Jan. 27, 2004 -- Some were surprised, even shocked, to see barrel racer Delores Toole trading her cowboy hat for a helmet during competition in December 2004 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas. But Toole, who competed in the elite rodeo for the third time, and who finished second in the opening round, saw an opportunity to make a statement.
"I want riders...to know that it is okay to wear a helmet," said the Minter, Kansas, pro rodeo competitor. "Helmets have become an accepted part of other dangerous sports, and it is time they became an accepted part of western riding and rodeo too."
Troxel, a manufacturer of certified riding helmets, signed Toole as a sponsored rider and endorser as part of a campaign to promote helmet use in the western riding segment of equitation.
Each year, roughly 70,000 people are treated in emergency rooms because of equestrian-related injuries. Thousands more are treated in physician's offices. Head injuries account for about 20% of emergency room visits and are the leading cause of hospitalizations and death. Studies published in the professional journals Injury and Pediatrics concluded that "a significant decrease in those admitted with head injuries is associated with the increasing use of protective helmets."
While the English component of North American horse riders have widely adopted helmets as part of their riding attire, tradition continues to dominate among western riders who by-and-large prefer cowboy hats.
In another study published in The Journal of Family Practice, it was shown that risk of injury correlates with the amount of time spent riding and working with horses, not with a
rider's level of expertise.
Deb Mohon, eleven-time NFR barrel racing qualifier and 1990 World Reserve Champion, died of a head injury in 2003. She was no longer competing at the time of her death, but was training a horse for barrel racing and was not wearing a helmet.
According to Rick Timms, M.D., and Troxel CEO, the use of ASTM-certified headgear can greatly reduce the severity of head injuries and deaths among riders. (See the article Riding Helmet Safety Standards Explained)
"We were glad to have the opportunity to work with Delores Toole at an event of the caliber and scope of the National Finals Rodeo," said Timms. "It is our hope that her participation and enthusiasm will encourage many others to consider riding helmets as part of their equine
For more on the helmet debate in the western world, check out the February 2005 issue of Horse & Rider magazine. To order the issue, call 301-977-3900.