Whenever discussions of helmet safety pop up, there’s always that one person out there who is like “well, helmets make you feel more safe and therefore more willing to do dangerous things so ultimately it’s less safe to wear one overall!” And I always was like
Then I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Freakonomics, and their very first episode addressed a paradox where the incentives to perform a behavior make it such that this behavior is performed to a level where the incentives no longer exist. In sporting parlance, adding equipment to make riding (or football or NASCAR or add in your sport of choice here) safer make it such that people do this sport or activity to such a level (bigger, faster, stronger, more dangerouser) that the incentives no longer exist. So apparently those helmet wearing naysayers were right.
So there does, in fact, exist a safety paradox. And if you look at the statistics (I’m not going to repeat them here because it is late and I don’t want to go and get them from the twinternet), the number of serious injuries in sports like football have increased an insane amount as protective equipment has increased. I suspect that in sports like hockey and other full-contact sports (forgive me for not knowing more, I don’t really follow… other sports) the number of serious injuries have increased as safety equipment has been added also. I am not sure this statistic holds true for things like NASCAR (do you capitalise that whole word? I don’t even know), when things like fire-resistant suits and cages that keep the driver safe during rolls have made the sport overall safer, however I definitely think that there are probably much more spectacular crashes than in the past.
When I thought deeply about the safety paradox and how it might apply to my life, there are definitely things I will not do without my safety equipment. I will not ride my horse without a helmet on. I will not go out on XC and jump the jumps without a vest and helmet. Now, for the sake of this argument, I will admit that I would could probably jump my horse around a course even up to 3′ without incurring a traumatic brain injury. Also, I could probably jump around a BN cross country course without having my torso crushed by my horse. However, and this ties in below, the things I am protecting myself against are not the everyday injuries and casualties of my sport (as in football, where people habitually smash their bodies against other bodies and the ground). I am protecting myself against the horrible freak accidents that are, sadly, all too common in our sport.
And this ties in to why I don’t think the safety paradox exists as strongly in equine sports than in others.
First, in no equine sport is the human or equine body use as an offensive weapon.
Second, in no equine sport have advancements in equine safety been made such that horse injury or death can be prevented by a single piece of equipment.
To expound upon my first point, neither my body nor my horses body is used as an offensive device against another horse, human, or obstacle. The goal of my sport, and most equine sports, is to avoid bashing down the various obstacles that we are presented with. So… no aspect of the safety elements that we wear make it such that hitting an obstacle is more alluring.
Second, there’s a whole other creature in the equation here! It’s not just about my safety but also my horse’s safety. No piece of safety equipment for myself or my horse makes it such that an injury to my horse could be prevented by wearing them. Tendon boots? Breakable. Air vest? Doesn’t help a horse. Helmet? My horse don’t wear one.
But maybe he should! I could see Murray rocking this with a little sparkle and rhinestone action!
So what does this mean in terms of the safety paradox? Well… I would think it defies it. There aren’t safety incentives available that make riding so safe for the horse that riding dangerously should be more common. At least not in my opinion.
Of course, on the other side of this argument, it’s quite possible that safety equipment empowers people to do stupid things they wouldn’t otherwise do with their horses. Jumping bigger than they or their horse are capable of. Galloping in an unsafe position or out of control. Unbalanced sliding stops (I don’t know I’m searching for an example here). Maybe that is the whole point of this paradox, but “stupid” is the key word for me here. However, in all of these cases I posit that a person could be killed or seriously injured even with their safety equipment. There ain’t no* cure for stupid.
* Double negative intentional, because there is a cure for stupid. But only one.