Chanel Robbins has been riding horses most of her life, ever since her grandmother traded a cow from their family’s farm in Ontario for a pony when she was 7.
Galloping through the fields on her pony, Star, offered an escape from thoughts that weighed on her — that she didn’t have a relationship with her biological parents, for instance, or that she was the only Black Girl in the neighbourhood, apart from her sister.
Eight years ago she made contact with her Jamaican father. The two became closer and Ms. Robbins made the decision to become a mother. to Style her hair like her father’s. But there was a problem: Her riding helmet no longer fit, and she couldn’t find one that did.
“I finally freaking feel like myself, and now society is asking me to change,” Ms. Robbins (27), from Alliston in Ontario said this as she choked back the tears. “I just want to be able to ride.”
Black In a sport that has remained overwhelmingly white, equestrians felt invisible for a long time. Natural hair is often a sign of pride for those who have it. Black It can be difficult to fit a helmet properly without revealing your identity. This creates yet another barrier to Total inclusion. Many are calling for changes, aware that horseback riding has been a leading cause of sport-related traumatic brain injuries. The helmet companies say there isn’t a simple fix.
Among those raising awareness on social media is Caitlin Gooch, who grew up riding horses on her family’s farm in Wendell, N.C. For Ms. Gooch, 30, who wears her hair in locs that fall to Safety has been an important concern for her mid-back since her father, who fell from a horse without a helmet, inflicted a neck injury that required surgery. She brings her helmet to her every 2 months for hair retouching. to You can be sure it fits.
Around 2015, when she started teaching riding lessons, she found herself having to tell children they couldn’t ride if there was no helmet that properly fit them. Her hashtag was #saddleuphelmeton. to call attention to This is the issue.
Try it to stuff a head into a helmet that doesn’t fit presents a safety risk, not unlike “trying to fit a baby into a car seat that doesn’t fit them,” Ms. Gooch said. “The helmet just would not do what it was supposed to do.”
‘People Are Different, Hair Is Different’
The Sunday Review spoke to several prominent helmet makers for equestrians, and they said that they didn’t know how many there were Black Some riders had difficulty fitting their helmets. Some riders said that they were aware of the problem and are working to fix it. to You can address this issue while recommending that you bring a brand new helmet to Market is an expensive undertaking and can last for years.
The Times interviewed nearly one dozen people. Black Many riders described long and frustrating searches for helmets that fit properly. Some said they had been turned away from equestrian stores by employees who said they couldn’t help them. Some claimed they’d stuffed or cut the lining of helmets to manipulate them.
Isabella Tillman is an avid rider who styles her hair naturally in summer, with buoyant curls, and in winter straightens it. She’s horrified to think about all the helmets that she used over 20 years.
She said that one sat on top of her head, like a traffic cone. The other was too small to cause her headaches. One was so large, it gave her headaches. to Use maxi pads to hold it in place.
“There is nothing out there in the industry that is addressing these needs,” Ms. Tillman is 29, a Detroit native who is studying to become an equine veterinarian. “People are different, hair is different and heads are different.”
‘A Big Issue for a Small Amount of People’
The exact number of affected riders is unknown. One of the most important governing bodies for competitive horse sport, The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), does not need its 447,000 members. to About half don’t disclose their race. Nearly 92 percent of those surveyed are white. Black Only 0.5 percent of riders.
Important is helmet inclusion Black It could make all the difference in life and death for an equestrian, said one of them. A 2019 study The journal Sports Medicine published a study that found 70% of reported equestrian fall injuries to the head. The study showed that helmets properly fitted helped to prevent skull fractures and other serious injuries.
Thomas A. Connor is an engineer and coauthor of this study. He has done research on safety in equestrian helmets. Black The difficulty riders faced in finding helmets was “a big issue for a small amount of people.”
“There’s a real need to address it and absolutely zero desire to do it,” He stated. “If you owned a helmet company you could decide to solve this problem tomorrow.”
Other sports equipment manufacturers have also taken measures to Use helmets or other equipment to adapt. to Take care Black athletes’ natural hair.
Riddell was one of the most prominent helmet manufacturers used by N.F.L. A helmet designed by players is made from Riddell’s top-of-the-line helmets. “precision-fit” It provides padding so that every hairstyle can fit. The International Swimming Federation also approved last year the Soul Cap to accommodate thicker and curlier hair for major competitions.
It takes time to fix the problem
Equestrian helmet manufacturers say it is not as simple for them because the safety standards and certification-testing requirements are vastly different from other sports.
Laura Qusen (chief operating officer, Tipperary Equestrian) said that she wasn’t aware of the difficulties. Black The problem faced by riders was finding helmets. Ms. Robbins of Ontario wrote about it. to In January, the company.
Interview with Ms. Qusen, she acknowledged it. “clearly not a one-person problem” Committed to It is worth further investigation. But She was concerned that the development of a new helmet might require safety standards. This could lead to an increase in product costs.
“If it’s truly a manufacturing problem, anything is possible, but we’re talking years of development,” Ms. Qusen said.
Ms. Robbins was in tears after the exchange with Ms. Qusen. It was possible that it was just time. to Find a sport that makes her feel important.
Charles Owen, the popular helmet maker that supports Olympic athletes is currently working on “several solutions” to Help customers with changing hairstyles and expectations to introduce them sometime this year, Alex Burek, the company’s marketing director, said. She declined to Comment further.
But the riders’ concerns have yet to reach Back on Track, a market leader that makes equestrian products, including helmets in a variety of shapes and sizes, with removable liners. In an interview, James Ruder, the chief executive, said the company’s helmets can accommodate most riders. Ruder stated that the helmets can be used by most riders. “never once heard” It is estimated that approximately a Black A rider struggles to fit a helmet.
“If you have an ‘oddity’ — and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the people who have weird hairstyles — but if you have a hairstyle that impacts the functionality of the helmet, you might just have to change it,” Ruder, he said.
Ruder maintained his opinion that riders should be able to ride in a follow up interview. to Please be aware of how your hairstyle can have an impact on helmet safety. “I’m bald, and some people find that weird,” He stated. “It’s all relative.”
‘This Sport Isn’t Designed for Us.’
Black riders say the manufacturers’ responses demonstrate what they’re up against.
“Sports were only developed for white people and they continue to keep white people protected,” According to Ms. Robbins. “People need to realize diversity and inclusion belongs anywhere, especially in sports.”
A new helmet can’t come fast enough for Aderes James, 10, of Bethesda, Md.
The other hunter team girls tuck their hair in their helmets on competition mornings. to Make sure your appearance impresses judges. Aderes uses conditioners and detangler spray for a two hour routine. For the show, her mother braided her hair in two Dutch braids.
“It makes me feel a little left out,” Aderes claimed. “But it’s the cost of healthy, curly hair.”
Rena Baxter, James’ mother, stated that she made Aderes a top priority with her husband. to Although she loved her natural hair it was often an obstacle.
“You’re asking people to change the texture of their hair instead of learning how to offer a proper fit,” She added that “mostly everything in this sport isn’t designed for us.”
‘Like Reopening a Wound Every Time’
Chauntel Smith and Jenny Benton have become quite adept at manipulating young riders’ heads into helmets.
Two of them cofounded a Minnesota non-profit. CREW Urban Youth EquestriansIn 2021 to Provide opportunities Black Children of color and youth to While creating tools, learn more about horses to Control their emotions. Get a helmet to According to them, work is often time-consuming and can take away from their time.
“It’s like reopening a wound every time,” Smith is Ms. Black, said. “And it’s so counterproductive to the purpose of why they are out here at the barn, to have a safe space.”
Ms. Tillman, the aspiring equine veterinarian from Detroit, eventually replaced the helmet she’d stuffed with maxi pads with a new one, cutting pieces of the lining out until it nestled comfortably on her head. But Now she is worried.
“It makes me feel less comfortable about the safety of a helmet that I’m just doing this myself,” Sie said. “It certainly doesn’t make me feel included or that people with hair textures like mine are important.”