Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Focus On Safety

The following is an article that I wrote for the Rolex Website. After Oliver Townend's fall, I was able to catch up with him in England, and we spoke about the Point Two Pro-Air Jacket, which clearly prevented his accident from being catastrophic. Hawley is sponsored by Point Two USA, and I'd like her fans to become educated about this life saving device!!

Anyone who participates in, or follows this sport, knows that there has been a tremendous spotlight on safety due to the high profile falls that have occurred over the past several years. When I first arrived at Rolex, my assignment was to interview three riders and to produce three articles with a personal twist. The first was Debbie Rosen, an amazing woman who has battled breast cancer & finished her last round of chemo therapy 6 weeks prior to Rolex. The next was an interview with Buck and his reflections on Rolex and The Horse Park, as a son to an eventing legend & as one of the top level competitors in his own right today. My final interview was to be with Oliver and I planned to reveal more about his childhood & his atypical rise to stardom in the horse world.

After Oliver’s fall, the media center was buzzing with phone calls & concern regarding his condition. We tried to interpret the incoming texts & calls from our inside sources in an attempt to determine what was fact & what was a bi-product of the rumor mill. I had been at the head of the lake during his fall (see attached photos) so I wanted to see the footage of the actual incident. Kat Netzler of The Chronicle put me on to some photos which captured the entire event sequence & quite honestly I was shaken. It’s a very emotional experience when a member of the eventing community doesn’t make it through the finish flags. Every photographer & journalist who witnessed the fall stated that it was a miracle that he was alive.

Our sport has undergone grueling scrutiny over the past few years and everyone involved has taken on the task of improving safety standards. This sport is unified by a fraternity of riders, event organizers, owners and fans who want to see all competitors and horses given the best chance of walking away from an accident. This is why we’ve seen improvement in course design with frangible pins and break-away obstacles. One product which has been recently introduced on the market is an inflatable air jacket, which in Oliver’s case, may have saved his life.

When I first was introduced to the Point Two Pro Air Jacket, I was with my client Boyd Martin at the USEA convention in Reston, Va. The Point Two Pro Air Jacket had just been recently brought to market in Europe by the company founder Lee Middleton. Boyd was being offered the opportunity to be sponsored by Point Two USA, a subsidiary of the British parent company, with distribution rights here in the United States. Craig Martin & Sharn Wordley, both world class show jumpers and business partners from New Zealand, launched the marketing efforts of Point Two USA at Fair Hill International during the fall of 2009. Since then they have made great efforts to educate the public about the life saving protection of wearing a Point Two Pro Air Vest.

When I witnessed the deployment of the product at the convention, my first reaction was, “This is just a no-brainer!” Why not introduce a wearable safety device that gives riders the same protection as an air bag in your car. I contemplated buying one of the vests for myself, a lifelong rider who’s recently switched from 20+ years in the hunter ring back to eventing. After all, we’ve all read about riders who have had catastrophic accidents over a small warm up fence or while they were walking back to the barn.

This afternoon I was finally able to catch up with Oliver for that interview that never took place during Rolex. Through the orchestration of the British publicist for Rolex and Lee Middleton of Point Two, I was able to connect with Oliver for that final interview. The focus of the interview had clearly shifted from a personal account of his road to Rolex, to a celebratory affirmation of his ability to travel home to England. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I’d still be in a hospital in America, and not back in England, if it hadn’t been for this unbelievable product.” Oliver is now sore with some injuries that will keep him grounded for 21 days, but it’s simply miraculous that he’s even walking around after reviewing the photos from the actual fall. Clearly the Point Two Pro Air Vest had saved him from a catastrophic injury.

Oliver had been wearing the vest during an earlier fall at Livington Manner (Advanced) last year, where the deployment of the vest had enabled him to be back in the tack to ride at Badminton. Oliver emphatically told me “This product offers immense steps forward in safety for our sport, and NO ONE should go out cross country without one.”

Article and photos are the property of Lisa Thomas Mid-Atlantic Equestrian Services. Not for reproduction without permission.

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