A promising young rider paralysed when she was thrown from a history-making racehorse has launched a multi-million pound compensation claim against the stables and trainer.
Laura Coward was 17 when she broke her neck after taking ‘Saucy Night’ for a ‘trial ride’ to test her ability on him in November 2008.
Saucy Night made headlines three years earlier when he became the first ever race horse to win a race without wearing horseshoes.
He had retired from racing by the time former stablehand Laura, now paraplegic, got in his saddle and she had not ridden for some time.
But she lost control as the horse gathered speed and fell onto wooden fencing around the riding arena, breaking her back.
Laura, now 21, underwent surgery to stabilise her severed spinal cord but remains paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.
She is now suing the Wiltshire stables of Horse First Racing Ltd where she was working at the time of the accident.
The stables, founded by entrepreneur Eamonn Wilmott, are currently the home of leading Australian trainer Jeremy Gask, 34.
Laura, of Codford, Wilts., has lodged a writ with the High Court which details her accident.
Her barrister John Isherwood describes how she was a keen horsewoman and was offered the chance to take Saucy Night on loan from the stables.
He entered the racing books on January 3, 2005 when he won a 2.5 mile steeplechase at Folkestone ‘barefoot’.
In her claim, Mr. Isherwood said that Laura first took the horse on a trial ride in his training area to test her ability on him.
He said she told a member of staff she had not ridden for some time but was assured that although Saucy Night was strong ‘she would be fine’.
But the horse quickly went from a walk to a trot and Laura was unable to control him and he accelerated further.
His pace began to change abruptly and she lost her right stirrup and started to panic as she realised she could not control him as he went even faster.
One of the stable staff tried to stop him by waving her arms in front of him but that failed to work and Laura lost her other stirrup and was thrown from her saddle.
Mr. Isherwood claims that Horses First breached its own health and safety policy by allowing her to ride in the circumstances, without the horse being led by a rope.
He alternatively claims that the horse had suffered an attack of an equine condition known as ‘the strangles’ some weeks earlier which would have made him resistent to being ridden.
In a statement released today, Horses First Racing said: “Laura’s accident was a terrible tragedy.
“Laura was well liked on the yard and good with the horses, although she never rode for us – the accident had nothing to do with her work.
“Horses First is a close knit team and we have kept Laura on the payroll.
“We have always hoped she might be able to come back to work for us in a different role but at this point in her recovery she hasn’t felt able to talk to us about that.
“You will appreciate that because Laura has brought court proceedings and solicitors are involved, there is a limit to what we can say to the press but despite our deep sympathy for Laura’s serious injuries, what happened was a riding accident and any criticism of our staff is not justified.”
The allegations have yet to be tested in court.