Challenges for Black Equestrians in Helmet Fit

Chanel Robbins, an experienced equestrian with a deep connection to horse riding since her childhood, has faced a unique dilemma. As she embraced her Jamaican heritage by styling her hair in dreadlocks, her existing riding helmet no longer fit. This predicament highlights a broader issue faced by Black riders, particularly those with natural hair, who struggle to find helmets that cater to their diverse hairstyles, thus adding another layer to the pursuit of inclusivity within the predominantly white equestrian sport.

Robbins’ love for horseback riding began with the exchange of a cow for a pony by her grandmother when she was merely 7. Galloping on her pony Star in open fields offered an escape from personal worries, including her distant relationship with her biological parents and being one of the few Black girls in her neighborhood. Reconnecting with her Jamaican father, Robbins decided to embrace her heritage by styling her hair in dreadlocks. However, this choice meant her existing riding helmet no longer fit, an unexpected and emotional hurdle.

Overlooked Presence: Black Equestrians and Their Unique Struggles

The presence of Black equestrians within a sport predominantly characterized by its white demographic has often been overlooked. Celebrating Black identity through natural hair adds a challenge in finding accommodating helmets, hindering full integration in the equestrian community. The push for change is now underway, fueled by the awareness that horseback riding contributes significantly to sports-related traumatic brain injuries. However, helmet manufacturers stress the complexity of this issue and the substantial time and investment required for a comprehensive solution.

Caitlin Gooch, an advocate for this cause, grew up riding horses on her family farm in North Carolina. Her safety concerns stem from her father’s neck injury sustained during a fall from a horse without a helmet. To address the problem, Gooch initiated the hashtag #saddleuphelmeton, drawing attention to the issue and prompting discourse.

Improperly fitting helmets pose genuine safety risks, akin to placing a baby into an ill-fitting car seat. Several prominent equestrian helmet manufacturers express varying levels of awareness of the challenges faced by Black riders. While seeking solutions, some acknowledge the issue but caution that new helmets require significant time and financial investments.

The voices of almost twelve Black riders emphasize the extended quest to find helmets that fit properly, as some have encountered rejection from store employees who couldn’t provide assistance. The exact extent of the issue is unclear due to limited data, with the U.S. Equestrian Federation not requiring members to disclose their race. Consequently, Black riders constitute only a small fraction of the membership, emphasizing the need for more inclusive helmet solutions.

Safety Awareness: Horseback Riding and Traumatic Brain Injuries

The significance of inclusive helmets is underscored by a 2019 study revealing that 70% of reported equestrian falls result in head injuries. A properly fitting helmet is crucial in preventing more severe injuries like skull fractures.

While other sports have successfully adapted helmets to accommodate diverse hairstyles, the equestrian context faces distinct challenges due to its unique safety standards and certification requirements.. While efforts are being made to address this issue, the process is complex and may necessitate significant time and investment.

Chauntel Smith and Jenny Benton, founders of a Minnesota nonprofit, highlight ongoing challenges for young riders introducing horse riding to Black youth and children of color. Ensuring proper helmet fit becomes a time-consuming task, distracting from the intended safe and therapeutic experience for these young riders.

In essence, the quest for appropriately fitting helmets for Black equestrians remains a poignant journey toward inclusivity and safety within the equestrian world.

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