I went to a barrel race a couple of weeks ago, and while I was awaiting my timed runs, I was referred to as “helmet girl”. “Helmet girl, you’re next!”, one of the event staff yelled. She meant no harm by her statement. But it caused me to look around, noticing that I was, in fact, the only competitor wearing a helmet.

Helmets are a little less common amongst western riders.
Helmets are a little less common amongst western riders. Photo by Jyo Estacio.

When I put a helmet on, I do so knowing that I am likely to stand out in the western world. I know I’m not the only one that has ever felt this way. It used to bother me, as I’d rather fit in with the rest, but there came a point where I stopped caring. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t judge anyone that chooses not to wear a helmet. Everyone deserves to make that choice for themselves, especially because helmets are not required in most western events. I actually used to be a little anti-helmet. I liked feeling the wind in my hair, having full visibility, not sweating bullets, etc. I thought I looked a bit dorky in a helmet. So what changed?

I do think it takes one bad fall to change your mind. My little barrel horse decided to play rodeo bronc for the day. I hit the ground head-first. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet, because my temporary blackout could have been much, much worse. Only two good things came from that fall: 1) a viral Facebook video, and 2) I decided that I had better start protecting my noggin for good.

Here are some other reasons why I decided that being a “helmet girl” was the life for me.

1. Life is precious. I know this for many reasons, one of which is having family and friends that are first responders. Accidents happen every single second of the day, and everything can change in a split second. We cannot always live our lives thinking “it can’t happen to us”. So I wear a helmet to minimize my risks.

2. I feel more confident when I’m wearing a helmet. Like I could maybe kick a little more at the barrel race, and truly push myself and my horse. I feel a tad bit more invincible. When you’re brave in this sport, you’re successful.

3. I like challenging horses. I like the horses that buck and rear. The ones that spook at discolorations in the dirt, want to launch you into the next state for no apparent reason, etc. I hop on those horses knowing my risk of falling is greater, and yet I still love the challenge. So I wear a helmet.

4. There are awesome helmets out there. You’re not being forced to wear a black velvet helmet in the western world.  Helmet designs are changing as more western riders demand them. You can get a super ranchy looking, leather-covered helmet, like the Troxel Cheyenne. Then, you can blend in a little bit more, and still look like you’re going to run barrels rather than jump a course! Note: Always make sure that the helmet you choose is ASTM/SEI certified!

This helmet, by Troxel, definitely has a western look. Photo by Jyo Estacio.

Some might think it’s easy for me to wear a helmet because I’m surrounded by English riders at my boarding facility. Nearly everyone wears one, as helmets are a part of the true English “look” and are required in their side of the show world. But when I step outside my boarding facility into the middle of a western event, I’m not ashamed to be called “helmet girl”. I have my reasons for wearing one, just like you might have your reasons for not wearing one.

If you’re on the fence about wearing a helmet, just do it. What have you got to lose?

A Note From a Western Rider That Wears a Helmet

Blog written by Nicole Fava (@hoofloose on Instagram).