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Why I Always Ride Safe

Posted on: September 19, 2023 by Alana Harrison
Tight shot of woman wearing helmet alongside a gray horse in an English bridle

Riding Resume

SmartPak customer and hunter/jumper trainer Kelsey Marcus of Plano, Texas, caught the horse bug at the age of 7 after attending a local summer horseback riding camp. She grew up riding and showing with her local hunter/jumper club, as well as on the A-Circuit, and then spent several years competing at American Quarter Horse Association shows throughout Texas, winning numerous awards.

After graduating from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business, Kelsey started training and teaching lessons at Cedar Haven Stables in Cedar Hill, Texas, just south of Dallas. Filled with energy and strongly committed to hard work, Kelsey’s goal was to create a thriving lesson program and show team.

“As my 10-year anniversary at Cedar Haven Stables approaches, I look at how much we've grown with the incredible support of our amazing barn owner,” Kelsey said. “We now have more than 35 horses, tons of boarders, more lesson students than I can count, and a wonderful staff of trainers and stable hands that keep our horses and riders happy and healthy!”

Group of English horseback riders wearing helmets with horses and a dog

Why She Rides Safe

It was a beautiful morning in February of 2018, and the day started out like any other normal day in the life of a trainer. After riding several horses, Kelsey was preparing to school one of her favorite client’s horses—a stout, 17.2-hand Dutch Warmblood they’d imported from Holland six months prior—before teaching lessons for the rest of the day.

Since she was only planning on doing flat work with him, Kelsey decided she didn’t need to wear her helmet. After closing the arena gate, she led him to the mounting block, put her left foot in the stirrup, and just as she was swinging her right leg over, the local emergency sirens went off for routine testing. Terrified by the loud noise, the horse spooked and took off.

“As I was hanging off, I remembered thinking if only I could swing my right leg over and just sit up, I’ll be OK,” Kelsey recalled. “But gravity did not work in my favor that day. The horse picked up speed while I was still halfway on.”

After about 15 strides, Kelsey flew off his back, over the arena fence, and landed head-first on a railroad tie. The barn owner found her several minutes later and raced to grab towels to soak up the massive amount of blood gushing from her head. Soon after, one of Kelsey’s students who happened to be a nurse arrived for her regular lesson. She determined where the blood was coming from and immediately called Kelsey’s husband to meet them at the emergency room. Kelsey suffered a severe concussion and doctors had to use 18 staples to close the huge gash in her head.

Woman jumping gray horse in hunter ring in show attire

“It was incredibly painful. The worst part was when they cleaned the laceration and the numbing shot before they put the staples in. I screamed loud enough for everyone in the ER to hear,” Kelsey said. “The doctor kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re alive.’ It essentially looked like someone had hacked the back of my head with an ax. For a long time, I experienced dizziness, short-term memory loss, and so many headaches. That was probably the worst part. I still suffer from chronic migraines due to the accident.”

It was a challenging recovery, as Kelsey also injured her ACL and was on crutches for a while. Her doctor had advised her to rest and relax for several weeks, but in true tough horsewoman fashion, she was back at the barn teaching within 10 days. She couldn’t ride for a few more weeks, but once the staples were removed, she was right back on the same horse—this time, with a helmet.

Best Helmet Advice

“To say that I was lucky is an understatement. After that day, I promised myself and my family that I would never get on a horse again without a helmet. It doesn’t matter how well you know the horse, how small the horse is, how quick the ride will be, or how good of a rider you are. Anything can happen,” Kelsey said. “I was very fortunate that my injuries were not worse and feel incredibly lucky that I can still do everything I could before. I now give all my Western friends a very hard time about not wearing helmets, as they know my story. They’ve seen the pictures.”

Woman standing with little girl riding a palomino-colored pony in Inky Dinky saddle

Kelsey has a number of favorite helmet brands including IRH, Samshield, GPA, and One K—and more recently she’s been riding in a Suomy helmet—an Italian brand that she discovered at the Las Vegas National Horse Show. When searching for the right helmet, Kelsey suggests trying multiple brands to determine which fit works best for your head shape and says comfort is key.

Kelsey now has a 2-year-old daughter named Margot and hopes her little girl falls in love with horses just like her mom.

“She rides in her Inky Dinky Saddle right now, but I can’t wait until she’s big enough to ride on her own,” Kelsey said. “She’s brave and fearless, and I just know she’s going to be a natural. But she will always, always ride in a helmet!”