Sorry for that delay yesterday, folks. Today my wiener grande’s eye is slightly less disgusting and my vet is a little bit richer. I know why the vet is rich, but I can’t figure out why Chorizo’s eye is better since the antibiotic drops I was sold are managing to land everywhere but in his eye.

Yeah, so helmets – the ONLY topic in DQ land these days. Here is my story, which has at least a little relevance: Some of you know that I suffered a self-inflicted concussion several weeks ago. I learned that concussions compound exponentially if they happen more than once to the same head, so early last week when I felt sufficiently un-woozy to get on my horse, I dug out the brain bowl. Now, I have always been pretty old-school about helmets. I grew up in the days when a chin strap under a hunt cap was considered serious head protection, and somewhere in the bottom of a trunk is an old Caliente helmet with a red and white silk cover on it. That was for cross country. I’m so old school (or just plain old) I had already retired from eventing before protective vests had hit the scene.

So, the other day I pulled out that ugly helmet  I bought when Theo arrived as an unbroke three year old from Europe in 2003 (I was either being cheap or feeling poor when I bought it – probably feeling poor, since I had just paid more for Theo than I had for all the previous horses in my life COMBINED). I dusted off the nasty thing that sits too high on my skull like a pushed back trucker cap, and donned it to go for a walk hack. I decided that night I would buy myself a much groovier and more expensive Charles Owen helmet so that not only would I look better being safe, but by spending the money I hoped to incite the urge in myself to get my money’s worth by wearing it – not just once in a while when I was feeling mortal that day, but forever. I did buy the Charles Owen – of course the coolest, newest and priciest one is the one that fit best, but what’s an extra 50 bucks when you’re talkin’ about yer noggin? And what should happen in the midst of all my helmet-soul-searching? Courtney King-Dye’s accident. By whacking my own head like a coconut I had learned my lesson without the aid of a horse, though mine was still a lesson learned the hard way – no pun intended.  It seems that Courtney’s terrible misfortune is causing the biggest trend in riding apparel since full-seat breeches. People at dressage shows in FL wouldn’t be caught dead without a helmet now in the warm up, and some of them are even shunning their top hats in competition in favour of helmets. Is this a good thing? It is if it’s for the right reasons.

I do not want helmets to be mandatory for everyone all the time. If Ted Turner heads out on his half of Montana and decides to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, that’s his choice. I do not adhere to the paternalism that is slowly seeping into our freaked out, over-cautious society. If a person chooses not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, a horse or a snow board, it’s just an extension of the choice that person made to participate in a high-risk activity in the first place. There are those who would argue we have a civic duty to wear helmets because head injuries put a burden on the rest of the population with their medical expenses. It’s the same argument used against smokers. Why should I pay higher insurance premiums (yes, even Canadians do pay a fee for our medical insurance – only it’s a government-controlled pittance compared to American insurance) because someone else in my community smokes, gets emphysema, lung cancer and throat cancer and costs the medical system a crap-load of money to try and save. Yes, there is a certain logic in that argument. But let’s take it a little farther, shall we? All moral arguments are perched on a slippery slope. Let’s say I’m an armchair-traveling couch potato who walks to work in bubble wrap and doesn’t participate in any activities riskier than yoga. Based on the logic outlined above, I could argue that I am paying a price for every sky diver, downhill ski racer and three-day-eventer who chooses to participate in those high-risk sports. Why not ban risky activities all together? Let’s not ignore the fact that the most dangerous thing 99% of us do every day is get behind the wheels of our cars. If we banned cars, we would save a LOT of lives. But I wouldn’t want to live in that world.

I think it’s a little bit pathetic that it takes a seriuos injury to a high profile dressage rider to have everyone running for their helmets – come on folks, we always knew riding, even DQ style, is potentially dangerous; it would be an insult to Courtney and the danger she is in, as well as to her family and friends, to say that this sudden donning of the brain bowls is some kind of silver lining. It’s not. What happened last week to Courtney was awful. Period. Preventable? Sure. All accidents are. If we want to prevent every possible accident, then we have to go to the scenario I painted in the previous paragraph, and we still couldn’t prevent accidents entirely. If you were motivated to start wearing a helmet BECAUSE of Courtney’s accident, fine – but watch you don’t suddenly go all self-righteous on us. I believe it’s a good thing for people to wear helmets when they ride, but please don’t try to make helmet wearing a law for all riders, even when they are riding at home. If it’s your show, your facility, or your students – absolutely insist on helmets if that’s what you think is right (and I don’t disagree). But don’t take away the most basic human right – the one to choose how we live, and what risks to take when we are not risking any lives but our own.

Wow, I really had a lot to say about that! I’ll save the FEI’s wonderful maze of a new website until next week.