Rodeo Helmets Catching On

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Rodeo is known as a sport for tough men who know how to handle themselves and aren’t afraid of getting hurt. But all the bravado in the world can’t cover up the fact that rodeo participants, especially bull riders, often get hurt. And not just in minor ways. The rodeo world regularly sees serious injuries, including head traumas broken bones, and tattered arms and legs.

In fact, numerous studies have found that participating in bull riding—which involves no more than 8 seconds per riding session—is far more dangerous that sports like football and ice hockey, which are commonly considered to be among the most injury-prone sports. Note that these two latter sports both require their players to wear helmets, while bull riding does not.

This is easy to explain. The culture of rodeo is more than just macho; it’s also oriented in tradition. A century ago, when horses and bulls were much bigger parts of people’s lives in places like the American West and the Australian Outback, the activities that rodeo is based on were necessities. Sure, there were recreational forms, but they were also work. Rodeo is grounded in this long tradition, and it’s full of men and women who have more than a little bit of nostalgia for those days of old.

In other words, rodeo participants like to think of their sport as an aspect of the Wild West that has remained unchanged even as the world around them has become completely different.

So it’s only natural that many people in the sport would resist developments such as helmet requirements. When we imagine a cowboy, we imagine him wearing his distinctive and iconic cowboy hat. The idea of one of these icons donning a helmet is slightly ridiculous.

But even though this perception may not change, the reality on the ground is shifting one injury at a time. A few years ago, there were a some scattered helmet wearers in rodeo, but they were mainly the riders who had previously had injuries with rodeo and had been urged by doctors to protect themselves. Over time, however, as more riders adopted helmets, it became more normal.

After all, there are other considerations besides image. Whether riders wear hats or helmets, rodeo is not likely to go away any time soon, and it probably won’t be long before fans get used to the change. In the meantime, riders will be protected, and they’ll also be safer from the career and financial woes that can result from injury.

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