Helmet Safety


It was a perfect day for a family picnic out at the ranch, and Kay Silva’s whole family had gathered to enjoy the beautiful fall day in the high desert of southern California. After a delicious lunch and some family fun and games, Katy decided to saddle a couple horses and take her young niece out for a short trail ride.

Katy is an experienced rider, having owned horses and ridden on a regular basis for about 20 years, but her niece is a very novice rider. Katy saddled an older reliable horse for her niece and a younger, less seasoned horse for herself. Although Katy always wears a helmet when she rides, on this occasion she had only brought one helmet and decided that it would be better for her niece, the less experienced rider, to wear the helmet. Fortunately, at the last minute, someone else offered an extra helmet to Katy so she left on the short ride with both riders properly helmeted.

Katy and her niece had an awesome trail ride through sagebrush and red shank trees in the high desert (4,000 ft. elevation). As they were returning back to the ranch, they approached a telephone pole lying across the trail and Katy advised her niece on what to do if her horse chose to jump it. The experienced horse with the novice rider walked gracefully over the pole and Katy congratulated her niece on doing such a great job. All that was left was for Katy to negotiate her greener horse over the pole and then they were home free.

Katy decided to guide her horse around telephone pole instead of over it, since she wasn’t sure if the horse was accustomed to walking over obstacles or would try to jump it. However, just as Katy thought the horse would willingly go off the trail to walk around the obstacle, the horse suddenly veered back and leapt over the pole like a deer. Taken by surprise, Katy was caught off balance and as the horse landed, Katy slammed hard onto the horse’s back, causing the horse to explode into violent bucking fit. Katy felt that there was no way she could get the mare’s head up to recover from the bucking and the mare was bucking so hard that she started to fall. Katy decided to bail off to the left and at the same time the mare gave a buck which somersaulted Katy so that she landed hard on the ground on her helmet, neck, shoulders, and upper back, with the rest of her body flopping over as she hit.

As Katy fell, the horse also fell, scrambled back to her feet, and continued bucking. Katy scrambled quickly out of the way, not knowing that she had suffered a serious injury. Family members had seen the niece’s horse begin to trot back toward the telephone pole, so they were alerted that something had gone wrong. Katy’s brother-in-law arrived just in time to see Katy on the ground and the horse falling.

Katy’s family helped her back to the house and sat her in a gliding rocking chair with a high, straight back since she was complaining that her neck hurt. She thought that she may have suffered severe whiplash and she had the good sense to sit still for a while. Since the pain did not subside, Katy thought it would be best to have a family member take her to the emergency room or nearest fire station, because it didn’t seem serious enough to call 911 just for a sore neck. Luckily for Katy, circumstances changed.

Through a crazy series of events, another person at the ranch was injured about 15 minutes later and was knocked unconscious, so someone called 911 to attend to him. Since a rescue crew was already coming to the ranch, Katy sat and waited for them to check her neck after they had attended to the other injured person. At the hospital, the medical staff were stunned to discover that Katy had broken her neck-fractured C2 in 2 places to be exact– because she showed none of the classic signs that are usually related to a broken neck: loss of consciousness, tingling, loss of feeling or weakness in the limbs, or nausea.

In the hospital, Katy was fitted with a halo that was screwed into her head in 4 places, which she was to wear for three months while her neck healed. The follow-up treatment would include a neck brace for one month and physical therapy to rehabilitate her neck muscles and allow her to move her head again safely. Soon Katy will be released to ride again and she is eager to get back to her horses.


Katy learned many important lessons from this event that nearly cost her life and she is eager to share the lessons she learned with others. First, she learned not to take things for granted, especially her helmet, since it saved her life and reduced the potential severity of her injuries.

According to Katy, she has learned to, “Make every riding day a Helmet Day…no matter how ‘bomb-proof’ the horse, how soft the ground I will be riding on, how hot the day, how much I may not like having “helmet hair,” or how confident I may feel in my riding abilities. Even though I have always worn a helmet, I now realize that a helmet can make all the difference.”

Other lessons for us all to learn from Katy’s story is to take any injury seriously and deal with it carefully, since we never know what may be damaged. If the mechanism of injury indicates the possibility of damage, treat the person as if the most serious injury possible was sustained.

Katy will soon be healed up enough to get back to riding and she has a brand new helmet, just for the occasion. Katy has been working hard to share her story with riding clubs and youth groups in an effort to promote the use of helmets, “every time, every ride.” We appreciate Katy allowing us to share her story with our members and we hope that you all, in turn, will share this story with your students.

We wish Katy the best of luck and a speedy recovery. If anyone is interested in contacting Katy about sharing her story, please email her at KatyGSilva@aol.com.

Editor’s Note: Normally this column includes true stories that have been fictionalized. This article is a true story written in the words of the victim, with editorial assistance from the author… Thank you for sharing stories that will prevent others from being hurt. If you have a story you would like to share, please email it to us at office@CHA.horse