When Louise Etzner Jakobsson rides, you would never know she was disabled. After an accident with a horse on the ground, the resulting brain injury means that the grand prix rider’s biggest challenge comes from within her head.
“After the accident I could only walk and canter; I couldn’t trot,” the Swedish grade III rider explains. “My brain just wouldn’t let me – it said stop, no. Imagine having a piece of iron inside your head jumping up and down with the rhythm of the trot. At first I would trot ten metres, walk again, then trot ten metres — I worked that way for almost a year.”
Even now, at the Paralympics, Louise warms up her horse, Zernard, in walk and canter, and her bronze medal-winning freestyle begins in canter.
“My horse has a very nice trot — but my brain hates it!” she says.
‘You’re crazy — I could never do that’
In 2011, Louise’s life changed in an instant.
“I was walking a horse — the nicest, coolest horse in the stables — and she got scared and jumped on me. I was stuck under the horse, then she jumped over me and I flew through the air, landing on the back of my head. I suffered bleeding on the brain three times.”
It was six months before doctors would allow Louise to ride again, and even then her family would only let her ride her gentle, elderly home-bred, whom she felt safe with.
“But then my friend Katarina Qvarnström asked me to have her horse and train him to grand prix,” says Louise. “I said you’re crazy, I could never do that. But she called me for a year and finally I said OK, bring him over. That was Zernard, that was how it all started.”
The brain injury also left Louise with reduced control of the left side of her body.
“My left arm and leg live another life and can start waving in the air. I use glue to stick my leg to the saddle, and I ride with a longer left rein so I can tuck my arm right in to my body.”
At the 2015 Equestrian Gala in Sweden, Louise was named ‘fighter of the year’, by Olympic dressage rider Patrik Kittel, who met her at a clinic and was hugely impressed by her riding and her spirit.
But Louise says she doesn’t see herself as a natural fighter, although others do.
“My brother tells me I’m so stubborn that if I’m on a train and I want to go in the other direction I’ll tell the driver and be successful, even if there’s no tracks going the way I want,” she laughs.
“But yes, after a brain injury, you really do need to fight, I tell you.”