Monday Morning Quickie – What’s The Cost Of Tradition Over Safety?


Today’s post is a little side-jog off the usual marketing topics, but it’s one on my mind this week. The horse world is pretty darn traditional in lots of ways, but when it comes to safety, what’s the cost of tradition?

I’ve been emailing with Debbie McDonald and Courtney King-Dye on an article that’s about to go up on Riders4Helmets.com this week. Courtney suffered a traumatic brain injury over a year ago when her horse tripped and fell on her; she wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time, being in a hurry and thinking she could skip it ‘just this once.’ She ended up being in a coma for a month. While she’s very fortunate that her injuries didn’t result in the permanent damage that often comes with head injuries, and plans to return to riding and competing, her days right now are filled with all kinds of rehab therapy, and she’s not yet able to walk without assistance. And that’s after a year of therapy.

Debbie started wearing her helmet religiously after Courtney’s accident, and good thing – recently she was pitched off a large, young gelding, landing on her head and thankfully messing up the helmet instead of her noggin. She says that helmet saved her life.

Image courtesy EQUISAFETY.com

This morning I came across a link to a British Horse Society (BHS) survey, shared on Twitter by @YourHorse (thanks!). The survey seeks to determine why more riders and carriage drivers don’t wear high-visibility (hi-viz) clothing, which can give an additional three seconds of reaction time by vehicle drivers.

According to BHS Senior Executive of Safety Sheila Hardy, not only does hi-viz equipment help drivers avoid hitting you, wearing it can help others find you should you be lying on the ground, perhaps unconscious, after a fall or accident on the trail.

The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) recently passed rule changes about helmet-wearing in both eventing and dressage competitions, although adult (over 18) FEI level dressage riders are exempt from the requirement. That rule change, while encouraging in terms of safety improvement, doesn’t even begin to address the traditional headgear of western disciplines, the cowboy hat.

yup, thats me!

Pro bull riding, bicycling, and hockey are three sports that have focused more on safety in recent years, and safety helmets are either required (hockey) or much more common than they once were (PBR and bicycling), but the introduction of helmets and other safety or protective gear often faces significant resistance.

OK, this is where we go back to marketing. It’s an interesting dilemma, overcoming resistance to change. And when that change is butting up against tradition as rich and as old as equestrian tradition, it’s particularly challenging. However, the tides can change, and horsebiz owners and managers can actually make a difference here:

  • Safety can be a selling point in marketing messages for riding stables, lesson programs, and trainers, especially when trying to attract those new to the horse world. Olympian Debbie McDonald now won’t even teach a student unless they’re wearing a helmet; how’s that for a strong message?
  • Manufacturers and retailers can also incorporate safety into their marketing, in ways that are both interesting and engaging. How about video clips of safety gear in action, or using photos of riders with helmets in catalogs and on websites? Make a big deal out of local or national ‘safety holidays’ with in-store displays or social media events. You can start with U.S. National Safety Month, which is this June.

Despite the best intentions, accidents can and do happen in the horse world. It doesn’t even matter how experienced or competent you are; both Courtney King-Dye and Debbie McDonald are Olympic riders and among the best in the dressage world! But a safer horse person is one that can remain in the industry, and be a customer, for a long time, so why wouldn’t we want to promote attention to safe practices and safety equipment? Seems like a no-injury-brainer to me.

Does your horsebiz have regular safety practices, or use safety in your marketing? Are you planning to make any changes to promote greater horse & rider safety? Share them via the Leave a Comment link below.

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6 Comments

Filed under Equine Industry Marketing, Monday Morning Quickie, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Monday Morning Quickie – What’s The Cost Of Tradition Over Safety?

  1. Your emphasis on helmets. I too was thrown mounting with out a helmet, “just this one time, I’m just going to walk!” Am ok but lucky.

    This also raises the big question about how often riders/trainers push their horse, thus triggering resistance and fear. Many organizations such as PNH (Parelli Natural Horsemanship) try to teach awareness and techniques to avoid such rider related errors. Important to think ” ask, please, thank you” instead of force and “understand resistance as a rider not horse error”.

    • Betsy, thank you for sharing, and I’m glad you’re OK after your fall.

      The rider/horse dynamic is certainly one part of the rider safety equation, and there are always ‘freak accident’ things, too, like Courtney King-Dye’s horse tripping and falling on her. It’s good to consider them both. LK

  2. nelda joy

    Thank you for addressing this subject. Change can come. Your ideas are on the mark for marketiing. Who would have thought that smoking would become banned in public indoor places? No one ever considered that possible 20 years ago. It was major ad campaigns that swayed public opinion. Your ideas of marketing pictures of riders in helmets are right on target. My daughter graduated with an equine degree and never wore a helmet the entire four years. I don’t understand the insurance company not requiring the University have a helmet requirement. We require helmets to be worn by all under l8 years and strongly urge all to wear one.
    This is important. Thank you for talking about this,

    • Thank you, Nelda, that’s a good point about how smoking habits, and what’s supported by public opinion and legislation, has changed dramatically in the past few decades.

      I, too, find it interesting that your daughter’s university program didn’t require helmets! Last fall, I noticed several activities at the World Equestrian Games (2010) where I was quite surprised the insurance underwriter didn’t require helmets: At the NRHA Ride a Reiner arena (where horses were sometimes being ridden by beginners) and also on the mechanical cutting horse (where a fall following a sudden jerk of the ‘horse’ could have meant someone hitting their head on the mechanics or pavement). LK

  3. Bob Meierhans

    HCI Summer 2010 newsletter

    The link above takes you to a discussion of helmets and safety by Yvonne Ocrant, JD, a member of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois board of directors.

    • Bob, thanks for sharing this link. I know Yvonne Ocrant (an equine industry attorney) to be very knowledgeable, and this is a nice overview.

      For readers: Yvonne’s article includes some info about helmet history, including how the ASTM/SEI standard came about. There’s also a great point that equestrian professionals (trainers, riding instructors, riding stables, etc.) should require riders who decline helmets to sign a Hard Hat Agreement in addition to a standard liability waiver – something to think about. Very worthwhile reading.

      FYI, this issue of the HCI Courier also has info about the American Horse Publications survey from last year (page 6) and info about me on page 3.

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