Rider, 21, who was paralysed after she was thrown from racehorse launches multi-million pound compensation bidLaura Coward was just 17 when she broke her back by falling on to a fenceShe remains in a wheelchair after surgery to mend her severed spinal cord
Claims her stables told her she would be fine, despite the horse's strength

Emma Reynolds


18:03 GMT, 30 January 2013



07:37 GMT, 31 January 2013

Paraplegic: Laura Coward was working at a racehorse training stables when she fell off Saucy Night

Paraplegic: Laura Coward was working at a racehorse training stables when she fell off Saucy Night

A promising young rider who was paralysed when she was thrown from a history-making racehorse has launched a multi-million pound compensation claim against the stables and trainer.

Stablehand Laura Coward was 17 when she broke her neck after taking Saucy Night for a trial ride in Wiltshire in November 2008.

The racehorse had made headlines three years earlier when he became the first to win a race without wearing horseshoes.

He had retired from racing by the time Ms Coward, now 21, took him and she had not ridden for some time – but she says the stables assured her it would be fine.

She lost control as the horse gathered speed and fell on to wooden fencing around the riding arena, breaking her back.

Ms Coward had surgery to stabilise her severed spinal cord but remains paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.

She is now suing the stables of Horse First Racing Ltd, where she was working at the time of the accident.

The stables, founded by entrepreneur Eamonn Wilmott, are the home of leading Australian trainer Jeremy Gask, 34.

Ms Coward, of Codford, Wilts., has made a claim with the High Court which details her accident.

Her barrister John Isherwood sets out her claim that she was a keen horsewoman and was offered the chance to take Saucy Night on loan from the stables.

He had entered the record books on January 3, 2005 when he won a 2.5 mile steeplechase at Folkestone ‘barefoot’.

Mr Isherwood said Ms Coward claims she 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’.


Laura Coward, 21

Painful: Ms Coward fell through a fence and broke her back after she lost control of the horse

Injured: Ms Coward says the stables told her she 'would be fine' riding the history-making racehorse

Injured: Ms Coward says the stables told her she 'would be fine' riding the history-making racehorse

But the horse quickly went from a walk to a trot and the teenager was unable to control him as he accelerated further.

She lost her right stirrup and started to panic as the horse began galloping even faster.

One of the stable staff tried to stop him by waving her arms, but it failed to work and Ms Coward lost her other stirrup and was thrown from the saddle.

Mr Isherwood claims 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 resistant to being ridden.

The allegations have yet to be tested in court. No one was available for comment at the stables.

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.'