‘I was thankful to be alive’: how HOYS 2022 judge overcame the odds after freak accident

  • The Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) is not only one of the biggest occasion in the calendar for showing competitors, but it’s also an event of prestige and significance for those select judges who are chosen to officiate each year. One judge who will be making her swansong appointment at the 2022 show is Lucy Killingbeck, who will be judging the show hunter of the year classes alongside conformation judge Wendy Phipps. This will be Lucy’s sixth time officiating ride at HOYS during her 30-year stint as a hunter panel judge.

    Lucy Killingbeck, a two-time HOYS winner herself, first judged a hunter class 40 years ago, when she chose Allister Hood and his ride at the time Langstone Orchid to win. This combination went on to triumph at HOYS. The fact Lucy is able to judge at this year’s HOYS is also something of a miracle; in 2017 she suffered life threatening injuries after a horse fell on top of her and she was told she’d never ride again.

    “I was told I’d never walk without a limp again, let alone ride a horse,” confirmed Lucy, who first judged at HOYS when it was held at Wembley. “In August 2017, I’d just come back from judging at Dublin. I was about to head out riding with my husband, John, when the horse I was on saw the mounting block in the corner of his eye and before I knew it, he’d popped his head and neck up and I was looking at the sky. He’d gone straight up and over backwards, landing on top of me. It was a freak accident as he’d been the easiest horse prior to this.

    “I was always taught to not shift in the saddle and it never crossed my mind that this would happen. The horse landed on me and consequently the pommel of the saddle smashed into my pubic bone and the peak went into my bladder.”

    Lucy credits the emergency services for their swift action and after a short ambulance journey to the local hospital, she underwent scans and tests. John, a leading vet who has attended four Olympic Games and the World Equestrian Games when Team GB won gold in 2018, kept Lucy calm at the scene.

    “After I was scraped up and taken to hospital, tests revealed that the only internal injury I had was to the bladder,” she continued. “I had also broken my pelvis, three vertebrae and the sacroiliac joint. The trauma team at the Southmead Hospital were amazing.

    “I was told I would be lucky to not walk without a limp and that there would be no likelihood that I’d ever ride again, especially to the same level in the show ring. However, at this stage I was thankful to be alive.

    “I was in hospital for five weeks and wasn’t allowed to weight-bear until Christmas that year. I had a very good physio who oversaw everything and I took all the advice given, trying not to be a hero in the process. I did everything to the letter and that’s why I’m where I am today.”

    Lucy Killingbeck: how she returned to the saddle

    Just under a year after the accident, Lucy Killingbeck was given the all clear by the consultants to have a sit in the saddle.

    “My mother had always dreamed of owning a lightweight show cob so for her 80th birthday we purchased the lovely Red Squirrel from our friend Susan Holliday,” said Lucy. “He was my saving grace. I’d ride him for minutes at a time before getting off, which was always the painful part. He was christian and he got me going again.

    “During this time, John was the team vet out in Hong Kong and Olympian Annie Ho came to our yard to ride a horse I’d had prior to my accident. He was Nicky Henderson’s Lost In Translation. One day I climbed on him myself and it was a love match. He fired me up again and relit my passion.

    “In 2019, I was asked to judge the HOYS working hunter qualifier at Stoneleigh Horse Show, and soon after HOYS offered me the chance to judge the hunters at the final again.

    “This will be my last time judging. It’s been a long road to get here, with lots of gym sessions, physio and pain killers. There has been a great deal of blood, sweat and tears involved in getting me to this point, with help from many people including John. I hope I can inspire others who may have had the same, or a similar, prognosis.”

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