The UK’s largest balloon flight company, Virgin, has admitted causing damage after one of its hot air balloons spooked a grazing horse, which injured itself and its handler.

Two years after the incident in July 2011, Virgin agreed to a settlement, which required a judge’s approval as the claimant was a minor at the time of the accident.

Jessica Fuller-Bray, now 17, was hand-grazing her 16.3hh Hanoverian near Chatteris, Cambs, when a hot-air balloon began descending towards the paddock. When the pilot tried to regain height, the noise of the gas scared the horse, which reared, broke free and jumped the post-and-rail fence before crashing into new arena fencing.

“Not only was damage caused to the property, but Jessica had a rope burn and sharp jolt to the shoulder,” said personal injury solicitor James Reilly of Ralli law firm, in Manchester.

“This resulted in soft tissue injuries which warranted medical referral to an orthopaedic surgeon and physio.”

Virgin has apologised for the “damage and distress” caused.

The family submitted a claim for the vet bill, damage to property and personal injuries. Virgin agreed to a settlement of the injury claim.

“When the pilot saw the horses he did everything possible to avoid a disturbance by aborting the landing and using the quieter ‘whisper’ burner only once to maintain altitude,” said a spokesman for the company.

“The pilot returned to apologise directly after the flight and provided the requested details to enable a claim. We operate 1,500 flights a year and incidents of this kind are rare.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (11 July, 2013 issue)