Advocating for Nicole’s Law in New York

Sadly, Gary Hornstein lost his 12-year-old daughter Nicole over five years ago in a tragic accident when she fell off a horse. The Hornsteins are horse lovers and at the time they kept horses on their property, but because Nicole’s trainer lived across the street, she headed over there often for lessons and trail rides. Nicole was a brave equestrian who had been riding since she was four years old and competed in various events including dressage, hunter/jumpers, western barrel racing and reining. The family had been diligent about wearing helmets, however this particular day she was without protective headgear as she rode alongside her trainer on a busy residential road. The horse spooked and threw Nicole to the pavement. As a result she suffered severe head trauma, which left her in a coma for several days before ultimately claiming her life. The Hornstein family lost their beautiful, fearless daughter, and from the day of Nicole’s death, Gary Hornstein has channeled his energy into helping educate the public about helmet safely. He hopes to prompt the adoption of state laws that require youth to wear helmets at all times while on horseback. [expand]

Gary, his wife, daughter Nicole and their two other daughters lived in Florida at the time of the accident, and afterwards he spent three years trying to change the Florida laws requiring protective headgear for youth. After much effort and lobbying ordinances in the 38 cities in Florida, they enjoyed a few victories. In 2009 Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed the “Nicole Law” which requires horseback riders 16 and younger to wear a helmet when riding on public roads and rights of way and while taking riding lessons. Now, anyone who allows a child in Florida to ride without a helmet could be fined $500, however, private properties and events are exempt from this law.

A Southampton native, Hornstein has moved back to the area with high hopes to realize the same legislative successes here in New York State. He is adamant about implementing safe helmet laws in our area. Hornstein has solicited the help of State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor in his efforts. New York was the first state to pass an equestrian helmet law in 2000 but it only requires children age 14 and under to wear them, and only in certain circumstances. While chatting with Hornstein, and listening to him recall the tragic and preventable circumstances surrounding Nicole’s death, it is easy to get swept up in his desires and hopes to see the law amended to include all youth up to 18 years of age. Hornstein hopes to keep Nicole’s memory alive, and he talks of her spunky personality, remembering how she loved to eat ice cream and ride western style. He recalls fond memories of Nicole and her older sister riding together in the fields, and remembers their laughter during those times. Hornstein feels that being around horses has been a good experience for his daughters and it has taught them much, and if it weren’t for that fateful day when Nicole was riding without a helmet, she would still be riding today. After Nicole’s death, the local community rallied and built a memorial and plaque in Nicole’s honor, naming their local park the Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park. Hornstein is on a mission to keep other children from suffering the same fate as Nicole, all the while keeping his daughter’s memory alive. He tells me that once he is successful in the state of New York, he plans to move on to another a state, mostly likely Kentucky because of the prevalence of the equestrian community, to help change their laws. “I won’t give up and I’m doing all of this for Nicole,” he says.

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