The Facebook great helmet debate – “Why wouldn’t you?”
It’s a sensible question, but for some the subject of helmets is much more complex than it should be. Dizzy spells are just one reason, there are many others, but this is the one I want to focus on here. I usually just scroll by these posts, but sometimes those asking this very intelligent question turn nasty and, quite frankly, it gets under my skin. The worst is the threats of “you’ll be drooling in your shoes, a burden to your family” – it takes some serious nerve to throw that at someone when all the facts are unknown – so let’s take a look at why someone (me) would choose to not always wear a helmet.
I’ll start out by saying that I used to wear a helmet daily when I was starting colts and giving lessons, and I still wear them on occasion if my head feels clear and I don’t think it will trigger me. I don’t wear them daily for more than a few days, because the longer I wear them, the more they trigger (same with sunglasses). I started using them to encourage younger riders to do the same, and helmets saved me a couple of times on a couple of horses.
However, my proprioception issues, which are likely related to my chronic Lyme, will sometimes trigger long bouts (sometimes lasting weeks) of dizzy spells from wearing anything on my head (hat/helmet/sunglasses). The more often I wear these things, the worse the dizzy spells gets and the longer they last. After 2 years of wearing a helmet, I got to where I couldn’t ride anymore – that’s not good if you’re a colt starter!
Throwing a pic in for posterity’s sake to show that I really have worn a helmet! I think this was my first time on this guy – I loved his mind and his movement. This was my first year training, and I wasn’t having major issues with dizzy spells, yet…
Dizzy Spells: When Helmets Become a Detriment
I found that continuously wearing a helmet day after day does not mitigate my risk of injury from falling off – it increases it. I fell off my own horse more during that time than I ever have – in part because of his symptoms, (he has a muscle disorder and started going symptomatic – complete with spooking and bolting, while I was training other horses) but in part because during my second year of training horses I was in a perpetual state of mild dizzy spells most of the time, and had a hard time staying on!
I was very likely to break something other than my skull coming off so often. I took many days off so that I never trained while having full-on dizzy spells (again, there was always a mild, foggy dizziness present at this time), but of course, I fell behind on training doing that which isn’t acceptable.
This had a massive effect on the rest of my life as well. These mild, constant dizzy spells were starting to affect areas like driving…
After one particularly bad spell, still fairly disoriented the next day, I drove to work and almost wrecked – if there hadn’t been room on the shoulder I would have hurt someone. It took me a couple more days to get passed that spell. So at this point I can’t ride, I can’t drive, the headaches are constant and unbearable, and I’m beginning to feel disoriented in places I know (trails, roads, etc. that I know look completely foreign to me and I keep getting lost). This is becoming way too big of an issue…
Dizzy Spells: One of the Ways Chronic Lyme Steals Your Life
So, I stopped training horses. There were a few other issues that went into this decision, including the health of my horse and my torn tendons (related to Lyme inflammation), but the dizzy spells were one thing I couldn’t get past, and I wasn’t going to train youngsters or “tune up” spoiled horses without a helmet!
I no longer ride high risk since I stopped training – no sports, jumping, etc; just trails. My horse is, at times, the definition of “the horse you want to wear a helmet on” due to tripping and sometimes spooking – that’s about 2% of the time I work him (PSSM needs work daily to stay managed), the rest of the time he’s amazing. Despite that I don’t wear a helmet while riding him, but if I’m feeling that he’s off (or I am) I’ll stick to ground work for both our safety.
The bottom line is that helmets are wonderful, and have saved a lot of lives. I’ve been told by very rigid people that they’d never ride with me because I don’t wear a helmet – I’d never consider not riding with anyone or slighting them in the least for wearing a helmet, but I guess I’m still unworthy in the eyes of some.
It seems that my comments get lost/ignored in these debates quite often, but there are those who’ve never heard of these types of issues and genuinely take the time to consider them – these people have my respect and gratitude, and are forward thinking enough to realize that riders may have a great reason for not wearing a helmet, they just aren’t sharing it with the world. Personally, I throw all my dirty laundry out there lol – my feelings are that maybe, just maybe it will help that one person that needs it.
Potential Causes For These Dizzy Spells
I have mild Aspergers and chronic Lyme. I’ve heard Aspergers can cause dizzy spells and proprioception issues, but I know Lyme causes brain fog and other neuro issues – as to which one’s to blame… Both? Neither? (I seriously suspect it’s Lyme though!). There are a lot of Aspies out there, and they are shy – many won’t explain this to others if they’re experiencing it, they’ll just shut down to the conversation.
Lyme can have the same effect – brain fog makes conversations incredibly difficult, and someone with a Lyme flare with neuro symptoms may not be able to voice these types of issues well (if at all). I should point out, dizzy spells come with brain fog, headaches, and so much more – talk about a detriment to conversation!
People with both of these issues tend to get tired of constantly explaining why they’re different, so they just stop explaining. The side screaming the loudest continues to be heard while the others are shut down and not responding – which really sucks.
Since I’ve started posting about this I’ve had many people message me that they appreciate me putting this out there, as they have the same problems (specifically dizzy spells with helmet use – which floors me since I’d never heard anyone else mention it until I did!) but they don’t want to talk about it. This is not new, this is not just my issue. And while I will try to be sensitive to the opinions and experiences of others, I expect the same in return. This is why freedom of choice is so important.
My one thing in life that I love is horses. Why should I lose that because some would rather see me off my horse than on without a helmet? There are parts of my life, mostly relating to Lyme, that are freaking hard; giving up my one thing to appease those who want helmets on every head will not happen. End of.
I’m not out to change the world, just give another perspective. There’s also a part of me that wants those who are so rigid on this topic to know that I won’t give either – this is 100% a stale mate, and there are better things to spend our time on.
There’s room for everyone to Live Their Best Life without judgement. Feel free to leave a comment, especially if you’ve experienced similar dizzy spells with helmets, or even if this topic is new to you – but always be kind! To those on both sides of the debate – enjoy your horses!