In honor of Helmet Awareness Month, I am featuring Jade Vohland. A helmet saved her life. Jade was a working student for Sabine Schut-Kery and featured in the USDF Magazine as a top groom in the USA when she had her accident.
How old are you?
I am 20 years old.
How old were you when you had your accident?
I was 19 years old.
I was riding a young horse at the time. I don’t actually remember the accident at all and I’m okay with that. The horse just tripped on his own feet, lost his balance, as young horses do sometimes, and fell down with me on him.
What was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury and a collapsed lung. I’m very lucky that I didn’t break any bones.
When did it happen?
It happened in October of 2020.
Where were you working?
I was working in Napa, California as a working student.
How long were you in the hospital for?
I went into the hospital in October 2020 and I didn’t get out until the end of December.
What limitations are you still dealing with?
Everyday gets better as the brain continues to heal - until about a year after trauma. However, I don’t quite trust my memory yet. So, I make sure to write things down in the notes section of my phone.
Have you ridden since the accident?
Yes, but I don’t ride as well as I would like too. I had what’s called a diffuse axonal injury, which means your brain shifts inside the skull leaving little micro-tears all throughout the brain. Therefore, all pathways are there, but the pathways got disturbed. So, I have to clear the pathways off before they work well again. The only way to get better is by doing it.
What keeps you going/inspires you?
I would say that the thought of getting back into the saddle again inspires me to keep going every day. I want more than anything to ride well. I very recently started dreaming again. Of course, I have dreams about riding.
Your biggest accomplishment in the ring?
Before I fell in love with dressage, I rode in 3-day Eventing. I would say my biggest accomplishment was earning first at Twin Rivers in the novice division and then first at Shepherd Ranch in the training division.
What inspired you to switch from Eventing to Dressage?
I will admit that as a young girl I very much preferred the x-country to dressage. However, as I got older I fell in love in learning about riding though dressage. It was actually my friend, Jen Azevedo switching to dressage, with her young horse, that introduced me to the world of dressage. When you are really connected with a horse it is almost as if the horse can hear your thoughts. The ability to say so much without speaking a single word is what hooked me on the sport.
Your biggest accomplishment in life – so far?
Oh boy, difficult to answer but I would say my biggest personal accomplishment has been overcoming this injury. Of all the things in life that I’ve had to deal with there is nothing out there comparable to the feeling of trying as hard as you can to move part of your body only for it to lay there unmoving. I have never experienced frustration like I have with this injury. Regardless of how frustrating it was I’m here now and even though my memory isn’t perfect. It’s a whole lot better than it was and I am endlessly grateful to everyone who has showed up for me in my life. If one of you are reading this now; From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you!
Advice to other equestrians?
Never give up. I know it sounds super cheesy but you don’t know what might happen both positively and negatively. I always say to myself “so what” if I don’t do well. I could eliminate any chance at doing well if I don’t try so TRY.
What are you the most proud of overcoming with this injury?
I would say that something I’m the most proud of is, despite the challenges I faced with this injury, even during the times when everything was up in the air as far as my recovery, and not even the doctors could confidently say what I would get back, did I ever give up. It wasn’t an option for me.
Why do you think wearing a helmet is so important?
When 5 seconds to put a helmet on is the difference between life and death, I don’t see how anyone could have a question in their minds about putting one on. It may sound like I’m being a little dramatic and a year ago I might have agreed with you but something I’ve learned is that you can expect the unexpected. In October of 2020, a young horse I was riding tripped and fell down from underneath me. I feel it’s important to note also that it was not the horse’s fault at all. It was a freak accident. But the reality is, accidents can happen. I unfortunately suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and a collapsed lung in the fall. I was wearing a helmet at the time. I went into a coma immediately. I personally don’t want to imagine what could have happened if I wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time.
Did wearing a helmet save your life?
Yes. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure your helmet is
ASTM/SEI certified. That certification doesn’t mean you’re exempt from accidents.
A helmet doesn’t make you invincible, but it certainly helps.