Equestrian paralysed when speedboat exploded completes six FEI championships for Britain

  • A former “happy hacker” who was paralysed in a speedboat explosion just before she was due to get married has been awarded the FEI gold badge of honour.

    The award is given to those who have completed six FEI world and continental championships. Deborah Daniel completed her sixth this summer, the para driving World Championships, where Britain won team bronze.

    “My accident was a tragedy,” Deborah told H&H. “But one, I’m alive. And two, it’s taken my life down a different path that I’d never have gone on. It had always been my dream to wear the Great Britain flag on my chest; the first time I did, I couldn’t see the centre line as my eyes were full of tears. I was so, so proud; to wear that flag on your chest and represent your country means everything.”

    Deborah was 29 in October 1997 when she and her fiancé flew to St Lucia for their wedding. Two weeks before their wedding date, they went for a boat trip.

    “We’d waded out to this big speedboat and they couldn’t start one of the outboard engines,” she said. “So someone flipped open the hatch that I was sitting next to, and went to hot-wire it, without realising there had been a fuel leak. So basically, the boat blew up.”

    Deborah was thrown about 30 feet in the air and landed in the water.

    “I checked my legs were still attached, but I knew I’d broken my back,” she said. “There were 14 or 15 people on the boat and five were killed.”

    Deborah and her fiancé, who had also broken his back but was not paralysed, were taken to hospital, then back to Britain. Deborah went back to her job as a police officer but had to undergo multiple operations, and chose to retire on medical grounds a year later. She moved to Shropshire from Staffordshire, and bought a bungalow.

    “It’s got land and stables,” she said. “I tried riding but it wasn’t for me because I could only walk. But I used to help with the Riding for the Disabled Association at the national championships and one year, they asked if I’d be a guinea pig and go in a carriage, so I did, and when I moved to Shropshire, I thought I’d give it a go.”

    That was over 20 years ago and Deborah has not looked back. She started with “a couple of competitions” – and has now won five championship medals for Britain, all with her groom Holly Dormer as backstepper. Her ponies, whether owned or loaned, have all been Welsh section Cs. “I must be mad, as they’re all bonkers!” but “I adore them,” she said.

    Deborah also competes in able-bodied driving, and said she loves all aspects of the sport, from training to championships.

    “I think it’s the challenge,” she said. “It’s so like eventing; the dressage, which is the basis of everything else, then you’ve got the speed and accuracy, and you have to be on the ball for the marathon, which is fast and furious, including how wet you can get your groom in the water! It’s amazing fun, and there’s great camaraderie.”

    Deborah said she was “slightly disappointed” with her performance at this year’s championships, with Averina Snow’s Capitola Mr. Houdini; she “messed up in the marathon” but achieved counting scores in the dressage and cones, coming second in the latter, to take the bronze with Mick Ward and Emily Ham, less than a penalty behind the US in silver.

    “You go out with the team first and foremost in mind,” she said. “And I wanted to complete, and get my gold badge, which I did, so I was thrilled to bits; no other para driver has done that.”

    Deborah is now aiming for the 2025 World Championships, and will “keep trying to improve”.

    “I just want to be the best I possibly can,” she said. “Fingers crossed I’ll be able to put my jacket back on and compete for Great Britain again.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...