‘It’s what I live for’: eventer who suffered serious brain injury returns to competition

An eventer who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in a cross-country fall has praised the NHS and her family after her return to competition, a year later.

Alexa Palmer, 20, suffered a serious fall with her gelding Ogue Caviar in the intermediate class at Little Downham Horse Trials on 1 June 2018.

Alexa told H&H she did not remember much of the incident, after which she was airlifted to hospital.

“It was one of those things. It’s sometimes luck on the day – you can have a good horse who is feeling well, but these things can happen in eventing,” said Alexa.

“The doctors warned my family a couple of times in the initial stages that I might not make it. I was in and out of consciousness for about two days but then things picked up and I got stronger and stronger. I had serious post-traumatic amnesia which meant I didn’t know what was happening when I was in hospital but I’m quite fortunate whereas my poor family had to watch it all.”

Alexa spent a month in hospital where she took part in a trial of a drug trial aimed at preventing blood clots forming on the brain.

“I was very fortunate to take part. When I saw the specialists afterwards they were amazed by my progress and said they hadn’t seen anything like it,” she said.

“I was very tired in hospital and didn’t have much stamina but the nurses and the doctors were very supportive – that’s what made the difference. They were very kind and there were other patients who were nice to be around – we were all supporting each other.”

On release from hospital in July Alexa was told she faced six months out of the saddle.

“Doctors have to be quite pessimistic because they don’t want to get your hopes up too much. I was advised a second knock to the head could be fatal while I was recovering,” said Alexa.

“I evaluated everything. I knew horses gave me a lot of pleasure so I started doing a lot of teaching. I would walk my horses in-hand and lunge them to work on their strength and balance, no-one else was riding them apart from occasionally my younger sister Kitty would hop on if she had time.”

Alexa returned to the saddle in November, and to competition in January, when she rode at a British Dressage (BD) competition.

“Kitty and I went out hacking to start – I thought it might be different being back on but from the word go it’s been totally normal,” said Alexa.

“I had a winning return to competition on our homebred mare Greenhays Midnight Magic and went on to win my next two dressage competitions. It provided some nice motivation knowing I was doing something right, and when no one had been riding my horses, to get them back into work myself and get the win felt really good.”

Alexa, who has completed her second year of a BSc in business economics at Exeter University, entered a BE100 at Bovington on 13 April, with her family’s blessing to return to eventing, and came third on six-year-old Global Super Nova. She has since qualified for the BD summer regionals, and is aiming Global Super Nova for young horse British Eventing classes. Kitty has taken on the ride of Ogue Caviar, competing him in BD classes.

“I never ever doubted returning to eventing,” Alexa said. “I knew all along it’s what I wanted to do – it’s what I love and live for. I know the southwest start box team, who do all the events in the area, really well so it felt very special they were the ones starting me because they know my journey and where I’ve come from.

“My family were amazing during my recovery and once I got to the point of returning to competition they were really supportive. They’ve never doubted me, and will let me progress as far as I want to go.”

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Alexa has been sharing her journey with her Facebook followers.

“When I had my accident the first thing that motivated me and made me feel happy was the number of cards that came through the post from friends, family and sponsors. It was a really nice feeling. I thought ‘how can I give something back to them?’ so it’s nice for them to follow my journey; where I’ve come from, where I’m going to and the process to get there – and it’s nice for me to look back on where I’ve come from,” Alexa said.

“People have all contributed so much to my recovery in that initial stage so it’s a good way to give back to them.”

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