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  • Erin Long

Tradition vs. Safety, Hair in Hairnets

Did you know that horseback riding has over 2x the number of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) than any other sport? The Journal of Neurosurgery reported in 2016 that Equestrian activities caused 2,165 TBIs in adults, while ALL OTHER inter-personal contact sports (i.e. football, rugby, hockey, etc) had only 970. 

This statistic cannot be taken lightly. TBIs can cause a range of issues including difficulty seeing, loss of ability to balance, and extreme behavioral changes. Those symptoms can all severely disrupt someone’s life, and especially their riding career. So today, I want to talk about one of the ways we can be working towards a solution on this. 

Hair being put up in helmets using a hair net has long been a tradition in the horse world. It looks neat and keeps the hair out of the rider’s face. However, it also has a serious impact on helmet fit. You see, helmets are made to fit snugly against the skull. Having the hair in the helmet creates an uneven disbursement of pressure that prevents the normally sturdy dome-like structure of your helmet from performing at its maximum capacity. Even if we assume that your helmet is perfectly fitted in the store with your hair up, the moment your hair changes you would need a new helmet. You would have to do your hair exactly the same every single ride, with zero variation in style, length, or just how you put it up for this to work. As Kimberly Maloomian wrote while writing for The Plaid Horse, even something as simple as not washing your hair the same amount of time before each ride can dramatically impact your hair’s texture and volume in your helmet.  However, riders continue to be penalized for not having their hair up in their helmet. The two most common reasons I hear are A) it’s not traditional, and B) it’s distracting for the judge. Let’s start with tradition.  You all know I have never been one to stand up for tradition when presented with evidence to its contrary, but let’s play devil’s advocate here for a moment. Today’s hunter and equitation classes in almost all respects look effectively nothing like they used to. 

What I’m getting at is this: the sport will not be ruined for making changes in the name of safety, just like how it hasn’t ceased to exist following the changes we have already made. I would love to see more riders choosing their Brains over Beauty and opting to wear their hair in a neat bun or braid rather than up in their helmet.

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