Helmets now mandatory for peewee barrel racers in Alberta

Several hundred of the youngest barrel racers in Alberta must now wear helmets when participating in official events approved by the Alberta Barrel Racing Association.

Protective headwear has been required for young competitors in other provinces for years

Innisfail's Sydney Daines raced in her first Calgary Stampede in 2015. It's still not common for top-level barrel racers to wear helmets but that is starting to change, according to Janet Patriquin of the Alberta Barrel Racing Association. (Mike Copeman)

Several hundred of the youngest barrel racers in Alberta must now wear helmets when participating in official events approved by the Alberta Barrel Racing Association.

The ABRA implemented the new rule effective Jan. 1 for all peewee competitors.

"I think over the last few years...there's been a lot of awareness brought to head injuries in any kind of sports," said ABRA spokeswoman Janet Patriquin.

"We just feel that if we start our youngest ones out and give that awareness to safety and protection against injuries, it just creates an overall awareness for them actually for the rest of their lives."

Patriquin said the peewee age category in barrel racing includes kids eight and under and she "wouldn't be surprised" if similar rules were adopted for older competitors in the future.

"We're actually hoping those peewees, as they get older, will actually carry on with this," she said.

Professional barrel racer Fallon Taylor's decision to start wearing helmets has also helped change the culture in the sport.

"She really has made it an exciting thing for kids to want to wear these helmets, to be like her," Patriquin said.

"She's one of these people who dresses in bright colours and she's just made it a lot of fun for kids."

Helmets mandatory elsewhere in Canada

Megan McKay, president of the Canadian Barrel Racing Association (CBRA), said her group has been requiring helmets for barrel racers under the age of 10 for nearly a decade and it's common in other provinces for helmets to be mandatory, too.

But she noted the CBRA, despite its name, is based in British Columbia and is not an umbrella organization, so it does not mandate rules in Alberta.

McKay said she was glad to see the ABRA require helmets for young riders, too.

"The kids are really young and they're fragile and if we want them to succeed and to be able to go longer in this sport, I feel that it's a necessity for children at that age," she said.

"Not wearing helmets, I feel it's unsafe."

In her view, McKay said it simply makes sense to wear helmets while riding "extremely high-performance horses" in race situations.

"A lot of adults are starting to wear helmets now, as well," she said.

With files from Jennifer Lee