Monday, June 4, 2012

Robyn's Rule

The first and most important rule on our farm is Robyn’s Rule:  Every rider must wear a properly fitting, ASTM-approved helmet with the strap buckled at all times while mounted.  Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t create this rule for insurance reasons or because we are afraid of getting sued.  In fact, this has been my personal rule for nearly a decade, ever since I made a promise to a woman I never met, who lives more than 3,000 miles away from me. 

That woman’s name is Regina, and on August 8, 2003, she lost her teenaged daughter, Robyn, as a result of injuries suffered in a tragic riding accident.  Witnesses say Robyn was mounting her horse bareback to go on a trail ride.  She was not wearing her helmet, even though that was something she always did.  Her horse began walking off down the barn aisle before Robyn had her balance.  Robyn slid off his neck and landed on her head.  Despite immediate, expert medical attention, Robyn never regained consciousness.  After four weeks in the pediatric ICU, she was deemed stable, though she remained in a coma.  The day before she was to be released to a rehabilitation facility that specializes in waking comatose patients, her heart simple gave out.  She left behind her mother, father, brother, and many more friends and family members who will never stop missing her. 

While Robyn’s accident was a complete “freak” accident and no one’s fault, it serves as a startling reminder that life is precious and horses are unpredictable.  Robyn had a phenomenal trainer, a loving family, and a great horse.  I cannot possibly express the rest of my thoughts more eloquently than Regina herself did, so in her own words: 

. . .  I've read all the threads about helmet laws or improved helmet laws and freedom to wear or not to wear one and other such political issues. Everyone, please understand, that for whatever reason my daughter did not have on a helmet, the fact remains she is dead. My best friend is gone. You can argue rights and politics until the cows come home, but, until you stand over the casket of your 18 yr old daughter who had so much left to give, but was taken so suddenly, please don't stand on principle about your rights. Get off your soap boxes and realize that what people are trying to tell you is that they love you and don't want to see you hurt. That's it. No politics. No infringement on your rights. Plain and simple, they love you and don't want you to get hurt. Not to wear a helmet is not "exercising your rights." It is a selfish act that has the potential to leave devastating grief behind for those who love you. You may pass on with your principles intact; but the friends and family you leave behind will suffer indefinitely.

So, to anyone who asks why we are so strict about our helmet rule, the answer is simple:  We care about you and want to see you enjoying horses safely for many, many years.  Nothing will ever make horseback riding 100% safe, and a helmet cannot protect you from every injury…  but they are a simple, inexpensive way to prevent many serious injuries.  We strive to instill safe handling and riding practices in our riders – and helmets will always be mandatory here. 

Top Flight Farm is forever grateful to Regina for bravely sharing her story and for allowing us to share it with others.  If sharing Robyn’s story causes just one more person to reach for a helmet every ride, it will be worth it.

To be clear, while helmets will always be mandatory on our farm, we are not advocating laws requiring all riders to wear helmets.  Rather, we are encouraging people to choose to reach for their helmets every ride because we want everyone to safely enjoy horses for many years.   

On that note, here are some of our Helmet Tips to help keep you as safe as possible:

DO get properly fitted for a helmet before purchasing.  The same sizes in different brands may fit differently, so one size or one brand does not fit all.  Your helmet should be snug all the way around your head and be adjusted so that, if you wiggle the brim, your eyebrows will move.   

DON’T buy a helmet on looks alone.  You can be stylish and safe, so make sure that helmet fits properly first.

DO store your helmet in a cool, dry place when not in use. 

DON’T keep your helmet in your car.  The high temperatures inside a locked car, especially in the summer, can start to degrade the protective Styrofoam in your helmet. 

DO use only a damp cloth or helmet cleaner to clean your helmet.  Better yet, buy a helmet with a removable, washable liner, so you can just toss the liner in the wash.  You can also store your helmet with a lightly scented dryer sheet inside to keep it from getting smelly. 

DON’T put your helmet in the washing machine or dishwasher to clean it.  The water and high temperatures will degrade the helmet’s protective Styrofoam.  In fact, don’t ever submerge your helmet in water or subject it to very high temperatures. 

DO replace your helmet every 3-4 years or every fall, whichever occurs first.  The interior of your helmet is designed to crack or break upon impact to protect your head.  Always replace your helmet after any fall in which you hit your head.  If you are lucky enough to not have any falls for 3 or more years, congratulate yourself with a new helmet!  Check with your helmet’s manufacturer to see the age at which they recommend replacement. Absent a fall, my rule of thumb is to replace my helmets every 3 years no matter what, even if the manufacturer recommends a longer time period.  You should choose whatever makes you most comfortable, but don’t exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

DON’T ever buy a used helmet.  Even if you can confirm the age of the helmet, you cannot guarantee that it has been properly handled and never involved in a fall. 

DO fit your helmet straps snugly and buckle your helmet before you mount. 

DON’T ride with your helmet unbuckled.  It doesn't work if it's not buckled!  

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