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Safe Riders Adapt To Evolving Trail Risks

In a society that requires helmets in most adventure sports, including bike riding, rafting, and snow boarding, it can appear baffling that there is resistance to wearing helmets in Western equestrian sports.  English riders have long acknowledged the inherent risks in horse riding.   Most English horse enthusiasts have included the helmet as a key piece of gear that nearly rivals the importance of the saddle.

Why is there hesitancy to swap the cowboy hat for a helmet?  The roots of Western riding lie in a long tradition based on the cowboy lifestyle and the setting of the early American West.  The traditional cowboy, of course, wore a cowboy hat and not a hard hat.   He carried a side-arm, not a cell phone and a bedroll rather than a motel reservation.  The cowboy  did not concern himself with litigants challenging him for his personal and business assets because they suffered a head injury while riding one of his horses, or while  riding in his employ.  He had more immediately pressing issues like cattle rustlers, water wars, stampedes and basic survival in a physically harsh work environment.

In the setting of a modern Western guest ranch, we identify a different set of risks than the traditional cowboy.  We also synchronously strive to preserve the heritage of the West that is at our roots.  For us, that means that we use western tack and dress in traditional western clothing but we carry a radio while out on the trail.   We carry a cantle bag or saddle bag with a trail first-aid kit and we study and practice adaptive first aid effective in emergency trail scenarios.  We train our wranglers to diligently watch for evolving trail risks, and yes, we wear plaid shirts, cowboy boots, and bandannas. We also trade our cowboy hats for helmets while on horseback.

Our wrangler safety program includes formal written protocols, and standardized operating plans.  We try to identify aspects of our guided riding to keep them within the bounds of acceptable risk.  We acknowledge that the sport of horseback riding has inherent risks that can never be completely eliminated.   We then take every possible measure to keep these risks at manageable levels while preserving the essence of equestrian sports.

The first dude / guest ranches did not require or likely even offer helmets to their riding guests.  As the guest ranching industry has evolved, more ranches have begun to offer helmets to their horse riders, and to require them to be worn on more difficult adventure rides.  Some have even evolved to the position of requiring helmets for riders in any and all equestrian events.

Marble Mountain Ranch considers safety to be the prime directive. Pleasure, culture, and history then fall into subservient positions.  We train our staff in the Dude Rancher’s Association Horse Safety Program, and we require helmets to be worn by all of our riding guests and staff.  We also have weight limits for our riding guests (240 pounds). We acknowledge the tandem role of physical conditioning in both horse and rider.  When you choose to ride with us, you will be asked if you accept our helmet policy, and if you are aware of our riders weight limit of 240 pounds.

We hope you can join us on a thrilling western trail ride, and we hope you can support us in our top-down corporate culture that dictates safe riding taking precedence over fashion or tradition.

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