Injuries in equestrian sport: Dealing with it or part of the deal?
As an Olympic dressage rider with many successes at the top level to her name, Courtney King-Dye had everything going for her. A yard full of talented horses, plenty of ability and a thirst to become the best she could possibly be, the young American was living her childhood dream. But on 3 March 2010, everything changed. Courtney was schooling a six-year-old, cantering down the long side of the
arena, when the horse tripped and fell, trapping Courtney underneath him. She was not wearing a helmet. By her own admission, she had been in a hurry to get to a show and did not bother to put on the protective hard hat. As a direct result of her fall, Courtney suffered a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury that left her in a coma for four weeks, unable to do the simplest of physical tasks for many months afterwards. While her cognitive abilities were not affected, walking, talking and, of course, riding, had turned into the ultimate challenge. Yet the personality characteristics that helped Courtney get to the top of her
chosen sport would prove equally important on the long road to recovery. In April 2012, Courtney had recovered sufficiently to qualify for the US Paralympic selection trial. She ended up not participating, as her horse, Make Lemonade, was deemed unsuitable as a therapy horse. However, her spirit and competitive streak seem unbroken, as she continues in her aim to be the best she can be and compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Courtney King-Dye’s story underlines the importance of safety in equestrian
sports, as she herself continues to expound in the Riders4Helmets Campaign (www.riders4helmets.com) that was sparked by her tragic accident. As almost every rider is likely to attest, riding and being around horses is
dangerous and accidents unfortunately do happen. Common adages in equestrian sports frequently focus on the theme of riders parting company with their horses: ‘Riding is falling and getting up again’ or ‘You need to fall off seven times to become a rider’. Many of us have fallen off whilst out on a hack, during a showjumping round, going cross-country or ‘backing’ a young horse. But even more ‘sedate’ daily schooling activities or simply interacting with horses from the ground can be associated with very serious injuries, as evidenced by the tragic case of Courtney King-Dye.