Rider who broke back, ribs and hand in rotational fall qualifies for nationals five weeks on

  • A rider who suffered a broken vertebra, shoulder blade, hand, knuckle and ribs in a rotational fall came back to jump triple clear and qualify for the national championships five weeks later.

    Leigh Smallacombe and Los Angeles fell at Chard on 10 June, but Leigh and five-year-old gelding Flagstaff King finished second in the British novice second round at Dorset Showground on 24 July.

    “I thought I wouldn’t get through as I was a bit rusty!” Leigh told H&H. “It was my first show back and I jumped 90cm on the Friday, and worked my way up, and we ended up jumping triple clear.”

    Leigh said she was knocked out when six-year-old Los Angeles fell last month.

    “The pole got caught between his legs, and my head between him and the pole,” she said. “I was out cold so I don’t remember any of it, and I don’t want to.

    “There wasn’t going to be an ambulance for five hours so they had to take me to hospital by car. It’s funny as out of all my injuries, it was the broken knuckle that was really sore; people would say what about the vertebra, but the knuckle was the worst!”

    Leigh, who is a UKCC level three coach and a hairdresser, and has a livery yard, started working with a leading sports physiotherapist soon after her fall, to ensure she recovered as well as possible. She started with gentle hacking and worked her way up.

    She may still need surgery to correct her scapula winging; her shoulder blade is sticking out rather than lying flat owing to nerve damage sustained in the fall, but doctors have advised waiting to see how it recovers. Los Angeles had some physio and time off but was uninjured in the fall, and “bounced straight back”.

    “Dorset was my first show back and I was cautious at first, to say the least,” Leigh said. “But they jumped double clear in both classes for two days, and I entered the second round a bit tongue in cheek. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough or riding well enough to be competitive but we jumped clear. I thought we’ll go in the second round and probably have a pole, then went clear again and I thought ‘Oh, now I’m in the third round’.

    “I just wanted to jump triple clear and it was such an achievement. It would have been the biggest he’s jumped but he’s got such a big heart; he wants to do it more than I do, and he’s always got the biggest smile on his face.”

    Leigh, who will head to the British Showjumping National Championships (2-7 August) with both horses, as Los Angeles had already qualified for the British novice final, wanted others to see how with “hard work, determination and the right support, we can achieve our goals”, and that rider physio should be more prominent.

    “We need so much more of that,” she said, adding that the exercises she did under her physio’s guidance helped strengthen and support her to recover.

    “It makes me quite emotional to have had quite a bad accident and come straight back,” she said. “I’d just like to tell people to keep going, get the physio, have a goal and work towards it. I’m so proud of my little horse, and he really deserves it.”

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