There have been so many. A working student’s horse on whom I made it about 20 feet. A homebred 3-year-old on whom I made it half a 20-meter circle. The time my OTTB dropped me into a wall, and I broke my collarbone (though I got back on AND went to school for a few days before seeing a doctor. Ain’t nobody got time for that.) My Young Riders horse, L’Etoile, put me in the dirt recreationally, at least three times in our two-year partnership. Danny’s a repeat offender as well, and once I bit it off Midge while swimming in the pond, learning a valuable lesson that falling off IN the pond is painless, but falling off on the BANK of the pond gets you three days of Vicodin.
But there was That One Time.
Every trainer I know has That One Time, at least one, sometimes more. A fall that really rattled. For some of my friends, That One Time resulted in a big hairy injury. But I know lots more, and I fall into this category, where That One was more about a reminder of our own mortality.
My One wasn’t actually a scary one. Long, long ago there was a stretchy circle at canter at second level, and I was schooling a horse whose athleticism left something to be desired. He tripped and basically had a rotational fall on the flat, ending up ass-over-teakettle on top of me. Both of us walked away uninjured, though I broke my cheap plastic schooling helmet in the process. But I was fine.
Here’s what makes That One Time memorable. Until that point, I’d not been a religious helmet wearer. It was 2006, and I was 21 and invincible, and I’d shown in the first-ever U25 “Brentina Cup” championships at Gladstone (New Jersey), where I’d met a well-off patron of the sport. We’d been talking about a sponsorship arrangement, and things were looking interesting and exciting, and then she stopped responding to my emails. I learned that, one day, she’d gone out for a hack on an old, experienced and saintly horse who’d returned without her. She was found unconscious in the woods. She didn’t have a helmet on.
And it was the day I learned about her accident that I put on the $35 Troxel that kept this story from being much, much worse.
Because the times were the times, I didn’t magically become a Helmet Wearing Angel. I continued to show in a top hat, because that’s what we did, including on young horses (I just found some old photos of Ellegria, then 5, and Victorious, then 4, showing in a Materiale class, with me in a top hat). I wasn’t always so good about schooling my trusted FEI horses in a helmet. But I got better at wearing it, at least.
And then Courtney King-Dye had the worst day of her life.
Since then, I’ve never gotten on a horse without a helmet. And as the culture has changed, the options have changed. I have helmets I show in to match my two competition outfits. (Yes, yes, I know, dressage queen. Deal with it.) I have a cool new SP8 from Charles Owen that has a bigger visor and an amazing air channel that keeps my head way cooler, even in the heat of this heinous Virginia summer. There are colors, there are design options, and there’s as much glitter as you could ever want. (Frankly, there’s more glitter than you could ever want.)
And here’s the part where I predict the future: There are going to be comments on this blog and on Facebook about how it’s a choice, how we can do what we want, how sometimes helmets, like seatbelts, can actually cause an injury, how “I trust my horses bla bla bla nobody puts baby in a corner!” Whatever. You do you, as the kids say, or at least as they once said but probably don’t anymore because I’m, like, so old and uncool.
But just a few weeks ago, at a show but in a covered and empty warm-up arena with perfectly groomed footing, Puck caught a toe and just about ate it. My assistant trainer Lauren was playing with her new camera and caught this amazing photo. I stuck on, and we were both fine, but it just happened. He was being good. I’m a mighty good rider. And it just happened.
This weekend is International Helmet Awareness Weekend. If you’re looking for a deal on helmets, many manufacturers and tack shops large and small have some fantastic bargains. If you’re a skin cancer-phobe like myself, check out the Charles Owen SP8. It’s awesome.
And if you’re not a helmet person, consider becoming one. You don’t want your One Time to be your last time.