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Friday, July 15, 2011

Should cowboys wear helmets?

Should cowboys wear helmets?

By Sean Myers
CALGARY — Bull rider Ty Pozzobon won’t compete without his head tucked safely into a helmet and his face behind a cage.

At 19, he’s already had a couple concussions competing in what a new University of Calgary study calls the most dangerous event in rodeo, and he’s not taking any chances at losing a payday.

The young bull rider predicts helmets in the rodeo ring will soon replace cowboy hats as the trend toward safer rides gains momentum.

“It won’t be long before everyone will be wearing helmets,” said Mr. Pozzobon of Merritt, B.C. “It doesn’t hurt anything and it’s only going to make your career last longer.

“If you’re put out with a concussion, you’re only losing money.”

A new study looking at catastrophic injuries — defined as life changing or fatal — during a 20-year period shows there were 21 deaths in rodeo between 1989 and 2009 in Canada and the United States of which bull riding accounts for 11. The number rises to 16 when boys’ steer wrestling and junior bull riding are included (both youth competitions lead to bull riding which requires professional entrants to be 18).

In the five rodeo deaths where the cause was a head injury, not one of the fatally wounded competitors was wearing a helmet.

“We can safely say no one wearing a helmet was killed due to head injuries in this time frame,” said Dale Butterwick a University of Calgary associate professor of kinesiology and co-author of the Catastrophic Injury Registry.

He noted that some of the deaths involved competitors without head gear who were first knocked out before the animal landed on their chests.

“It’s possible helmets could’ve prevented even more deaths if those people hadn’t been knocked out,” said Prof. Butterwick.

Not all the head injury related deaths were bull riders. Two were barrel racers who struck their heads on a piece of infrastructure and one was a saddle bronc rider who was kicked in the head.

In Canada, helmets are mandatory for boys competing in steer riding.

Prof. Butterwick said the adult bull riders are naturally moving toward wearing protective head gear.

In the Professional Bull Riding circuit, 40 to 55% of the competitors are now wearing helmets on any given week, he said.

“I don’t think we’ll have to be bad guys here,” said Prof. Butterwick. “There seems to be more and more helmets being worn all the time. The kids have been riding with them and they’re comfortable. Ten years from now it will be very very rare not to see a helmet.”

Prof. Butterwick’s registry was published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in May.

The work was begun in 2006 and he said the most accurate data is from 2007-2009 which shows a catastrophic injury rate of 19.81 per 100,000. The rate from 1989 to 2009 was 9.45 per 100,000 but Prof. Butterwick said that may be misleading.

He said the some of earlier data was collected from surveys asking participants to remember injuries from several years prior and some incidents were likely missed.

Another three-year study is underway which he will compare with the 2007-2009 numbers.

Prof. Butterwick hopes one finding will lead to the development of better equipment. He said the registry shows that protective vests seem to have little impact on reducing thoracic compression fatalities that happen when the animal lands on the competitors upper body.

“It tells me the vest could be improved,” said Prof. Butterwick. “What if the vest was better, could some of those guys survived?

“It says we’ve got some work to do.”

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