The “elite amateur”, who won Badminton in 2010 and has twice represented Australia at the World Equestrian Games but retired as a pro in 2016, suffered two bleeds on the brain and a mild stroke in a hacking fall from his advanced horse Bonza King of Rouges on 5 August.
Paul, who spent three weeks in hospital, told H&H that mentally, he feels “95% back to normal”, eight weeks on from the accident.
“Physically, I’m still getting better,” he said. “I’m still having an enormous amount of medical intervention; my recovery is very much on fast forward, and I want to keep it that way.”
Paul and his wife Georgina were interviewed on Horse & Country TV about the fall.
Georgina said Paul had gone out for a ride on after work — he is now chief operations director of the Event Rider Masters series — and she called him to ask him to cook dinner as she was hungover, but there was no answer.
“Then I had a missed call from my mum; the horses are kept there, to say ‘King’s come back to the gate with Digger, the dog, Digger’s made a hell of a noise and King’s there without Paul, and we don’t know where Paul is.”
Georgina rang Josh, the Tapners’ 16-year-old son, who was able to drive round the tracks on the 500-acre farm to try to find Paul. Josh used the “find my iPhone” app to locate his father.
“Josh said ‘I’m with him, he’s rolling on the floor, not making any sense, but he’s told me he’s hit his head and needs to sleep’,” Georgina said. “I said ‘ring the ambulance now, do whatever they say and keep him talking. I’m on my way’.”
Paul was taken to hospital, where doctors said he had had a small bleed on the brain, and that he would stay in hospital for three to seven days.
Relieved, Georgina went home to bed, but was woken by a call from the hospital, to say a second bleed had been found in the centre of Paul’s brain, which meant he had had a stroke.
The next days were a “rollercoaster”, as Paul would improve, then deteriorate. He spent nearly a week in intensive care as his sodium levels had dropped dramatically, but “he really did get better from that stage”, Georgina said.
Paul said he remembers “bits and pieces” of the day before the fall, but has no memory of the next four to five weeks.
It was confirmed that the stroke was caused by the trauma, rather than being the cause of the fall, and Georgina said the accident has made her think even more about safety.
“You think the major accidents happen at competitions and as the wife of a competitive rider, you brace yourself for the competitions; I did not expect it to happen out hacking, especially on a horse Paul’s had many years; he was out for a nice hack after work.
“It makes me want to hit home to everyone: he was hacking. Not jumping or doing anything we see as dangerous, on a horse he knew. Whatever happened was so fast, it was beyond Paul’s control, or the horse’s.”
Paul said he has been embracing the help of different experts and therapists in his recovery, in the same way he has also used the appropriate experts to help his horses, and one physio suggested riding to help him progress.
But he said: “I haven’t got back on a horse yet — and I have got no plans of getting back on, ever.
“I’d already retired from professional eventing. I was remaining competitive at the top level, but only with that one horse, and I was going to see his career out and finish anyway. I’ve slightly finished earlier than I wanted to but my competitive career is over and I’ve got no desire to go back to it.”
Paul’s daughter Madison has now taken over the ride on King.
He told H&H: “I’m still very much involved with the horses; I’m still a horse person at heart. My wife and daughter are still involved and I still see the horses every day, but I don’t have any desire to sit on one.
“Madison will continue to showjump King and do Pony Club with him; what a fantastic semi-retirement for a horse of his age, and fantastic opportunity for her to have a horse of his previous level.”
In the interview, Paul, who was wearing a safety helmet at the time of his fall as he never rode without one, said he will always sing equestrian sport’s praises, but as an industry, we all need to take more notice of and action on head injuries, as they are so common.
“It’s not hard to stick on a hat and body protector every time you ride or feel you need it,” he said.
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Georgina also urged others to download the What3words app, which is used to pinpoint people’s exact locations. None of the Tapners had it at the time of the accident but they have now downloaded it, having seen how the ambulance first responder used it to tell the air ambulance where to land.
“If one person downloads it and it helps them, we’ve done what we wanted to do,” she said.
Both Paul and Georgina expressed huge gratitude for all those who sent “heart-warming” messages of support and good wishes, Georgina adding: “It meant a lot and I read them all.”
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