Former Kingdown pupil sues racing stables

Laura Coward

Laura Coward

First published in Warminster
Last updated

A young stable hand and former Kingdown School pupil whose lawyers say was paralysed from the waist down after falling from the back of a history-making racehorse has today launched a massive compensation claim.

Laura Coward was 17 and working at Wiltshire-based racehorse training stables, Horses First Racing Ltd, when she is said to have fallen from the back of gelding 'Saucy Night' - who left the racing world agog in 2005 when he was the first horse ever to win a race without wearing horseshoes.

According to her lawyers, Laura, now 21, of Cherry Orchard, Codford, near Warminster, was left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair by the accident which is alleged to have occurred whilst she was carrying out a "trial ride" of Saucy Night in November 2008.

She is now suing the stables, founded by entrepeneur Eamonn Wilmott and home of top Australian trainer Jeremy Gask, in a claim that could be worth millions.

In a writ lodged at London's High Court, John Isherwood, Laura's barrister, says Saucy Night - who entered the record books on January 3, 2005, by winning the 2 1/2 mile steeplechase at Folkestone 'barefoot' - had retired from racing by the time of Laura's accident.

Laura, a keen horsewoman, had been offered the chance to take Saucy Night on loan from the stables and, on November 20 2008, she engaged in a trial ride in its training arena, designed to "test her ability safely to manage and handle him," Mr Isherwood states.

The barrister goes on to claim that Laura informed one of the staff handling the horse that she "had not ridden for some time" but "was in response assured that although Saucy Night was strong, with a nutural inclination not to walk but at least to trot, she and he would be fine."

Mr Isherwood continued: "Laura duly therefore mounted and started her trial ride, with Saucy Night proceeding rapidly and of his own accord to move from a walk to a trot.

"Laura, unwilling to let him have his head, sought then to slow him down and restrain him to a walk by reining him in.

"She was unable, however, to do so and he accelerated still further, into a canter with such abrupt and additional changes of pace causing her to lose her right stirrup and panic as she became aware that she could not control him, and Saucy Night in consequence to run on even faster."

One of the stable's staff is alleged to have tried to bring the horse to a halt "by waving her arms in front of him, but to no avail," before Saucy Night's "ever-increasing pace" caused Laura to "lose her other stirrup and fall off onto the wooden arena fencing" breaking her back.

Laura underwent surgery to stabilise her spine, but despite this "she remains paraplegic and wheelchair bound," the writ states.

Mr Isherwood claims that Horses First breaches its own health and safety policy by allowing Laura to ride the horse in the circumstances, without it being led by a rope.

Alternatively, it is alleged the stables should be held liable under the Animals Act, as the horse had - unknown to Laura - suffered an attack of an equine condition, known as 'the strangles', some weeks earlier which would have made him "resistant" to being ridden by Laura.

Laura's strength of character and determination to make the best of her situation is shown by the fact that, just six months after her accident, she was back in the saddle of a horse, in April 2009, at a specialist riding centre for the disabled in Wilton, Wilts.

The allegations contained in the writ are just that and have yet to be tested by evidence. When contacted today, an employee at the stables said: "We know all about it but I'm afraid Mr Wimott is unavailable to comment this morning".

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