If you want to keep riding, you need to become as vigilant about other safety issues as you are about helmets. Like warming up a horse that hasn't been ridden in a month and has quite a spook in her before you go out on a trail.
I am 57, too. However, I did not get my first horse until I was 42. I am not particularly athletic -- in pretty good shape, just not very coordinated. I've worked hard to learn how to ride, so I've had to be more careful than people who've been riding most of their lives. I have come off in 15 years, but with no serious injuries, just a few bumps, bruises and one broken arm.
Even at that, I probably could have prevented every one of those falls. But, like you, I just didn't want to take the time to work through whatever bug my horse had up his/her butt that day. Next time, take the time. It's not a guarantee you won't get hurt, but it can minimize the opportunities.
Other things can happen to make you have a bad fall and you probaby won't be wearing a helmet. You could slip on ice or walking down a set of steps and fall and hit your head. Odds are you won't be wearing a helmet, but will you stay indoors all winter or go to Florida...nice if you can do that? Will you never go down brick or concrete steps again fearing a fall (I know a man who fell walking down 3 steps out of house, fell and hit his head and almost died...so don't say it can't happen).
You have to plan to be as safe as possible and then weight the benefits against the risks to make your final decision. Good luck.
I'm 23 and just graduated college, but I've already had my first "should I continue to ride" moment. I was in a car accident in which I was hit head-on by a drunk driver and as a result I suffered a head injury. After months of physical therapy I was told that riding would now always be a "higher risk" activity for me, since it would be easy for me to re-injure myself. The head injury left me with memory loss, dizziness, migraines and many other symptoms which I did not want to experience again. But not ride? Five months later I got back on the ex-racehorse I'd been riding before the accident and she carried me more quietly and more carefully than she ever had before. I did not jump on and go racing across fields or jumping fences, but riding and spending time with that mare played a huge role in my recovery.
I bought her a year to the day of the accident with the money left over from the settlement from that same car accident. I'm still a careful and cautious rider, and ALWAYS wear my helmet. I don't take unnecessary risks, but at the same time I don't allow myself to dwell on the prospect of what a hit to my head would mean. It's been two years since the accident, and every day I think I live a little more.
I think there's a certain amount of crazy which comes with being a horse lover. I, too, am paying more for my horse's board than my own. I've been out of college for four months now, and I NEVER planned on buying a horse right out of college, let alone while in college. But I'm making it work. Horses are good for us, and they keep us going. In my opinion, as long as we're cautious and remember that riding can be a dangerous sport, the inherent risks are well worth the rewards.
Hope you're doing well and getting better. It's been a long, long time since we've been in touch. Found out about this site from JoAnn Gose, with whom I've been communicating. I have fond memories of our great times at The O, especially when you were assigned to the rodeo and rode a bull. Remember the headline: Eye to Eye With a Bull and the Bull Blinked.
Continue healing and, if you get a chance, drop me an e-mail.
With warm regards,