...Horseback riding is considered one of the most dangerous sports, and just because you've never see one or know some who have ridden safely for years doesn't mean those accidents don't happen. Also not every wreck is reported and often the injuries can be treated at home. Ranches are notorious for wrecks than are treated at home.
Riding IS considered dangerous, but the statistics are skewed by jumping - which is at least 10 times more dangerous than riding on the flats. It is also dangerous for teens who take risks without thinking, such as trying to teach themselves jumping, etc.
But not all riding is equally dangerous, yet no one criticizes those who indulge in the more dangerous forms of riding. No one says we should remove eventing as an Olympic sport, because what they do sets a bad example "for the children".
I've read a lot of reports on horse riding injuries. A common theme is the assumption that horses "just blow" - that all horses buck, bolt, spook, spin and try to get rid of their rider at random and for no reason.
But I did the training for the US Air Force's safety school and even worked briefly as a safety officer. It is axiomatic to a safety professional that accidents involve a chain of events. Break the chain at any point, and the accident will not occur. It is also axiomatic, at least in the Air Force, that one balances risk. You cannot fly fighters effectively without taking some chances. So one looks at the chain of events leading up to accidents, and sees what can be prevented, what can be reduced, and what must be accepted.
When you take that approach to riding horses, you soon realize that not all riding requires the same level of risk, just as flying a cargo plane is safer than flying a jet fighter. With very rare exceptions, riders don't just come off a horse for no reason. If the cinch breaks - did they inspect it? Do they maintain their tack? If the horse spins away, why
did he spin? Why didn't the horse go forward? Was he afraid? If so, why didn't the rider notice? And if the rider noticed, why didn't the rider take steps BEFORE the spinning to prevent the spinning?
What about position? Not all riding positions are equally safe, either. Many are taken to better max perform the horse - but that in turn requires the rider to accept more risk.
What activity does one do? Much of my desert riding is now walking my horse across the Sonoran Desert - and one WALKS because you would get filled with cactus trying to trot or canter off trail. If I am walking my horse, and my horse is being careful because he doesn't want to step on cactus, and he understands the task and is doing his best to perform it, then my riding risk is much lower than many others - simply because that is what I like to do, and what my horse understands.
Bandit used to spin away a lot, and buck, and want to run away. Yes, I always wore a helmet then. But he hasn't spun even 20 degrees since April. When he is startled, a jolt goes thru his back - then he waits for me to suggest something. I assume he will always remember he has other options, but he is obviously a much safer ride now than when he was spinning away or bucking last year.
So why can't I take our goals and our training into account and determine what risk I accept without being told I'm irresponsible, just because I sometimes skip a helmet? My riding without a helmet is lower risk than many people's riding WITH one - so why are they "responsible" while I am a careless fool?
If someone wants to wear a helmet and body protector in an arena, I'm all for them doing so! Whatever you think you need to do to reduce the risk to a level you accept, you should take! And many people would HATE to ride, if riding meant walking a horse thru the desert, avoiding cactus and constantly looking for a way to move forward. I enjoy it. But the fact that I mostly ride a walking horse whose fear reaction is to ask me what to do plays a large role in my risk assessment. The fact that I ride defensively, and assume my horse may do the unexpected, also plays into my assessment. My saddle, position and even my sheepskin plays into my assessment. And depending on that assessment, I may or may not grab a helmet.
If everyone who is insisting on helmet wear ALSO wears a body protector, and uses sheepskin, and uses an Australian saddle, and wears them when on the ground working around horses (where roughly 15% of accidents happen), and never jumps or runs their horses...THEN I'll believe they believe in wearing protective gear. Until then, they believe in ONE option while ignoring others...