Helmet Saves My Life
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The Importance of Wearing a Helmet

    On Saturday the 20th of September, 2003 I took a rather hard spill while riding my horse.  In retrospect, the accident happened because of stupidity on my part but as humans are "humans" from time to time we do stupid things.  If it were not for the helmet that I was wearing (smart thing) I am certain that I would not be writing this today.

   During our experiences in life we learn things that tend to become rules, things we do or don't do no matter what.   For me, early in life after getting married, I set a rule for myself to always wear a seat belt when driving a car and when I began riding horses I set another rule that I would always wear a helmet and that includes my wife and family.   I am stubbornly consistent about this.  If for some reason I leave on my horse, forgetting my helmet, I get off and walk back to the house to retrieve it before continuing my ride.   No one in my family including their friends is allowed to ride without a helmet no matter what the excuse!  I thank god for my pesky stubbornness for I am certain that this helmet saved my life or at the very least saved myself and my family from the tremendous anguish of me becoming a vegetable which would be worse than death itself.

   The story goes like this: On a beautiful Saturday morning my wife Gina and I saddled up our main endurance horses for a training ride with our good friend Donna.  A training ride for us consists of mostly trotting at a brisk pace with some cantering and walking thrown in for variety while traveling a distance of about 14 miles.  The ride was going really well with my personal Arabian gelding feeling really good that day.  While nearing the end of our ride, I decided on a detour that would have taken us a few extra miles on a really fun and fast paced trail.  Donna whom was right behind me was not expecting the abrupt change in direction as we were in about the last two miles of our normal ride and she was probably thinking about breakfast or something.  Anyway, she ended up departing her horse at a fast trot.   She was unhurt but her horse decided that she was thinking about breakfast too and headed for home without her.

   Past experience has shown me that chasing down a riderless horse never seems to have the desired outcome.  No matter how hard you try, the riderless horse will usually out maneuver you or want to race.  Because of this, I will usually just let the horse go in hopes that they will discover that they are alone somewhere down the trail and come running back to the group.  In our case, if the horse chooses to not come back to the group, there is some risk in just letting a horse find it's way home as the horse would need to cross three paved streets safely.  After a minuet or so passed it became quite evident that Donna's horse was more interested in breakfast than the company of her trail mates   Now what?  Do I follow my previously acquired wisdom about chasing riderless horses?   NOT!  I'm tough!  I'm bad!  My horse is really fast!   Off I went leaving my brains in a pile on the trail behind me.

   As I take off after Donna's horse I am thinking to myself  "You know dumb ass, your girth is not tight enough for this type of riding".  Oh but I have a breast collar and crupper, that will compensate for a loose saddle won't it?   I put the loose saddle out of my mind (must have left another pile behind me) and continue after the horse.  In a few minuets I can see sight of the horse and so I nudge my horse ever faster to catch up.  Soon we enter a sand and gravel pit that is adjacent to the first paved road.  Down the slope we go to the bottom of the pit as I ask a bit more from my horse.   I must have been within 20 feet of the loose horse as we began to rise out of the pit to the other side.  One more cluck for speed and we'll have her.  NOT!

   How exactly I departed my horse I am not sure.  I just remember that I needed some support from my left stirrup and it was not there because of my loose saddle.  Usually I resort to my bareback days when this happens and I recover OK but the speed I was traveling (full gallop) and the forces involved, overpowered my reflexes.  My next thoughts were an overwhelming feeling of knowing that I was going to eat shit?  I blanked out and woke up in the last ten feet or so of sliding on my back.  I distinctly remember the sound of gravel grinding away at my helmet and my body.

   I can only imagine that when I hit my head on the very hard ground I was knocked out leaving a gap in my memory as to just exactly what happened in the last seconds.  I lay on the ground thinking to myself  "Well at least for the moment I am still alive".  I sit up and take my helmet off, damn, that thing is really smashed, so glad I was wearing it as my head is the best feeling part of my body.  The ground that I was sitting on was as hard as pavement from the dump trucks running over it yet much more abrasive because of the imbedded and protruding gravel.  I bet my back is chewed to shit I thought as I was sitting there wondering if I could stand up.

   After a minute or so I rose up only to realize that now I know exactly what it is like to get body slammed by Godzilla.   Back down I went.  Things don't feel quite right, I better just sit here for awhile.  Again I rose up but realized that moving around with a potential spinal injury or pelvis fracture would not be good.  While waiting for Gina and Donna to show up I called my son with my cell phone to come and get me or at least look for the horses if lost.  In short order there was quite a crowd gathered around me as the neighbors were worried about the two riders that were obviously missing from the horses that went blasting though the neighborhood.  When my son arrived with his truck I decided to see if just maybe I could get in the truck and figure out what to do from there.  As I rose this time I managed only to lay on his front seat, half in and half out as I nearly fainted from the pain.  That's it I said, call 911.

   At the hospital they pushed and prodded at my abdomen, took many x-rays and did a Cat Scan of my head looking for brain trauma. Very fortunately all they found between my ears was a big mass of fat or something.  They were not sure just exactly what it was except they were certain there was not much in there resembling brain matter.  I figured they would have found a few loose screws and not much else as I remember my brains falling out on the trail in a big green heap behind my horse at the beginning of the chase.   By the early afternoon they determined that nothing was broken and that I could go home.   Even though I felt really bad it was a relief to know that I was not all busted up.

   After arriving home I just took things real easy sitting in my lounge chair in front of the TV.  By late afternoon however I started feeling much worse and by evening I had completely passed out in front of Gina and my son two times scaring the shit out of them.  The doctors in emergency had said that I was all right so we did not get too overexcited about the fainting figuring that I must have a concussion especially when you consider how my helmet looks.  The next day I fainted again and began to have terribly painful abdominal cramps and started having a problem urinating.  After another day passed we decided that maybe we should let our family doctor have a look at me.  He told me from the symptoms I was having, most likely there was internal bleeding and that I had better go back to the hospital for a full abdominal scan.

   My doctor called me with the results and said that I must have really slammed the ground hard as I have a grape fruit sized hematoma in my abdomen.  He told me that as long as I continue to feel better each day that the surgeons would not open me up as there is risk involved with that also.  He also told me that if they would have discovered the bleeding while I was in the emergency room they would not have hesitated to cut me open and stop the bleeding.  While I was glad that it seemed that the bleeding had stopped and that I did not need immediate surgery, it was entirely possible that I could have bled to death internally.  It was the bleeding that was responsible for my losing consciousness at home and not necessarily because of a head concussion.  Lucky me I suppose.  As I write this I am feeling much better but it will take a couple of months for the hematoma to be absorbed.

   I write this story in hopes that it might influence you or others around you to give great consideration to the incredible protection given by wearing such a simple device as a helmet.  We can break lots of things in our bodies and still survive but if we damage our brains we are in deep shit.  There is so much more to think about than yourself for it is your loved ones that will suffer the most if you are killed or turned into a vegetable. The risk of serious head injury can so easily be avoided or at least greatly minimized.  Please don't let your vanity or machoism deter you from what you know is right.   Some of you might be saying to yourself that you don't ride like a fool as I, but I could write several other stories about people I personally know that have had serious accidents while just mounting their horse or poking along slowly down the trail.   I'll bet you can tell me a few stories too.

   Kirt Lander

Copyright 2003,  Kirt Lander