NZ equestrians named as 'helmet heroes' for 2011

January 9, 2012

Two New Zealand equestrians have been named among a lineup of "helmet heroes" for their work in promoting helmet wearing and safety among horse riders.


Elizabeth Charleston became a leading proponent for riding safety following an accident in which she suffered a head injury.


Shiwon Green and Gosh. Green was among the first grand prix riders to wear a hard hat in competition.

Kiwis Elizabeth Charleston and Shiwon Green are among the Helmet Heroes named by advocacy group Riders4Helmets, which was founded in early 2010.

Charleston, a former top model and show rider, has campaigned hard in New Zealand to encourage equestrians to wear a helmet, despite the fact that she suffered a traumatic brain injury while riding and often struggles with its effects on her daily life.

Green, a grand prix dressage rider, was among the first top-level riders to swap a helmet for the sport's traditional top hat in February.

"You'll hear riders saying 'all I want to do is wear a top hat and tails' and that will literally be their life goal with their riding, to get the top hat and tails," Green said at the time. "The sport needs to change its mindset she said, putting performance over aesthetics."

Since Green made the change, top German rider Isobell Werth has also made the move to wearing a safety helmet, declaring in December that: "Horses are not pieces of sports equipment, but living beings. Since you never know if they might react differently under saddle then expected I decided to ride with a helmet from now on". Werth has also been named a Helmet Hero for 2011.

The campaign has the official endorsement of USEF, USDF, USEA, USHJA, ARIA, PRO, EMSA, EAF and CHA, as well as support from leading equestrians in various disciplines.

Charleston said that in pushing for helmet use among riders, she realised that there are "a few people out there not so keen on the whole safety helmet issue."

"But we strongly believe that what we are trying to achieve is for the good of all riders and future generations in regards to personal safety.

"Any rider at any level has the potential to have an accident whilst riding. Just like any time a driver gets into a car they have the potential to be involved in a car accident through no fault of their own."

Charleston said every horse rider in New Zealand is a role model for someone. "From our top riders in the various disciplines at the Horse of the Year Show when the nation is watching, to the competitor winning their rider class at a local Pony Club ribbon day when a 10 year old child is sitting on the side of the ring hoping to be like the person at the top of the line up sashed with the red ribbon.

"As horse riding role models I hope that people realise the power they have to educate those around them and to do that, why not lead by example?"


Shiwon Green
Green admitted to being "a little embarrassed" to be recognised as a Helmet Hero. She'd like helmet use to be so passe so as not to even rate a mention.

"I certainly didn't do this for recognition. I did it so the next person who wanted to wear a helmet in an FEI event wouldn't need to be so 'brave' - that there was a precedent set. Of course now that Isobell has stepped forward I can happily fade back into insignificance!" Green said.

"I also wanted people to get talking and to actually consider their own safety when getting on a horse - not just at a horse show but every day.

"Not that we need to be nervous nellies and never do anything where we might get hurt; rather that our sport is dangerous enough as it is and if we can do something as simple as putting on a helmet to prevent lifelong disability, then do it. I put on my seatbelt every time I get in the car, don't you?" said Green, who was an emergency room nurse for 12 years.

"The last reason I decided to do this [support helmet wearing] was to highlight the wonderful work that Lizzie Charleston does supporting those living with the ongoing effects of a TBI (traumatic brain injury). This is less about prevention and more about awareness of what life is like for those who struggle everyd ay in our community with 'the invisible disability'. I have seen so many people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by even relatively minor head trauma."

Green has had a great start to her competition season, being part of the New Zealand team that secured the country's first ever dressage team spot at the Olympics. "Definitely a highlight and I proudly wore my Stirrups sponsored GPA at this event," Green said.


Shiwon Green and Gosh, who has recently been retired from international competition.

Green has since retired her top horse Gosh from international competition. "He has nothing left to prove to anyone anymore. He has taken me on a journey I never thought possible and has earned his rest from that level," Green said.

She has a young horse, Da Vinci, who debuted at PSG level this season and who has also taken to the show arena in style, being runner up at his last outing to Australian National title holder Glentullock and carrying Green to the Champion Rider sash. Another young horse who is at level 2 will probably be sold at the end of the season, and a new Anamour four-year-old will be out during the winter.

Green has just given up my part time job in the Emergency Department at Waikato Hospital and is now full time riding and training.