A close friend of a rider whose face was “shattered” when her horse fly-bucked after a cross-country round wants to warn others of the potential dangers in similar situations.
Sarah Stokes, from St Austell, Cornwall, had recently returned to riding after a “freak accident” in 2014, when a horse slipped on the road, landing on her and breaking both her hips and her pelvis, when she took part in an unaffiliated event at Chyverton Park, Truro, on 7 August.
She dismounted after her cross-country, having come second, and her mother was leading her seven-year-old horse Archie, when he was spooked.
“Sarah stepped in to help and he spooked again,” Sarah’s friend and trainer Sally Gentle told H&H.
“He fly-bucked and caught her directly in the face. He still had his studs in.
“She’s got a cut under her bottom lip but the impact lifted up her whole face and broke more than 30 bones – for a while, her upper and lower jaws weren’t connected.
“The surgeon said her face was shattered.”
Sarah was taken to hospital, where she spent nearly three days in an induced coma. She underwent surgery that day, to repair the open wound and wire her jaw, then a further 12-hour operation the following day on the fractures.
An MRI revealed she had not sustained brain damage so she was gradually woken from the coma, and she was due to leave hospital yesterday (18 August),
Mrs Gentle said: “Sarah was conscious the whole time we were waiting for the ambulance.
“She was on her hands and knees, spitting out teeth – I can’t imagine the pain she was in.
“But the NHS is amazing. They asked her mum for a picture of her before the accident, and the surgeon said: ‘We’ll have her looking like that again’.
“They’ve done an amazing job of putting her back together.“
Sarah is not allowed “anywhere near a horse” for at least four months, and Mrs Gentle wants others to be aware in similar situations.
“If you get off your horse after the cross-country, it’s still pumped full of adrenaline,” Mrs Gentle said.
“I always slightly loosen the girth and ride back to the lorry park, by which time the horse has calmed down. People will argue with me and that’s fine, but this is a warning.
“She actually was lucky – the surgeon said two inches higher on her face and the impact would have killed her. I want people to be aware of what can happen.”
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Mrs Gentle said Sarah, who is likely to need more operations over the next two years, was worried about how she would be able to afford her rent, and to keep her horses, while she is unable to work.
So on 17 August, Mrs Gentle set up a JustGiving page, aiming to raise £15,000 for her friend.
By the following morning, donations had reached nearly £3,500.
“People have been so generous,” Mrs Gentle said.
“It could have been any of us, at any time. She wasn’t being stupid, she was just in the wrong place and she took the full force of it.
“Anyone who knows Sarah knows that if this happened to anyone else she would be the first to dip her hand in her pocket to help out a friend in need, a dedicated equestrian whose love for the sport has sadly been paused by a life-changing accident.
“She’s not giving up though. I said: ‘Shall we sell the horse?’ and she said: ‘No, I’ll be back.'”