‘I had to learn to walk again’: top rider’s remarkable comeback from horror fall

  • Just three months after breaking his tibia and fibula in a horror fall in Florida, US showjumper Kent Farrington made his competition comeback in the CSI5* at Royal Windsor after a rigorous recovery mission.

    “I’m fully bionic now,” said Kent, having had rods fitted to repair the injured leg. “I’m excited just to be back riding at all.”

    The former world number one described the “long” recovery process.

    “You have to learn to walk again. Mentally, it’s very taxing. But I had a good team of people around me,” said the 37-year-old, who had won the 2016 and 2017 runnings of the Rolex Grand Prix at Royal Windsor and finished with four faults this year on Creedance (pictured top).

    “In the beginning, it’s more frustration and pain. I broke my tib and fib, both bones came out the leg, so that was bad — I was down straight away, it was like being shot in the leg and I couldn’t move. But from the start I was determined to move, so straight after the surgery they gave me some crutches and I was limping around the hospital at night. I would train two to three times a day every single day, then they would X-ray and check I wasn’t laying down too much bone, because you can over-train. It’s a real balance. So I alternated the type of training I was doing, depending on how my body was responding.

    “Also it was about how much pain is tolerable — how much is good pain, how much is too much pain where you’re going to hurt yourself and you have to stop.

    “My motivation was just to be back in the saddle as that’s my mentality – I’m an aggressive person so I don’t want to sit around and I was determined to get going again. I didn’t want things to slow me down more than was necessary.

    Rolex round table with Steve Guerdat and Kent Farrington

    Credit: Kit Houghton/Rolex

    “I feel a little bit of discomfort when I ride now – it doesn’t feel 100% but it’s manageable. And that’s what you ask yourself — can I manage it or not manage it.

    “It’s constant repetition – you have to understand that there’s going to be a certain amount of pain and discomfort and you just get comfortable with it being like that and it gets better and better. Most athletes are accustomed to pushing the limits of things and being uncomfortable — it’s not going to be perfect, so you manage anyway and keep going and that makes you stronger. So that’s an experience I think every athlete shares across most sports.”

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    This enforced rest was a novel experience for the Olympic silver medallist.

    “It’s interesting, I’ve been doing this my whole life and I’ve been riding professionally from a young age, so I’ve never really taken a rest and I don’t take many vacations — I love what I do so I don’t feel like I have to take too many breaks,” he said. “I have a lot of energy now and I’m ready to go again.”

    During his three-month absence from the sport, Kent lost his spot as the reigning world number one.

    “We talk about the number one spot a lot, but that’s not really something we chase — in horse sport it’s about managing your horses and trying to have them at their best,” he said. “I’d rather have a good schedule and healthy horses and win five grands prix a year and be number two in the world than I would be second 20 times and be hard on my horses and be number one. It’s a personal thing but I think most of the top riders would have a similar outlook. So for me now, it’s not about chasing the number one spot again, I just want to get back to doing the sport like I was before and let it all play out.

    “When you step away from anything, you come back with a better appreciation for it. Riding these horses now, I really appreciate how exceptional some of them are. You start jumping them again and you think ‘Wow! How fortunate I am to have horses like that in my stable?”

    >> As told during the Rolex round table at Windsor. Don’t miss Steve Guerdat’s thoughts on the state of the sport, coming soon at www.horseandhound.co.uk and you can read all about this year’s Royal Windsor in this week’s Horse & Hound, out Thursday 17 May.

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