Monday, July 5, 2010

Horses Rampage at a July 4th Parade

Twenty-four people were injured and one killed yesterday at the Bellevue, Iowa, Independence Day parade when two horses pulling a carriage in the parade trampled onlookers.  It appears that the horses bumped heads and the bridle came off of one, spooking the horses and spurring the stampede.  The dead woman is Janet Steines, the wife of the carriage driver and a passenger, who was thrown when the carriage collided with a street sign.  Four people remain hospitalized.  Many of the injured were children who were picking up tossed candy in the street.

Yesterday, I myself was in a July 4th parade here in Ann Arbor.  I walked alongside a school bus and tossed candy with some colleagues, while various kids and adults rode the bus and threw candy from the windows.  A gemtleman from the local chapter of the Jaycees, the sponsoring organization, told us several times that the bus riders were tossing candy too close to the bus and encouraged us to throw it over, not at the crowd.  Frankly, we thought he was sort of annoying, although I did see a child or two dart too close to the bus to retrieve some candy and worried about a low-speed crash.

July 4th parades are one of those "supposed to be" events.  They're supposed to be fun.  They're supposed to wholesome.  They're supposed to be safe.  We all believe those things and don't really question them.  We feel the same way about July 4th fireworks, or at least about the official, professional fireworks displays.  Anyone who lives with a small child has spent lots of time reassuring them that the fireworks are loud, but they won't hurt you.  The horses are big, but they're friendly.  This is all good fun.

On July 3rd, if I had asked you or, for that matter, the people of Bellevue, Iowa, whether it was remotely possible that horses in the Independence Day parade would bolt and injure someone, you and they would have said yes, it was possible.  You also would have said it was possible that a firework from a professional display would misfire into a crowd of people, but not terribly likely (it did, in Palmyra, Pennsylvania) or that a child would be hit by a schoolbus (this, thankfully, did not happen).  But unless someone asked you about it, you wouldn't have thought much about it.  Life is full of dangers we don't choose to think about.  Their likelihood seems so remote.

Here's the interesting thing.  Next July 4th, if you go to a parade that has horses, it is possible that you will think back to this incident and feel a little anxious.  We would consider it truly out of proportion, however, for most adults to be so nervous in such a situation that they couldn't attend such a parade.  On the other hand, if you're from Bellevue and witnessed yesterday's incident, you would get a pass if the horses scared you.  And yet, it is no more likely for a horse to trample spectators in Bellevue than in New York or Ann Arbor or Atlanta. 

So why is it OK for people in Bellevue to be more worried?  Basically, because we recognize that people who have not experienced a trauma tend to somewhat underestimate its likelihood, and people who have experienced one tend to overestimate it.  If we're kind, compassionate people we leave space for that overestimation, recognizing it as a typical stress reaction, and expect it to diminish, but perhaps not go away, over time.

Coming up tomorrow:  Why there seem to be so many freak accidents on Independence Day.  Check back!


Colleen said...

Every time I see fireworks, I mention the time a piece of glowing wadding from a rocket that didn't shoot right, landed in my 18th C petticoats, and we could see it glowing, but couldn't *find* it in my layers of clothing, to get it off me! It felt like hours, although it must have been less than a minute, given that the burned hole was only about half an inch in diameter.

This was 27 years ago, I'm no longer scared by it...I love watching fireworks, even ones pretty nearby (if shot over the water, when on the beach), but I remember it...every time!

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