Sarah Washington, 23, was riding out with her friend Gabby Andrews last June when her loan horse Teddy inexplicably spooked and bolted down a narrow track.
Sarah, who had recently started studying veterinary medicine, was dragged and knocked unconscious, and Teddy then galloped back home to the yard.
Gabby, whose 18hh four-year-old Major had stayed calm, called for an ambulance and when paramedics arrived, Sarah was placed into an induced coma and taken to the Royal Stoke hospital.
Scans revealed she had severe bleeding and bruising on her brain and a device had to be inserted to monitor the pressure inside her skull.
She remained in an induced coma in intensive care for three weeks and spent a total of six months in hospital undergoing rehabilitation, including re-learning to walk, speech therapy and help with her memory.
“I don’t remember much from my time in ICU and after that, although my long-term memory was OK, my short-term memory was affected and I wouldn’t know what day it was or I would forget where I was,” Sarah told H&H.
“When I first came out of intensive care, I wasn’t speaking at all — I don’t think it was because of my injury so much as I was confused and scared in a place with loads of people I didn’t know.”
Because Sarah was hospitalised during the pandemic, visits from her family were extremely limited and it was not until she moved to a rehabilitation ward at a smaller hospital, a specialist neuro rehab unit at The Hayward, that she was allowed to see her parents once a week.
“It was definitely difficult to deal with, although we got through it by regularly Facetiming,” she said.
Sarah was discharged on 15 December, and her recovery since has exceeded all expectations. Not only is she now back in the saddle but she is also using her story to campaign for hat safety.
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“I set up an Instagram account to document my recovery and it ended up becoming more about spreading awareness about equestrian safety and helmets,” Sarah said.
When hat manufacturer Champion saw her posts, they asked her to send her hat back to them for analysis of the effects of the fall.
“It had really significant and visible damage,” Sarah said. “They sent back a really detailed report from their engineer. Without the hat, I would certainly have been a lot worse off.”
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