Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

The Great Helmet Debate


Well, it’s two days until mustang pick-up, and I’m getting increasingly more and more excited.

One thing I’d like to clarify to my readers before I embark on this journey is that I’ll be wearing a helmet 100% of the time. While helmet use has increased within the past few decades, I realize that plenty of people still choose not to wear them.

The first thing I did was create a poll to gauge helmet preferences before I share a personal experience and continue to advocate helmet wearing throughout this story. I will repeat the poll after the competition to see how, and if, preferences have changed.

I’m sure you’ve already heard many stories about why wearing a helmet is important, but I figured that adding one more to your repertoire will only reinforce this.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work.

I often choose to wear a helmet with fresh horses when doing ground work. This talented mare belongs to Cynthia Labruzzo.

Three years ago, when I was 17, I took a horse that I believed I knew very well out on trail. I’m going to omit the name and description of this horse to protect her reputation, seeing as the accident was not her fault and she has been doing great.

She was green at the time, but had been fairly reliable. I took her out on trail by myself, and made a giant mistake: I did not bring a cell phone, even though I had been told my entire life by my trainer to bring one out on trail.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

My trainer Ainslie and me trail riding when I was 9. I learned to wear a helmet from a young age.

However, I was wearing a safety vest, which you’ll see me wear when I start my mustang under saddle. I was also wearing a helmet, but it was a poorly-fitted, older model. I was really only wearing it because I was always taught to wear something, but I hadn’t bothered to invest in a new, correctly-fitted one in a long time.

Those of you who live and trail ride in New England I’m sure are familiar with the stony trails. Our horses must often pick through paths adorned with huge protruding boulders. It was during one of those especially stony parts of the trail that my seemingly quiet horse threw one of the most extreme bucks I had ever experienced.

There were no warning signs, and at the time there didn’t seem to be any contributing factors. The next thing I remember was waking up on the ground. The memory  is foggy, but one thing I will always remember clearly is the blood pouring down all over the rocks.

The funny thing is that I didn’t feel any pain. I felt like I was floating. The most terrifying aspect of the situation was that I couldn’t remember much about myself or how I’d gotten into the situation. I had a vague sense of direction, so I started walking, but I kept falling over. I remember thinking that if I didn’t reach home soon I was going to have to collapse and scream for help.

I’m not sure whether twenty minutes or thirty seconds passed, but eventually I saw a man walking in close proximity with his dogs. I remember mustering up the last of my strength to run up to him and ask for help. In retrospect, I can only imagine how shocking the situation must have been for him: being on a peaceful walk in the woods with his dogs only to be approached by a bloody, crying, dirt-covered teenager.

Some survival instinct within me must have registered that I had finally found help, because my memory blacks out completely right at that moment. When I woke up, I was still in the woods, but time had passed. Somehow, my trainer Ainslie was there, sitting on the ground comforting me.

It’s hard to describe how my head felt at that moment. There was still no pain, although blood continued to pour from my nose, but my disorientation caused enough fear that I kept repeating the same question to Ainslie: “Am I dying? Am I dying?”

She kept reassuring me that it was just a concussion, and that I was fine. To this day I don’t know if she truly believed it, because by the time the EMTs finally arrived and were able to carry me out of the woods on a stretcher, they skipped Emerson (the closest hospital) and took me straight to Lahey Clinic in Burlington. Lahey has a better head trauma center.

There, I waited for hours in paralyzing fear as my senses returned to me. Doctors scanned my brain to make sure I didn’t need emergency surgery. The hours during which I awaited news were long and dreadful, and I will never forget them.

Thankfully, the results returned: there was no bleeding in my brain, just a bad concussion and a broken nose. There was a lump on the back of my head where I presume it had hit the rocks, and it’s possible I got the broken nose from a kick to the face as the horse ran away (yes, she was shod on all 4 feet). I had been wearing a helmet, and had it been fitted properly, perhaps I would have been fine, I will never know. However, one thing I’m sure of is that if I had not been wearing a helmet, I would be dead.

The doctors said that my safety vest may have saved me from some more serious back damage, and this is the reason I often wear a vest today.

It turns out that I was very lucky in the end. I was lucky I understood the importance of helmets from  a very young age and always remember to wear one. I was lucky I put my safety vest on that day. I was lucky that I recovered very quickly and that I was back on a horse before I knew it.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don't wear helmets, but I'm not one of those trainers.

One of my many rides since the accident. Often, bridleless trainers don’t wear helmets, but not me.

We discovered several months later that the mare I was riding had nerve damage on her back from an accident that occurred when she was younger and there had been no way to prevent or predict the accident. This is why I wear a helmet with every horse . We had no idea that she was having occasional painful spasms in her back.

To get more involved in the issue of helmet awareness, I would recommend checking out the organization Riders4Helmets. They also have a FaceBook page here.

Hours after my accident, I learned that I kept walking and talking to the man with the two dogs even after I blacked out. Apparently, he had asked if I needed to make a call, and I had surprisingly remembered Ainslie’s number. I guess years of calling it has engraved it into my brain. Ainslie tells me that she picked up the phone and heard my voice, sounding distant and vague, saying, “Hey Ainslie. I want you to know that the horse is on her way home.” Ainslie had stayed quiet after this confusing comment, at least until I elaborated: “And I’m going to need an ambulance.”

While I consider myself lucky, the fear associated with the memories from this accident will stay with me forever. I hope that this will encourage those who took the time to read this to stay safe.

Also, if you haven’t already, make sure you like my Facebook page and maybe even donate to our GoFundMe account.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.

Showing off my helmet the other day on Pop, a lovely mare owned by Deb Koehler.


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2 thoughts on “The Great Helmet Debate

  1. Great post. Thanks for sharing your story…so glad you recovered and so glad you will always wear a helmet. I like you a lot, I want you around.

  2. Great post Juliane, what a scary story! I’m excited to meet your mustang, and watch you work with her, and follow your adventures through your blog and Facebook.

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