Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Safety and Autonomy

I read Sarah's post on safety at Eventing in Color with great interest, and I keep refreshing the comments. Go read it and come back. I'll still be here.

So here's another instance in which I stake out some unpopular territory for myself and risk pissing people off. It's all good though--you don't get to be a gender-fluid queerdo in the South without being okay with making waves.

First, my stance on safety equipment: Wear what you want to wear, when you want to wear it. Mostly.

Like most of you, I alwayssssssssss wear a helmet. If someone comes over to my house and gets on one of my horses, they absolutely must wear a helmet. We got my nephew his own helmet and I would prefer that he wear it all the time in the barn and not just when he's mounted. I did graduate from Pony Club, after all. I do safety checks on all my equipment constantly. I don't wear my XC vest in the ring to jump unless I have a real reason to. I don't own an air vest. I wear my vest when I'm starting a young horse or jumping XC. I'm not really a reckless person. My standards for my own equipment are like most peoples' I know.

Lex was 5 days under saddle. In a 40-acre field. Vest.

But if I was in a lesson with a pro--not M, who always wears a helmet, but some hypothetical other pro--who wanted to get on my horse and s/he wasn't wearing a helmet, would I say no? I mean, maybe, if I wasn't sure she would ride my horse in a way I was okay with, but I wouldn't say no because of the helmet thing. A professional riding at home can make that decision. I watched a BNT who has had some recent Grand Prix success school a couple weeks ago, and he was jumping the tops of the standards with no helmet and a cigarette in his mouth and his iPod. Would EYE ride like that? Hell no. Am I going to march into the ring with a helmet and insist he put it on? Of course not. That would be out of line.

I walked around bareback on this horse today and wore a helmet.

"But you're not married to him, Jess, so why should it matter to you what he wears? It's different if you're married."

Is it? I don't know. His body is still his and mine is still mine, regardless of our relationship or lack thereof. I know women who won't get the haircut they want because their husbands won't like it. That bums me out a lot. It's not his hair!

So if someone told me to wear safety equipment, I don't think I'd have a super great reaction to that. I mean, USEA and USEF have rules about helmets and vests and I'm happy to follow the rules. If I ever got to the level of top hats in dressage or eventing, I'd still wear a helmet. Some people wear vests all the time when they ride because it makes them feel safe or they have an old injury or a disease process that means a fall would be worse for them than it would be for me. And they should do that! Whatever works for them.


Here's what it comes down to for me: I'm an incredibly independent person, perhaps to a fault. I'm kind of anti-romantic, too, in that anything that normal people consider romantic is probably going to make me break out in hives. Love, Actually makes me want to throw up, actually. And part of the reason I have so much trouble with normal-people romance is that it often seems to have something to do with control. "I'm telling you that you can't do this dangerous/far-away/whatever thing because I love you." "Wow, you must really love me if you're willing to tell me what to do!" For me, that doesn't work. I know. I'm suuuuuuuch a catch. Get in line, laydeez, for someone who will never stand outside your window with a boombox or whatever totally-right-now reference.

Thus, anyone who said "you have to wear a helmet and a vest" would be met with a great deal of eye-rolling from me at the very minimum. Have to? Excuse me? I'm a grown-ass adult. And that isn't going to make me feel loved. It's going to make me feel like a porcupine.

I think it's totally within bounds to say, "I know that you're bringing along a young and athletic and talented horse, and that at the moment you're participating in a sport known for being even more dangerous on top of that. I also know that all of this is very important to you, but I want to register that it makes me nervous sometimes because I want you to be safe and healthy." I would listen to that, and I'd be open to having a discussion with that person about what safety measures I take and why. That's an honest conversation. But I wouldn't want to have that conversation all the time, or to feel like I was being pressured into changing my behavior or out of entering things I wanted to do or whatever, because: it's my body. It's my life. Anyone in a long-term relationship with me would know all of this about me going in, because it's a huge part of who I am, this need to be my own person.

Everyone's circumstances are different, and I can see why Sarah's husband is worried after her crash. I'm not here to tell you what your response to such a conversation should be. Mine may be against the grain, but I feel very strongly about it. Besides, all Mo and I are doing is trotting circles and trying to dodge enormous flies, and everyone gets sick of reading about that, right?


  1. Yes to all of this!

    Another side to this that's worth thinking about is the false sense of security that safety gear provides. Are we willing to jump higher, go faster, move up a level before we're ready, jump without supervision, etc simply because we're armed with certain gear? I think it's something to think about... because no, we absolutely wouldn't if we didn't feel safe, but "safe" includes much more than just gear.

    Are you on the right horse? Are you being over faced? Are the circumstances going to provide a favorable outcome for you and your equine partner (for example, you getting off Mo because of the bugs/meltdown knowing that it wasn't going to improve and no one was around). Do you have the right trainer or are they going to push you beyond your skill/comfort level?

    There's plenty to factor into this equation of safety and a hard and fast ultimatum doesn't really feel like the answer to me. And none of this means that I don't respect Sarah's situation and her decision:)

  2. I don't react super well to being TOLD to do anything. My late husband asked if jumpers wore safety vests and if it would help keep me safe. I said that they didn't (only XC) and that with the way jumps fall down in jumpers, I don't think it would make a big difference in the majority of falls that I have. He understood that, and accepted it. Now if it would make him feel MUCH better about my riding for me to wear a safety vest I would consider it. That would be MY decision made as part of the compromises of marriage, not being told what to do with my hobby.

  3. I support everyone's right to do whatever they want . . . including injuring themselves through stupidity (my take on not wearing a helmet). However, I would also say that if you are going to take the risks, make sure you have the means to take care of yourself if something should happen. Have a living will. Have life insurance. Have a regular will. Have a disability policy that will cover the costs of being a vegetable for the rest of your body's life. Prepare for the worse. Sometimes it happens.

    1. This. Exactly. Personal decision but make sure you are able to provide for yourself if things go drastically wrong. A few years ago there were a couple of rider accidents that made their way onto Facebook in the form of gofundme requests because said rider had no insurance. It saddens me that people are willing to risk putting themselves and their families in that horrible situation. Healthcare isn't cheap but insurance is much cheaper than paying outright for medical care and you may need care for the rest of your life.

  4. You know what the number one cause of TBI is? Motor vehicle accidents. And yet I've never heard anyone advocate for wearing helmets and chest protectors while in a car. We accept the much higher risk of being severely injured in a car accident, and don't judge the Gofundme sites set up for victims of car accidents, without question. People eat, drink, text, talk on the phone, speed, and generally act like utter nincompoops while operating a car, but then vilify the equestrian who doesn't wear a helmet. It doesn't make any sense to me. Do what you like, but try not to kill anyone else in the process (I'm looking at you, person posting selfies on FB while driving and 10 seconds later yelling at someone else for posting a picture of a helmet-less rider.)

    Riding is dangerous whether or not you're wearing a helmet and chest protector, and you should have damned good insurance no matter what safety equipment you're using. There's a hell of a lot more to your body than just your head and your ribs. My disabling injury was to my lumbar spine. My helmet did exactly diddly squat to prevent it and if it weren't for really good insurance I would have been screwed.

  5. =D I waffled about publishing that post but I am so glad I did - what a great discussion because it's not just about safety, but independence and relationships intersecting with our hobby.

  6. interesting commentary all around! like i said in Sarah's post, that kind of ultimatum doesn't sit well with me, but it's all about weighing outcomes. is the potential benefit of pleasing a spouse (and we're just gonna presume that their's is a healthy and non-manipulative relationship) outweighed by the need for autonomy about one's vest? truly i hope it never comes to that for me (because stubborn), but the answer i think is no. in that situation i'd probably wear the vest too.

    one of your examples tho - about the BNT who's jumping the standards with no helmet and a cig + ipod, and would it be different if he were your husband? i'm not sure that's a fair example bc more than likely, that laissez faire attitude of his expresses itself in other parts of his personality as well. so if ya married the guy, presumably you already know that about him and are cool with it. if you're not cool with it, then you don't marry it, right? i might be stretching here as a non-married person, but don't ppl typically marry individuals with somewhat similar values?

    but generally - yea i agree with you here. there are certain rules i have for myself but i'll be damned if i extend them to others around me. (except i am totally guilty of chiding the teens at my barn for wearing flip flops around horses lol...)

  7. This is such a personal decision, and so many factors go into it. If any of my close family members wanted to have an honest conversation about riding safety, I would approach it the same way I do with my husband. But then again, I think a lot of that has to do with my personality. You are much more fiercely independent than I am. Neither way is better... it's just different. <3