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Why I wear a hel­met

EQUUS - - Contents - By Harold Roy Miller

In­ever used to place any im­por­tance on wear­ing pro­tec­tive head­gear while horse­back rid­ing. In fact, it gave me a ma­cho sense of tough­ness not to wear one of those shiny plas­tic hel­mets. That is, un­til one day when I got thrown. That in­ci­dent, cou­pled with a few hor­ror sto­ries I’d read, changed my mind and con­vinced me to start wear­ing one. But this story is not about me.

This story is about a true ex­pert, a real live bucka­roo who breaks wild mus­tangs for the state prison where I work. We call him “Cow­boy.” His job is to su­per­vise and train a group of in­mates who work with the wild horses. Th­ese horses are rounded up and brought to the prison, where they are green broke and then auc­tioned. The state ben­e­fits from the pro­ceeds, and the in­mates get a sense of self-worth and re­spect from the gen­eral pub­lic. Cow­boy is a first-class rider and well re­spected for his knowl­edge of horses. I’ve watched him work from my tower. He’d take horses the in­mates couldn’t man­age and have them rid­able, even side-pass­ing, within a short time. But even he was not in­vin­ci­ble.

It was a hot Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the prison, and all was quiet. Sud­denly, my por­ta­ble ra­dio crack­led and an ur­gent trans­mis­sion came over the air. The con­struc­tion su­per­vi­sor, who works near the horse cor­rals, was shout­ing for med­i­cal help. There was panic in his voice. I as­sumed an in­mate had been kicked or bit­ten by a mus­tang. This is common, and although there are lots of bruises, the in­mates usu­ally take it in stride. But then the su­per­vi­sor came back on the air, re­port­ing it was a staff mem­ber who was hurt and an am­bu­lance was needed. A hush came over the whole prison as we all stopped to lis­ten. The only other staff mem­ber out there was Cow­boy.

He’d had an ac­ci­dent while rid­ing one of the mus­tangs. The horse spooked, bucked and un­seated him, then kicked him in the head on his way to the ground. And, no, he wasn’t wear­ing a hel­met.

Cow­boy is well liked here, and

Cow­boy was not out of the woods yet. He was bleed­ing into his brain and later that day had to be trans­ported to another hos­pi­tal.

ev­ery­one I spoke to later said that their first im­pulse had been to rush to help, but we all had to stay at our as­signed posts. Most of us could do noth­ing more than lis­ten to the ra­dio traf­fic---some gar­bled, all of it ur­gent---that streamed forth as med­i­cal per­son­nel raced to the scene. Cow­boy was bleed­ing from the back of his head and was dazed. He was laid out on a gur­ney and given oxy­gen, but his con­di­tion wors­ened. He was con­scious but in­co­her­ent, not rec­og­niz­ing even the War­den. Fi­nally, we were re­lieved to hear one of the of­fi­cers re­lay over the ra­dio that Cow­boy was breath­ing and his pulse was strong.

When the am­bu­lance ar­rived, we as­sumed that Cow­boy was safe, and the prison re­turned to nor­mal op­er­a­tions. But Cow­boy was not out of the woods. He was bleed­ing into his brain and later that day had to be mede­vaced to another hos­pi­tal. The doc­tors were strug­gling to save him. His mem­ory was wors­en­ing. He did not re­mem­ber his own wife. His con­di­tion re­mained touch-and-go for a few days, but slowly he sta­bi­lized and his mem­ory be­gan to re­turn. Cow­boy was lucky. That in­ci­dent elim­i­nated any lin­ger­ing re­luc­tance I might have had about wear­ing pro­tec­tive head­gear. Even on the “safest” horse, it’s just too dan­ger­ous to do oth­er­wise. I am of the opin­ion that Cow­boy’s in­juries wouldn’t have been nearly as se­ri­ous if he had been wear­ing a hel­met. That was his choice--and his gam­ble---but as for me, that hel­met goes where I go. My goal is to live to ride again!

SAFETY FIRST: The au­thor, aboard Hoss, ready for a ride in the desert.

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