‘It felt normal – it felt good’: former Badminton winner rides again, a year after serious head injury

  • Paul Tapner said getting back riding, over a year after he suffered serious head injuries in a fall, “felt normal” —and he has enjoyed it.

    The 2010 Badminton winner has ridden three horses in the last week, including his advanced eventer Bonza King of Rouges.

    Paul said last autumn he had no plans to ride again, eight weeks after he suffered brain bleeds and a minor stroke in a hacking fall.

    “At that stage, I felt pretty wobbly, and the thought of doing pretty much anything was hard work, so the thought of riding was nowhere near my mind,” he told H&H today (23 November).

    “I had physios saying they wanted me to ride as part of my rehab, but I’d seen other riders have injuries and go back not being able to ride anywhere near where they were. I didn’t want to do that, so I refused to get on a horse.”

    Paul said he rode a horse simulator at Oaksey House rehabilitation centre at therapists’ request, but “it took me enough concentration to stay on and do rising trot, and I thought if I have to do that, to do what I consider very simple, I don’t ever want to ride again.”

    But in the last week, Paul said, he felt physically in control enough that he could ride on a horse and it “be normal”.

    “I felt I could just do it, so I did,” he said. “My wife Georgina was very supportive and helpful, although we did have an argument about which horse I’d ride, so I got on and it was good.”

    Paul has so far ridden an event horse of his daughter Madison’s, a former racehorse, and King himself.

    “The fight with my wife was because she wouldn’t let me ride King first!” he said. “Then she saw I was ok. She did look at me and ask if I wanted her to lead me and I said ‘I’m not a lead-rein rider, get away from the horse!

    “When I was a professional rider, I didn’t like riding at home, I liked competing and winning, and I’m still like that so the fact I’ve enjoyed this riding at home surprised me; it felt normal and it felt good.”

    Paul said he has “no desire to compete again”.

    “I wouldn’t contemplate facing a jump at this point because I don’t feel I’ve got enough control of my body to do what I considered normal for me,” he said. “[Jumping] isn’t high on my priority list so it may or may not happen, and it’s highly likely to not happen.”

    Paul said he had been discussing with someone, months ago, whether the fact he has no memory of the fall, or of some time after it, might help as he would be less likely to feel any fear, and he thinks that is the case.

    “I’ve never felt any sort of fear,” he said. “That might be a slight blessing but my wife remembers all the hassle, so this has been more difficult for her than for me, she’s been brave. So there was some advantage — but I don’t recommend it!”

    And, Paul added, having checked the rules and changed qualification requirements, he realised he and King are still qualified for Badminton 2022.

    “I keep joking, every time I get on, about how my preparation for Badminton is going,” he said. “I did say yesterday I was going, to scare the living daylights out of my wife, so watch this space, you never know!”

    But he added: “I don’t think that will happen; I think this is one time common sense will take over from what’s in the rules.”

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