The British Eventing Support Trust was set up to ensure that British Eventing’s riding members could access support when they needed it to be able to carry on working and competing. Of course, riding is not only risky sport but it’s also tough to make a living competing. Most BE riding members are often to be found breaking and bringing on young horses, running yards, teaching and even dedicating themselves to non-horsey day jobs alongside riding and training for events. That means if they have an accident at an event or when training, it can have a huge impact on their ability to work and earn a living. One rider who benefitted from our support to get back to the sport and her business in the past year was British event rider Emma Carmichael.
A freak accident on the beach in winter
Emma competes internationally up to four-star and is based in Morpeth, Northumberland. In December 2022, after a successful year of eventing and just after starting her own business sourcing and producing top class sports horses and ponies, disaster struck for Emma. With Northumberland experiencing days of sub-zero temperatures and the ground rock hard, Emma had been boxing her string to the beach at nearby Druridge Bay to keep them ticking over. It was there that in what Emma describes as a ‘freak accident’ her horse flipped over and she was left with a pelvis broken in six places. In addition, Emma had suffered a crush injury to her sacrum which was pressing on her spine and causing her massive discomfort.
Emma spent 10 long days in hospital, thankfully being paired with a surgeon who was equally determined to get her not only back on her feet, but able to get back to what she loved. Emma underwent surgery to help stabilise her pelvis, relieve the pressure on her spine from the crushed sacrum and fit an external metal ‘fixator’ frame – which Emma and her family dubbed ‘the towel rail’! After being signed off as well enough to return home, Emma was able to be with her family and horses in time for Christmas Day.
Friends and staff rally round
Emma was incredibly thankful to her team and her friends who stepped in and rode the horses while Emma supervised and coached them from her perch at the side of the school. With everything from Emma’s four-star horses to breakers – and everything in between – that was no mean feat. But while the horses were being kept fit and well Emma needed to focus on her recovering and rehabilitation – and that’s where our support continued. Emma faced 11 weeks on crutches and needed extensive physiotherapy to get her strength and stability back.
The British Eventing Support Trust supports rehab
We arranged for Emma to have access to all the rehab facilities at the Injured Jockey Fund’s Jack Berry House in Malton and funded her treatment there. The team there devised a full programme of exercises for Emma, and she worked like a trooper, always focused on getting back to riding and then competing. On one of those visits, Emma found herself talking to a young girl in the cafe after her session. A gentleman came in and the three were talking about Jack Berry House and asking Emma if she was a jockey. Her reply – “no, I’m an eventer” – prompted the man to say, “oh well, you’ll know Nicola Wilson then”. That man turned out to be Jack Berry himself, and they had a long chat about Nicola’s accident and her experience of rehab and the British Eventing Support Trust.
A successful return to competition
In the end, it was just five months after her accident and just over seven weeks since she first got back in the saddle that Emma made her competitive return. As Emma herself said at the time: “It was so good to be back at it again. Thank you to everyone who has supported me through the tough times and kept things going, as well as British Eventing Support Trust who have helped me get to this point. Yesterday was a really special day and a one to remember”.
For the rest of this blog, we’re handing over to one of Emma’s greatest supporters, her mother Elaine, who shares what went through her head in the immediate aftermath of the accident, her perspective on the recovery and how she felt when Emma returned to competition in May 2023.
It’s one of those phone calls you dread as a parent.
Emma has had a bad accident. Oh God, Oh God….
I know I need to ask questions, but I’m not sure I want to hear the answers.
Can she speak? Can she move her legs? Right, we’ll deal with the rest.
Then you find you kick into action. I piled the Jeep full of rugs and set off with Emma’s two lovely girls and a close friend in case we needed a lorry driver. Even with a rough idea of where she was, seven miles of beach was a bit to go at. It did feel weird being allowed to drive down the path, bollards down, and onto the beach. We certainly didn’t look like Baywatch babes, but we did have a smirk at the thought of it!
When we reached Emma, she was being placed on a spinal board. The air ambulance couldn’t come, and the beach was inaccessible to the land ambulance, so the coastguards were there with paramedics. It was perishingly cold, but thankfully, the tide was going out, or that could have added a whole new dimension to the situation. It felt like forever deciding how best to get her off the sand, and in the end, they put her on the spinal board and put her in the back of the coast guard’s truck. She was sticking out the back, so they drove her off the beach, with paramedics walking at the back so that she was safe and could be transferred to the road ambulance. Again, we waited while they assessed her, and as if things couldn’t get more bizarre, a man approached the Jeep and handed me a card whilst saying “hi, we’re from Channel Five, we’re doing a documentary on the coast guards!”
Emma then went on to spend three days at NSEC. It felt like she was in a holding bay, waiting for decisions to be made about where and when she’d be transferred and what the plan was from there. It was during this time that we were encouraged to contact the British Eventing Support Trust. Jane was our first point of contact, and she was nothing short of amazing. When your busy world slows down and almost stops is the time when the stark reality of an injury starts to take a firm grip.
British Eventing Support Trust put us in contact with Jonathan Forty (the British Eventing Support Trust’s Chief Medical Officer who volunteers his time to the charity), who helped on the medical side of things and was a very reassuring voice at the end of a phone line. Securing a bed at the RVI was like the golden egg. Then things really started to happen. Throughout those first few days, although things weren’t great, the resounding feeling was how very lucky she had been. Her luck continued in a big way, when she was fortunate enough to have Paul Fearon as her surgeon.
Fast forward to Emma being signed off to ride, the result of the support from British Eventing Support Trust and her incredible determination to get back to what she loves. Her first competition back was at one of her favourite events, Floors Castle. The plan had always been to ease back into things with one horse at Richmond, but the wet spring put paid to that. instead, it was a lorry load of horses that went to Floors! She had a great start with a win in the British Young Event Horse Four-Year-Old class. Then, the Intermediate class was coming up and to be honest people were saying “oh it’s great she’s back to where she was before”, but Emma and I both knew that she was getting there, but her balance wasn’t as spot on, and her reactions were bound to be slower – this was early days.
As a mother when she set off to ride the cross-country phase all I kept thinking was, please just come back still attached to the horse! Ever the competitor, she knew she had a chance and coming through the finish to take the win was just incredible, it was like a fairy tale ending.
As I write this, it’s a year to the day that Emma felt her world crumble. I look back and think, if probability had anything to do with it, then it’s just down to the number of horses she rides. But what I do know, despite what happened, is that she is one very lucky girl, and I will be forever grateful to whoever was looking down on her that day.