A 36-year-old mother from Cambridgeshire who broke her neck in a fall from her friend’s horse said her riding hat “saved my life.”

“My surgeon said if I hadn’t been wearing one I would have been brain damaged and in a wheelchair,” said Karen McCord.

Mrs McCord owns an unbroken three-year-old so bought a new hat from her local tack shop in Great Gidding, near Peterborough in preparation for riding him later in the summer. After trying many, she settled on a Champion hat costing £79.

The hat was worn for the first time on 22 April when riding a friend’s horse, who had not been ridden for six weeks as the owner had broken her finger.

Mrs McCord was riding the gelding in a small brick-enclosed arena in canter when she fell.

“I remember going round a corner, facing a brick wall and thinking I am going to hit it. I went slap-bang into it and lost consciousness,” recalled Mrs McCord.

Realising she had hurt her neck, paramedics took her to Peterborough City Hospital for X-rays, MRI and CT scans. These showed she had a C2 fracture.

“The surgeon said many people don’t survive that kind of fracture, but you are really lucky and you are going to be ok.”

Mrs McCord was transferred to Addenbroke’s hospital in Cambridge to have a halo vest fitted. The piece of metal weighs 8lbs and is bolted through the skull with four pins to keep the neck injury from moving.

If healing proceeds as expected, the halo vest will be removed on 12 July, after 12 weeks, to be replaced by a collar for another month while the neck muscles build back up.

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“Without my amazing family and friends I wouldn’t have rehabilitated so well,” said Mrs McCord. Her employers Thomas Cook have also been “really supportive.”

“The days are very boring, but Horse&Hound has kept me going for the last few weeks,” she added.

Following the accident Mrs McCord urges all riders to make sure their hat fits properly and meets the appropriate safety standards.

“Don’t just buy one off eBay or from friends via Facebook. My hat was the best £79 I’ve ever spent.”