Rebecca Watson owes her life to her helmet, even if she doesn't remember what happened.
The 23-year-old from Torbay only knows what others describe about the moment her half-tonne horse slipped and landed on top of her seven years ago.
Watson and Tahi were racing around a cross country course when the landing out of a water jump went wrong.
She woke up the next day, her 16th birthday, and walked away with concussion and memory loss.
"I don't remember before, during or after the accident, and my memory of that day is completely gone," she says.
"I blacked out at the time and don't remember anything following the accident.
"I woke up in hospital the following day and had no idea why I was there.
"After the fall I couldn't answer questions or remember the date or my name, all I could say was ‘where's Tahi?' "
Tahi was uninjured, but Watson knows how fortunate they both were.
"I wouldn't like to think about the consequences if I hadn't had been wearing a helmet," she says.
"I definitely don't think I would be here today.
"To get away with a day of memory loss and a mild concussion is pretty lucky.
"I counted my blessings when blowing out my candles on my birthday cake the next day."
Watson had a strong bond with Tahi, and was a confident rider, having ridden for as long as she can remember.
"I had such an awesome partnership with him and together we had achieved some amazing things.
"He was the kind of horse who was quick on his feet, surefooted and could go all day," Watson says.
"He tried hard to please, always looked after me, and was my best friend."
She says realising Tahi hadn't done anything wrong, because it was just an accident, has opened her eyes to the fact that trusting your horse isn't enough.
It hasn't stopped her from riding, but she always makes sure she has her helmet on, even if it's just a quick hack around the paddock.
"I guess I was pretty careless as a rider before the accident, not just with wearing a helmet but also in general.
"I had had heaps of falls, as most riders have, but that one shook me up. It's pure stupidity to not protect ourselves when we put ourselves on an animal with a mind of its own and in situations, like mine, you have no control over," Watson says.
"I recently even replaced my helmet after a fall - something I have never done before but realised how important it is to be protected in the best way possible."
A group called Riders4Helmets is trying to raise awareness of how important helmets are.
Its 5th International Helmet Awareness Day was first inspired by Olympic dressage rider Courtney King-Dye who was seriously injured in a riding accident while not wearing a helmet.
King-Dye was in a coma for a month and is still undergoing rehabilitation.
The campaign is about educating equestrians on the benefits of wearing a fitted and certified helmet and to encourage the use of helmets.
Watson says New Zealand riders are far too relaxed about wearing a helmet, but says it's nothing to do with our laidback attitude.
"As riders we see so many European riders schooling without helmets, and it sets the standard for riders globally.
"We are all responsible for our own safety.
"I have made the decision that my safety is more important than looks or comfort from now on," Watson says.
Riders4Helmets hosts a series of online seminars on its website featuring a variety of experts such as traumatic brain injury survivors, leading equestrians and helmet manufacturers.
Viewers will be able to ask questions, as well as have the opportunity to take part in helmet fitting demonstrations and purchase a helmet with a one-time discount from participating retailers.
- North Harbour News
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