‘The first three weeks were a complete blank’: eventer’s stud warning after suffering brain injury

A young eventer who suffered a brain haemorrhage in a fall when the horse she was riding slipped has urged others to consider wearing studs for training.

Kent-based Emily Cariad Nicol, 18, who had qualified for the 2019 Burghley Young Event Horse (BYEH) final (2 to 6 September), fell from another young horse while schooling in a field at home on 9 July.

“I don’t have any memory of what happened but I was told the horse slipped, I came off and was unconscious for 45 minutes,” Emily told H&H.

“My trainer Adam Heitman was there and I was airlifted to hospital. I spent two and a half days in the intensive care unit, semi-conscious.”

Emily, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, returned home after 10 days in hospital but had severe memory loss and was told by doctors it could take 18 months to fully recover.

“I don’t remember getting home; the first three weeks were complete blanks and then for the first month and a half I didn’t really remember much about life in general,” said Emily.

“My mum, Heather, would say ‘lets go and see the horses’; we had been really excited about a foal before my accident who was born while I was in hospital but I wasn’t interested. It was like I didn’t have a bond with them because I couldn’t remember them.”

Emily underwent occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and regained some of memories. Two months after her accident, she returned to the saddle on her seven-year-old gelding Simba.

“My balance was awful and I suffered dizziness with my co-ordination being off,” she said. “Fully coming to was almost the worst bit; I could recognise who I was before and remembered my riding but knew I couldn’t physically or mentally do it and I realised how much I missed my horses.

“My older brother Alex didn’t want me riding again. I think everyone was a bit nervous to see how I would get on but I knew I was in safe hands riding Simba. It was strange getting back on; when I picked up the reins it was like I’d never ridden before and I had to re-learn rising trot. It’s taken a long time but once I do something for the first time, things come back to me.”

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Emily, who has started competing in dressage and hopes to return to eventing next season, has urged others to give more thought to wearing studs at home and said she believes she would not have had the accident had her horse been wearing them.

“I wasn’t jumping, or turning tightly – I was just training at home on grass; it wasn’t wet and the ground was good. People don’t always think to stud up at home, no one expects something to happen but it doesn’t matter what level of work you’re doing – it’s not worth the risk. I would like to people to be a bit more aware and make that conscious decision to wear studs,” she said.

“This year I had hoped to aim Simba at three-star and I was meant to compete at the BYEH final with my five-year-old mare Arya but then I had my accident. I’m not 100% yet but I’m pretty happy with where I am now and I feel very lucky. The plan is to get back to where I was and hopefully even further. Next year will be a new start and I’m excited to see what we can do.”

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