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Distributed throughout the Greater Rockies Since 1993




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Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Wear That Helmet

By Harold Roy Miller, Stagecoach, NV


May 2010 Issue


            I never used to place any importance on wearing protective headgear while horseback riding. I thought only feeble and totally green riders would be seen in public in those shiny plastic helmets.

     In fact, it gave me a macho sense of cowboy toughness not to wear one. That is, until the day I got thrown. That little incident, coupled with a few horror stories I read about horses that spooked, changed my mind and convinced me to start wearing one.

     But this story is not about me…


     This is a story about an expert rider, a real live buckaroo who breaks wild mustangs for the Nevada state prison where we both work.

     We call him “Cowboy.” His job is to supervise and train a group of inmates who work with wild horses gathered throughout Nevada . These horses are rounded up and brought to the minimum-security facility, are green broke by the inmates, and then auctioned off every few months. The state benefits from the proceeds, and the inmates get a sense of self-worth and respect from the general public.

     Cowboy is well-respected for his knowledge of horses and training methods. He is a first-class rider. I know this for a fact, because I’ve watched him from my guard tower. He can take a horse the inmates cannot manage and have it rideable, even side-passing, within a short time.

     But Cowboy had an accident while riding one of his four-footed protégés. The story is: the horse spooked, bucked, and unseated Cowboy, then kicked him in the head on his way to the ground. Unfortunately for Cowboy, he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

     It was a hot Wednesday morning. All was quiet at the state prison. I had just hung up the phone after telling someone how slow the day was going, when my portable radio crackled and an urgent transmission came over the air.

     It was the construction supervisor who worked in back of the prison grounds where the horse corrals are located. He was shouting for medical help and there was panic in his voice.

     At first, we thought an inmate had been kicked or bitten by one of the mustangs. This was a common occurrence and although there were lots of bruises, the inmates usually took it in stride.

     This thought lasted for about two seconds, then the supervisor came back on the air, reporting it was a staff member who was hurt and an ambulance was needed.

     A hush came over the whole prison as we all stopped to listen. The only other staff member out there besides the construction supervisor was Cowboy.

     Cowboy was so well-liked that every person I talked to later had wanted to leave his post to go help him. But we are a paramilitary organization and we have to stay at our assigned positions. Only the designated personnel could go to the horse corrals.


     From there on, there was quite a cluster of radio traffic; some clear, some garbled, all of it urgent. Prison medical personnel rushed to the scene. According to eyewitness accounts, Cowboy was bleeding from the back of his head and was dazed.

     He was laid out on a gurney and given oxygen. As the personnel gathered around him, his condition worsened. He was conscious but incoherent, and did not even recognize the Warden.

     We all waited anxiously for word and then one of the officers relayed over the radio that Cowboy was breathing and his pulse was strong. We were vastly relieved.

     When the ambulance arrived, we assumed that Cowboy was safe. The prison returned to normal operations. But head wounds are serious and cowboy was not out of the woods. He was bleeding into his brain and later that day had to be air-vac’d to another hospital.

     The doctors were trying to keep him from going into a coma. His memory was worsening. We learned from one of the sergeants who visited him the next morning that he did not remember his own wife.

     We sent up prayers for Cowboy. It was touch-and-go for a few days, but slowly his condition was stabilized and his memory began to return.

     Cowboy was lucky.


     This incident served to remove any reluctance I have about wearing protective headgear. It’s just too dangerous to do otherwise. I am of the opinion that Cowboy’s injuries wouldn’t have been nearly as serious if he had been wearing a helmet.

     It’s his choice — and his gamble — but for me, that helmet goes where I go. My goal is to live to ride again!


Freelance writer Harold Roy Miller writes anecdotes and cowboy poetry, and will be featured soon in a PBS documentary about wild horses. He and his wife own seven gaited horses, and enjoy riding together.


Copyright 2010 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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