Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
You need to think about what sort of riding you do, and what is an acceptable risk to you. Think overall risk.
Helmets entered the riding world via jumping. Jumping with horses has anywhere from 10 to 80 times the risk of head injury that riding on the flats does. I looked at a number of studies, and I suspect the real number would be around 20 times the risk.
Also, English saddles are associated with higher risk. The studies I saw don't mention if that is due to jumping, or saddle design. An English jump saddle certainly provides less help than a western one does when things turn ugly.
Someone riding flats in a western saddle and cowboy hat has a much lower risk of head injury than someone jumping while wearing a helmet. That is a fact. But if you fall, helmets reduce the risk of injury by around 50%. So you need to decide what your risk of falling is, and if you want to wear a helmet to reduce the risk of head injury after a fall.
Where I live, the trails are very rocky. You couldn't pay me to ride these trails without a helmet. In an arena, I don't mind using a cowboy hat. Unless I'm riding my mare, who panics a lot. Then I ride a helmet. If I'm riding an English saddle, I wear a helmet 100% of the time. Australian or Western, maybe not. Overall risk.
I will say that when I ride without a helmet, I'm probably more safety conscious than I am when I wear one. I don't know why.