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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How A Helmet Saved My Brains.

Happy National Helmet Awareness Day! In order to stress the serious important of the 'every time, every ride' principle, I want to share with you all the story of how a helmet saved my brains. Especially after what happened, I will never get on a horse without a helmet, nor will I ever handle a dangerous or amped up animal without one either. (One of my favorite teachers at school was in the breeding shed and was knocked senseless when a well-meaning but insufferably klutzy stallion mounted the phantom and clocked her in the head with a hoof. Another place I'll always wear one!) Helmets are like seatbelts. Is there really a good and logical reason NOT to wear them? No. Unless you want to die a horrible, bloody painful death, which is pretty much the only perk I see. I would literally not be here today to tell you this story if it hadn't been for my helmet. It for sure saved my life.

I was fortunate as a kid to have ridden at a barn where it was a set in stone rule that you always wore your helmet, no exceptions, no matter what was going on. I distinctly remember riding off property once with a friend, neither of us with proper headgear, and getting SCREAMED at by my trainer when we returned home some hours later. I never did that again, that's for sure! Time went on and I grew up, had and lost two geldings, and found myself with a little crazy mare named Gogo, rehabbing her brain from her time with the woman who screwed her up so royally. She was very, very claustrophobic of contact, and would rear, panic or bolt whenever the reins got just a hair too tight. I got her back from the Crazy Trainer in late June of 2007 as a manic, frightened mess; by August, I felt as though we might probably be okay at a horse trial (we had done one in early July just for experience, and it wasn't a total disaster. Only partly!). The show was in Pennsylvania, about an hour from where I lived in Ohio, and I planned on trailering in the night before to school at the grounds and stable there. It was my parents' anniversary the day before the show, but they still wanted to come with me and spectate, so they drove the four hours down from Michigan, hopped in the rig with Gogo and I, and continued on with me for another hour to the venue. I had never schooled any of my horses the day before the show at the actual grounds before, and actually never have since, mostly because of my own nerves; I normally give them a day of rest and acclimation instead. For some reason, this particular time I decided to do things differently. We arrived, unloaded our hay, shavings, and buckets, and went back for Gogo. I should have known something was up when I went to unload my horse in the same exact manor as I always had when trailering alone - drop butt bar because she refused to move unless I was at her head, go up front, unhook her from the tie, and unload - and not two seconds after dropping the butt bar, she exploded in the trailer, broke her halter, shot backwards, and rolled over off of the ramp practically into my parents' laps. (For the record, this is the perfect example of how NOT to ever unload your horse! I have since learned my lesson and untie FIRST, ALWAYS. And thankfully, she now backs off quietly if you just tug on her tail.) Hmmm, I thought. That was interesting. But then again, ever since Crazy Trainer, my horse had certainly been freakishly quirky, so I went about my business and started tacking up. My parents left the showgrounds to go find the hotel, promising to return and pick me up whenever I called to say I was done for the evening. I finished tacking, mounted, and headed out to the big field where everyone was riding and warming up in preparation for an early start the next day.

Right from the get go, she was just bad. Just... BAD. She was tense, rushing, gnashing at the bit, spooking at everything, and in general being a holy terror. I don't think she hurt herself in any way after she fell out of the trailer, but I do think it seriously stressed her out, and she wasn't letting go of her anxiety for all the oats in the Quaker factory. I had stayed almost exclusively on one 20 meter circle for the first part of the ride, but became increasingly frustrated with her spookiness and decided to trot to the other end of the field and just let her relax. To my left, I caught out of the corner of my eye a big bay putting on his best National Finals Rodeo impression, launching his rider into the stratosphere before galloping back to the stabling, which was conveniently located right next to the warmup field. I could see the sparks starting to fly from Gogo's rapidly short-circuiting brain, and did my best to steer clear of the rest of the bucking, plunging crowd of horses. I was attempting to trot up a small incline towards one of the dressage arenas, but couldn't quite convince her to steer properly and found myself heading perpendicular to the crest of the hill, travelling horizontally on the incline. Not really a good place to be. There was a pile of something scary at the top of the hill on our right, and she spooked at it. And when I say spooked, I mean completely lost her ever-loving mind. The combination of a highly electric, brand new atmosphere, twenty bucking broncs around her, and the memories of the Crazy Trainer fresh at hand all sent her into a panic, and she bolted. Unfortunately, when she took off, she went shooting and flailing sideways, completely losing her balance as the hill fell away from us and she had nowhere to put her feet. The last thing I remember was watching the saddle coming towards me as she fell, and then nothing.

Bits of memories still stick with me from the following hours. Witnesses said that my horse did in fact land directly on my head with her torso, and immediately sprang up, standing splay-legged over me, staring down at my lifeless body. Unlike the other horse who had bucked his rider off and then galloped away to the stabling, she stayed glued to me, not moving a muscle or even taking a bite of grass the entire time I was laying on the ground. Bless her heart, she probably thought she killed me. As people ran to my aid, I had a big seizure, and then stayed unconscious for probably ten or more minutes. The TD had a very difficult situation on her hands; when I came to I reportedly refused treatment, even though I very clearly had a serious head injury. While I'm pretty sure you can call an ambulance for someone who might be hemorrhaging from the brain, you can also get all kinds of sued for kidnapping if she person really is okay and is refusing treatment. It was pretty apparent that I had a major head injury. Still, no ambulance was ever called.

I remember opening my eyes and being on my back, seeing through tunnel vision a few concerned faces floating around me, talking in far away tones that didn't make sense. The next thing I remember was sitting upright in a golf cart, looking around in confusion. I wasn't worried about it, but I had absolutely no idea where I was, or why I was there. I remember them asking me that very question, and responding calmly that I didn't know. Apparently, I asked to go see my horse, and they took me there, where I then gave her a flake of hay, but I have no memory of this. I don't know who took her back and untacked her. I actually have no idea how all my stuff got back in my trailer without anything getting left behind either. I was then shuttled to the show office, where I apparently asked again if I could go see my horse and give her hay. They told me repeatedly that she was okay and that I had already given her some hay, but I must have asked that question ten times or more. They asked me where my parents were, and not remembering that they were in fact only a few miles away, I told them that my parents were in Michigan, but couldn't remember their phone numbers. Someone in the office put two and two together, and found the horse trailer with the Michigan plates, digging around in my tackroom until they found my phone. They called "Mom cell" or whatever it was that they got to first, and managed to locate them. I guess once my parents arrived I went to see Gogo again and asked my neighbors to feed her for me, but don't remember any of his. I do remember being in the car going to the hospital, being in a room with South Park on TV, and being wheeled down in a rolling bed to get a CAT scan. My poor parents spent their wedding anniversary with their damaged kid in a hospital room until all hours of the night, begging the nurses to let them have some sort of icky hospital food for dinner since they had had nothing to eat all day. That is so crappy! But think of this, at least they didn't spent their wedding anniversary identifying my bloody, lifeless body in a field at a horseshow. That's what would have happened if I hadn't been wearing my helmet.

The next two weeks are pretty much nonexistent in my memory. Bits and pieces float around, but for the most parts, those are two weeks I'll never really get back. I have no idea how we got my horse home, how I took care of myself (thank you roommates), or how I managed to do anything at all in all honesty. Luckily, while I did have a major concussion, I had no lasting damage beyond my already-ingrained quirkiness which I now have an excuse for. The helmet was structurally intact on the outside, but clearly had served its purpose, so IRH graciously sent me a new one free of charge. I still have and wear that helmet today even though it never quite suited me as perfectly at my original IRH. I would never even think about going without a helmet while riding, even if I was sitting on my horse bareback for a minute and a half. You just never know. Look at Courtney King. And Gogo might have come a million lightyears from the mental trainwreck she was on the day of the accident, but she's still that quirky little nutjob somewhere deep inside. Why would I ever take a chance?

My helmet saved my life and brains. What's your excuse for not protecting yours?


Melissa said...

Oh wow. So glad you came out of that one okay. I'm surprised they didn't call an ambulance as soon as they saw you were unconscious.

One of my earliest horse-related memories was attending a horse show with my grandmother, and watching the warm-up ring. I was five, maybe. A couple of the horses were acting up, and one with a frightened boy on its back started rearing. I don't remember what happened, but I don't think the horse fell or went over backwards. The next thing I remember is the rider unconscious on the ground like a discarded doll, someone catching the loose horse, and an ambulance driving up the access road with lights flashing. I was too young to really understand what'd happened at the time, but I didn't forget, and it worries me now. I wonder what led up to the accident, and what followed. I wish I knew.

Katherine Erickson said...

Having also had a helmet save my life when I broke my neck and had a major concussion in a fall schooling at home in 2007, I know how you feel! I wear my helmet absolutely every time, every ride at home, but only decided in May to ditch the hunt cap in competition. As your story highlights, there is absolutely nothing about a show atmosphere that makes it more safe or appropriate to not be wearing protective headgear at a show versus at home (quite the opposite in fact). I never felt comfortable wearing a hunt cap, and after wearing my velvet helmet a few times I'm never going back. Yay helmets!!

Breathe said...

I wear a helmet because I won't be a hypocrite with my kids. They have to wear one and so do I.

I've watched enough Disney movies to know the world is always trying to knock off the mom.

Deered said...

My Mum broke her collar bone falling off a horse when she was in her teens, because she left her helmet at home and was just having a quick, gentle ride... the horse slipped over and she put her arm out to protect her head... that fall meant she missed 1/2 the summer season.

Luckily she never let us ride without one, and mine did save my noggin a few times. I slao had a scatty OTTB which I used to tack up with a helment on, until she settled a bit when handled. She never meant to hurt you - but she'd been mis handled and would sometimes spook and forget about the wee human!!

I'm also glad that I'm in NZ, where if you have an accident and refuse treatment - which is common with head injuries, an ambulance will normally still be called, and you will get taken to hospital if the medics think you need it. (oh and since it's from an accident - it's free)

Denali's Mom said...

That's insane! You're super brave for getting back on. I don't know if I could.

I have an IRH helmet and LOVE it to pieces. I use to have a regular schooling helmet, and it was okay, but never comfortable. My IRH is amazing. Sometimes when it's hot and my head swells (or I have too much knowledge in there) it hurts a tad bit, but never that horrible. It's saved my ass more than once. (and yes, new helmet)

I feel naked without my helmet. It's like riding without shoes or pants (although I was stupid today and did ride bareback with shorts and sneakers) I always have to have it on. I honestly think people look stupid when they don't have one on. I think that's just me.

There are many a times when I first got Denali that I wore a helmet just while I was handling her. JUST in case! I don't want to be a vegetable and I want to be able to walk. I like living.

DressageIsToDance said...

Awesome post. I did a helmet blog just the other day, albeit on a different note - about why bike helmets are NOT riding helmets.

I had a mare slip in a grass-footing jumping arena and fall. Luckily she slid long enough before she fell, I was able to bail before I got trapped. She had a sore hip and was otherwise okay. Not long after that we were trail riding and another horse got on her rear, and she threw a huge buck, I went up on her neck, trying to hang on, but she was galloping still, and I slipped right in front of her. She couldn't avoid me and trampled over me. All I remember is a cloud of dust and a split second flash of her back legs coming towards me, and this disgusting "KKWWACCKK!" sound as her back hoof just whacked me right in the head.

She also stepped on my hip/pelvis and chest. I suffered no broken bones thankfully, although my face was swelled from being kicked. But my helmet was *shattered*. As in, when I got up, it was not on my head, it was in several pieces around me. Belle galloped off back to the barn, scared shitless that I was going to beat the fool out of her like her previous owner did.

I would be dead had I not had that helmet. Thanks to it, I was riding the next day.

heater a. said...

Holy crap! Thanks for posting this!!!! I always wear a helmet too. My horse is pretty low key, but he's young and I often ride alone. Like you said, you just never know.

I grew up riding in barns where helmets were optional once you were over 18. When I turned 18, I stopped riding for 2 years. When I finally went back, I took a beginner riding class at my local college. It was all western (talk about a confidence builder and some saintly horses). I didn't wear a helmet until I started jumping again later on. Then I moved to a barn where it was required to wear one, no matter what. My trainer started telling me horror stories like yours, and my helmet has been on every time ever since.

I also recently learned that helmets have an expiration date, and you're supposed to replace them after every fall. I had no idea. My poor old Troxel velvet helmet is almost 10 years old!!!! Yikes! So I ordered a new IRH. :)

Fyyahchild said...

Having someone you know die in a horrible accident like this is tragic. I used to ride with this girl Robin who was 17. She was a great rider and a wonderful kid. At a show she went to get a horse out of its stall and hopped on bareback to ride out to turn out. She knew better and I think just wasn't thinking about what could happen. I'm not sure exactly how but the horse spooked and somehow Robin hit a rafter with her head. She was in a coma for about a week before she died. I don't think you can experiencing loosing someone you know like that and not be impacted. Our trainer was devastated.

I've been riding WP for almost a year now and I still can't get used to riding without a helmet. I grew up in english barns riding h/j and you just always wore one. I'm glad that at some of the smaller western schooling shows helmets for the kids are starting to catch on but I'm a grown up and I'd like to see more people wear them.

Serena said...

I've never had a major head injury of any sort but I am Helmet Nazi. Srsly. Bike, motorcycle, horse, whatever. If I can fall off of it, I strap on a brain bucket. I have been lax about snowboarding in one, which is stupid because I get going pretty fast, so I got a helmet for this coming snow season as well. I replace my helmets all the time--i was actually just wishing the other day that I had saved all my "retired" helmets to hang alongside the old show ribbons. I just got a new schooling helmet and a new show helmet from SmartPak on Helmet Awareness Day and I hope they push this event every year!

Gina said...

I had an experience like yours jumping my horse through a gymnastic. He way over jumped the last vert. launched me and his knee caught my temple. I was out for over 6 mins. got back on (apparently they thought I was ok to keep riding) My good boy took care of me and the hispanic farm help noticed something was wrong when I got off and sat me in a chair and took care of my horse - apparently I was obsessing over cold hosing his legs. Eventually my bf came and took me to meet my dad at the hospital. 3 hours into our stay i was finally able to start remembering things - not from that day but like my birthday and stuff. However due to a deadliest catch marathon in the ER my horse's show name is Dutch Harbor. I went home and slept for a week and am still working through my fear issues with jumping.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

oh my god...another good reminder (for me too) to ALWAYS wear a helmet. I'm so glad you are OK. Whoa..scary.

The Crossroads said...

Wow, that is absolutely intense... I realize this post is well over a eyar old but still deserves the attention. It's a breath of freshair to see people so determined to wear their helmets.

My "close call, probably wouldn't be here without it." Moments was last May. My 4 year old, who was barely green broke, I took her out on a trail alone (idiot move #2) and tried to push her through a low spot in the trail. I was going to press her one more time then hop off and guide her through it. She reared straight up and flipped over, no transition to landing on her rump then on her back. Straight up flip. My head was the last thing to hit (so minor concussion, I would guess, they never did scan my noggin) She crushed my ankle and broke my knee. Very long story, I'll save you from it :) However, the mare is gone, I instilled too much trust into her and I realized I was not game for dealing with a horse with an attitude as bitter as hers and malicious in telling me "F you, not doing that." Mares, err, not my first go to gender. Get along better with geldings =P

I commend such a rider as yourself for continuing to wear your helmet. Way to go :)