, and at the last minute, my gelding darted sideways so as not to hit the horse in front of him.  Me, I didn't go sideways so well.  I landed with my chin on that mare's tail bone, and flopped to the ground right behind her.  The next day I found a hoof shaped bruise on my thigh, so I was RIGHT behind her.

I was 8, my horse was 16 hands.  It was a long fall.  As soon as I could, I asked where my horse was.  The staff were all paranoid (since my parents were not with the group) and offered to take me back walking if I chose.  I looked the poor guy right in the eye and said, "oh no, I'm still riding!  But I think I'm going to need help getting back on.".  Yes, horses were my addiction.

From that time on, I got rides anywhere I could.  For my first anniversary (of my first marriage) I got my first horse.  2 weeks later, I bought an unbroke 8 year old mare.  I decided to try to back her myself with nothing but advice and book knowledge.  Shockingly, it went well, but it shouldn't have.  Not long after, I began working with friend's horses (I was SO unqualified, but hey... free help!).  For the last 13 years now, I have been heavily involved with horses.  I can't even count the number of times I have fallen.

The only injuries I have sustained during all of those falls include breaking my arm as a 13 year old, and knocking myself out cold last fall.  Besides that, it's been a few achy muscles, and some bruises.  Very few bruises in all honesty.  I'm lucky, and I fall well.  I can feel I'm losing my seat, or I decide that the best course of action is not to be on the horse any more, and I just relax.  I have heard that it's very ugly to see me fall.  Because I relax, my limbs fly in all directions, and I often tumble.  But like a drunk in a car accident, I always seem to walk away unscathed.

And yet, when I decided to take on outside horses - horses who I am not completely familiar with - I began to wear a riding helmet.  I have embraced the mentality of a hard head being a safe head.  But, both falls I have taken since that time have had one thing in common..... head and neck pain.  I've never had that before.

Well, yesterday, when Jae rode Poko, I asked him if he wanted a brain bucket before he climbed on.  (I allow all adults to make that decision, as it IS a free country, and killing yourself is.. um.. a right?)  At any rate, he made a comment that made me start thinking.  He said:

"Thank you, but no, I like to keep my neck in one piece, and I don't think I'm gonna crack my HEAD on the arena dirt".
Yeah, that's a touque, not a helmet on his head.

After his ride, he was telling me about motocross and how it has been found that a helmet is more dangerous when worn with out a neck brace/support.  Well, this does kinda support what I have been feeling lately.

Oddly, I haven't seen any type of neck support for horse riding.  Now, I understand that we need to use our necks a lot riding (looking out for those lions in the bushes, and defeating them before our trusty mount realizes they are about to be eaten!).

And this is not going to be the old debate of "helmet, or no helmet".  That's been hashed out and done over and over.
(me riding Ash circa 1999)

I'm sitting here listening to research on concussive accidents, and how they affect us later in life.  I've been reading research on neck injuries in many sports (a lot about football) and how helmets are designed.  My big question is, why don't riding helmets, for both horses and bikes, have any neck support?

Why haven't we seen any comparative data on riding accidents of similar nature, and the damage sustained from wearing and not wearing a helmet.  I'm almost willing to bet that helmet wearers are more likely to have neck pain.  When I was knocked out, my only complaint was that my neck hurt.  (granted, most of that was from the stupid neck brace digging into my neck....)

So,my quest now, is to find more data.  For the next week, I will be reading those weird and boring scientific reports about sports accidents, and seeing if there's some commonality to neck strain.

I'm thinking, if we can't have neck support, then maybe I need to strengthen my neck muscles.  Gain the ability to compensate for the slight extra weight of the helmet, so that I won't have as much force pulling on my neck.  I will also be looking for some ideas on that.

And of course, if any of y'all know about some type of neck support that really works.... please share!  I'm not about to give up my helmet, but I would be willing to work to be even more safe then I am now.

After neck support, comes an eventing vest!


14 comments:

  1. Not sure how they could make a helmet with a HANS (like NASCAR) without making the helmet itself a lot bigger and more cumbersome. Then NOBODY would wear one.

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  2. I read somewhere in a magazine about horses, that Christopher Reeves accident wouldn't have been as bad. But, the helmet he was wearing caused the injury to his neck by the way it hit him when he fell. See if you can find that report, Heather.

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  3. I can't think of a way to do neck support while riding that wouldn't interfere with your steering and ability to move properly. The head/neck is such an important part of the whole thing. A stiff/immobile neck translates to stiff shoulders in both rider AND horse.

    I'm ambivalent myself. I hate wearing helmets, but I can see where it's preferable to, say, hitting a jump standard bare headed on the way down (I always wear them over fences).

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  4. I feel naked w/o my helmet while I ride...guess I am just accustomed to them, like a seat belt in the car.

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  5. I also always wear a helmet. I had a dent in one when I was a kid - that could have been my head.
    Jae does make a point about the neck thing, though. I can't wait to hear what you find out!

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  7. Funny that you brought this up... 2 of my barrel racing buddies are nurses and they both think helmets should be a personal choice because of the injuries that can be caused wearing them

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  8. I grew up without having to wear a helmet. My last 2 years of 4-H riding, they required the Hunt Seat riders to wear safer head gear, but they were very heavy and bulky. I rode Saddle Seat at the time, and didn't have to worry about the helmet issue.

    Now, as an adult, and training my own horse, and have fallen off her twice breaking her of her vices, I'm considering getting a helmet. My last fall I hit a metal fence post with my breast, and landed on bent knees like a rag doll. I was very concerned that I would hit my head on it as I was going down.

    Breaking horses is much more involved than just regular riding, and there is much more danger in head injuries. I never thought that I would be even thinking of getting a helmet, but I'm worried that the next fall will be worse than just bruises.

    I have NO IDEA which helmet is the best. I don't want something that's too heavy or bulky. But, something that will offer the best protection at a low cost.

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  9. I will say though, that of all the helmets I have worn, the higher end troxels, and the IRH helmets are my favourite. No, not the cheapest, but I can really feel the difference when ridding. I think mostly it's the harness that makes one feel better then the other.

    I have decided though, that I'm headed to the tack store this week, to check out different helmet brands. Gonna have a try - on - athon, and see if I can find something that solves the problem.....

    And then, fall off a horse to test it (well, I'm sure I'll fall off eventually!)

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  10. I grew up riding old school so it's still hard for me to remember to grab the ol' bucket. I really don't know what the answer is. I think fate, chance and luck are awful big factors in one's life. I've been run over by a yearling and had my mouth stepped on- sans helmet. Would it have helped to be wearing one? not really. But it could have compromised my neck if I were wearing one. Food for thought.

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  11. That's an interesting question about neck support (although I'm not sure how you could add it without making it seriously uncomfortable and cumbersome). I probably went the wrong way, myself *grin*. I wore a helmet growing up, but when I got back into horses as an adult I went without. Never thought about it until recently actually; maybe because I'm not competing or riding on roads (plus nobody around here really wears one - south Alabama).
    I'll be interested to see what you come up with on this train of thought :o)

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  12. I grew up riding old school so it's still hard for me to remember to grab the ol' bucket. I really don't know what the answer is. I think fate, chance and luck are awful big factors in one's life. I've been run over by a yearling and had my mouth stepped on- sans helmet. Would it have helped to be wearing one? not really. But it could have compromised my neck if I were wearing one. Food for thought.

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  13. I read somewhere in a magazine about horses, that Christopher Reeves accident wouldn't have been as bad. But, the helmet he was wearing caused the injury to his neck by the way it hit him when he fell. See if you can find that report, Heather.

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  14. I can't think of a way to do neck support while riding that wouldn't interfere with your steering and ability to move properly. The head/neck is such an important part of the whole thing. A stiff/immobile neck translates to stiff shoulders in both rider AND horse.

    I'm ambivalent myself. I hate wearing helmets, but I can see where it's preferable to, say, hitting a jump standard bare headed on the way down (I always wear them over fences).

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