April 19, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

On a crisp February morning, 12-year-old Brittany Sanderson was anxious to saddle up her palomino mare and go for a ride. In her hurry, she forgot to put on her helmet. Luckily, her mother soon noticed and corrected the situation.

Call it luck, divine intervention, whatever you wish; wearing a helmet likely saved Brittany's life that February morning.

"When I got to the pond, I reached back and scratched her and that's when it happened," Brittany recalled. "She must've gotten scared because she started rearing and bucking. I was on an English saddle so I didn't have anything to hold onto."

As the horse spun in circles, Brittany had her foot stuck in the stirrup and she said the horse kicked her in the head three times. The final time cracked the helmet, broke the chin strap and sent the helmet flying.

"I'm just glad she had on that helmet," said Tina Sanderson, Brittany's mom, pointing to a crack in the back of the helmet. "It would've been much more severe without it -- easily a coma, paralysis or something just as bad."

Tina said she'd never worn a helmet while riding in the past, but Brittany's accident prompted her to begin wearing one herself and teach her youngest son about helmet safety.

"It's a little uncomfortable," she admitted. "But between that and protecting your head, it's definitely worth it. Adults can choose to wear a helmet, but children need to be guided; wearing a helmet can save your life."

Brittany started riding and showing horses in 4-H, where wearing a helmet is now a requirement for sanctioned 4-H horse events. Unfortunately 4-H can't make its members wear a helmet at home, so 4- H'ers have to decide for themselves.

University of Kentucky Equine Extension Associate Ashley Griffin and Deb Reed from the UK College of Nursing and the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention gave Brittany a new helmet to replace the one she lost in her accident.

"We always ask the child to keep the helmet with their tack as a part of their regular equipment," she said. "If they do, they learn very quickly that a helmet goes on them just like that saddle goes on the horse."

Reed said helmets are becoming more lightweight and comfortable all the time. She said the most important thing to look for in a helmet is a label inside reading ‘SEI' certified. That certification means the helmet has to withstand three times the force of gravity and impact when it is tested.

Griffin and Reed agree wearing helmets is one of the best safety precautions a person can take when they ride horses, however they are also quick to point out that safety goes beyond a helmet.

"We want to promote and encourage wearing helmets, but we don't want 4-Hers and parents to get a false sense of security," Griffin said. "Yes, you're protecting your head. But, you still need to follow good safety practices because horseback riding is a high risk activity. There's still no cure-all for ignoring safety."

To learn more about 4-H programs and safety requirements, visit the Kentucky 4-H web site at http://www.ca.uky.edu/ag/4hhorse


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