It was the summer of 2009 and I went over my pony's head, tearing the inside of my mouth apart, including several nerves in my face and pushing my jaw back slightly. I had a helmet on and if I hadn't I might not have been so lucky.
I remember walking into the barn, my pony right behind me, and asking for the water hose to rinse out my bloody and dirt packed mouth so I could go back to riding. And having my mom and aunt losing their mind as they looked at me, a fearless 12-year-old who had made a mistake and simply wanted to finish her day doing what she loved.
Instead I was off to the hospital, fearing what was to come next and telling my mom I would never ride again. I spent 6 and a half hours there. No doctors would touch me and we waited for a specialist to stitch my mouth back together. Can you imagine being 12 and being told your face might not be right again? I had over 15 shots that day just to numb my face and over 30 stitches in my mouth. I left the hospital wondering if the nerves that had been damaged would be okay.
Now at eighteen, the nerves are damaged but I can still smile and eat fine. I have days where they tingle, when it gets cold out my face feels like concrete and occasionally if I get hit in the face or fall it all tingles for a while. I'm not sure why I kept the helmet, maybe as a reminder? If I took a hard enough fall or hit my face against a barrel I could completely lose all feeling...
I've decided to start wearing a helmet again and I encourage my peers do so as well. I'm sure there will be days I pull a hat down over my head or leave my helmet hanging in the trailer. But I'm going to do my best to protect myself, because I'm lucky to be riding the caliber horses I am now and I want to keep moving forward in my life and work my way up to bigger and better shows and rodeos. So here's to moving into the 2016 season being smarter about my safety! I hope the kids running the circuit will look at me and the other teens wearing a helmet and feel better about continuing to wear their helmets.