No horsing around without a helmet

<LI>Injury makes her a believer

By Sherry Lucas

Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger

As soon as her son, Blake, was old enough to ride a horse alone, Angie Barnard and her husband made sure he wore a helmet. Barnard wasn't as careful when she took a spill while riding in October. She was not wearing a helmet but has taken up the mission of advocating their use.

To go

2005 National Barrel Horse Association Youth World Championship finals are today at the Equine Center on the State Fairgrounds. Doors open at 3 p.m. Admission is $8.

ngie Barnard is still awaiting doctor's approval to get back in the saddle, but in the meantime, she's found a new passion on the ground.

Still recovering from a traumatic brain injury in a fall that knocked out her and her horse last October, Barnard ha sbecome a vocal proponent for one piece of safety equipment seldom seen on Western riders: a helmet.

At the 2005 National Barrel Horse Association Youth World Championships at the Equine Center on the State Fairgrounds, a couple of helmets can be seen in the practice arena and the show ring.

Cowboy hats are required in the competition, but a helmet can be worn instead, show officials said. They estimated no more than 5 percent wear helmets, although they see more every year. At least one vendor offered helmets and snazzy helmet covers.

Barnard would like to see them become more common. Her son Blake, 8, atop a Shetland pony in the practice arena, had one on. "It makes me feel like Momma's with me," he said.

Barbara Gauntt/The Clarion-Ledger

Angie Barnard, 35, fastens a safety helmet on her 8-year-old son, Blake. Barnard also suggests that her students wear head protection.

Barnard, 35, advocates helmets not just for children and not just for beginners. She is a horse trainer and a former American Quarter Horse Association reserve world champion in pole bending. She was pole bending at the Lazy K Open Show in Magee when her horse, Crackerjack, fell.

The horse regained consciousness, but just long enough for people to free her. Barnard was airlifted to University of Mississippi Medical Center, where she remained in a coma for 10 days. She was then transferred to Methodist Rehabilitation Center, later moving to outpatient therapy at Quest, a community reintegration program for brain injury survivors.

"I was in the hospital, watching NASCAR on TV, and thought, looka there," Barnard said, "big, burly men with thousands of people watching, wearing helmets. And we're sitting on a horse, no roll bar, no helmet, ... and here I am. And we're even higher than they are.

Dean Barnard

"Common sense is not that common in people, much less horses. That's when I decided I wanted to look into helmets when I got home."

Barnard received a $10,000 grant through the Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund program, state Department of Rehabilitation Services, to promote awareness of the need to use equine safety equipment such as helmets and breakaway stirrups for every type of riding and all ages. She's teaming with a Mendenhall Western store, Feed It and Klean it, for a safety talk Aug. 20.