Wear a helmet when horseback riding

Monday, August 18, 2014
Zane Volkmann (right) talked about helmet safety with state labor and safety officials at the Missouri State Fair. A video about Volkmann's participation in the AgrAbility program availability through University of Missouri Extension plays in the background. (Contributed photo from MU Extension)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Horse trainer Zane Volkmann calls his riding helmet an "anti-watermelon cracker."

Volkmann, who suffered a brain injury two years ago while riding, spent part of his summer college-related internship encouraging horseback riders to wear a helmet.

His most recent appearance was at a safety expo sponsored in part by University of Missouri Extension. He also talked about helmet protection in the agriculture safety booth at the State Fair.

He left his New Franklin, Mo., home Friday to begin his sophomore year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla.

"You put on your seatbelt every day you get in a car," Volkmann said. "So put on your helmet every time you get on your horse."

Volkmann knows all too well of the consequences.

He fell on his head in a freak accident in August 2012 while riding his horse. Volkmann's brain injury and broken back kept him out of the saddle for six months. He continues to jump hurdles on his road to recovery.

MU Extension safety specialist and state AgrAbility coordinator Karen Funkenbusch worked with the long-time 4-H member this summer to help him build a horse training and farrier business.

Equestrian helmets are critical to safety, Funkenbusch said. More Americans die from horseback accidents than motorcycle and racecar driving accidents each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Volkmann said a second fall could mean death. The CDC says death is four times more likely for brain injury victims after a second fall. And that's why he's determined to spread the word to wear a helmet.

Wear a hard-shell equestrian-approved helmet lined with expanded polystyrene or similar material, he said. A bike-riding helmet should not be substituted. Make sure it fits securely, Volkmann said.

If your helmet is damaged, replace it. Helmets cost less than $30 at major retailers. Helmets from farm supply and tack stores may cost more, but "you get what you pay for," Volkmann said.

Volkmann knows the helmet isn't as sexy as his cowboy hat and sometimes he takes a ribbing from his cowboy buddies about it. But they are catching on to the reasons why helmets matter. "I'll be here tomorrow. It don't matter how I look," he said. "I'm still doing what I love."

AgrAbility is part of MU Extension, the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri Inc., in cooperation with other partners.

For more information about Missouri AgrAbility Project, call 800-995-8503 or go to http://agrability.missouri.edu/.