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‘The accident introduced them nearer collectively’: horse and rider hit by drunk driver full first worldwide occasion

  • A horse and his young rider who were hit on the road by a drunk driver have come back stronger than ever to complete their first international event.

    H&H reported this spring that Emma Marshall, then 17, and Ballysax Cotterstown (Jasper) were driven into from behind, on 30 March, by a man who later pleaded guilty to two driving offences.

    At the time, Emma and her family hoped the Irish-bred 14-year-old “Jasper” had not sustained any permanent damage. This was proved to be the case, as he and Emma, after a few preliminary runs, completed the one-star at Blair Castle International Horse Trials at the end of August.

    Emma’s mother Jennifer Fairbairn said Emma was “thrilled” to have completed.

    “She said afterwards ‘Mum, when you remember where we were in March, I’m just so pleased to do this’,” she said.

    Jennifer said Jasper was brought back to fitness very slowly, and did his first event since the accident, an open under-18 BE90, at Floors Castle in May.

    “They did a couple of 90s, then stepped up to 100 at Hopetoun and did really well, and were fourth at Warwick Hall, then Emma said ‘If I do another one, maybe I can do the one-star’,” Jennifer said. “They were just loving the cross-country and I thought that was quite a big step but after everything they’d been through and overcome, it would be good to have that ambition. She had a really good run at Burgham and her trainers said absolutely she should go.”

    Emma and Jasper had a 37.4 dressage then three poles showjumping, on what Jennifer said was the biggest track they had contested together.

    “I don’t like the term ‘unlucky poles’, but they were just scuffs, it was a lovely round,” she said. “Poor Emma was terrified before the cross-country; we had a moment in the lorry and I said ‘Do you feel like jumping the first fence?’ and she said yes, so I said ‘Do that, and if you feel like jumping the second fence, do that, and so on, and if at any time you feel overwhelmed, you put your hand up and walk home and know it was a brave thing to do’ – and they pinged round.

    “She cried in the lorry before, and cried as they crossed the finish line. She was just thrilled.”

    Jennifer said Jasper, who evented up to two-star level with Emma’s brother Lewis, “knows his job”.

    “But the pair of them as a partnership were just super,” she said. “I genuinely feel the accident has brought them closer together and they’ve bonded more.”

    Jennifer explained that Jasper had always maintained his own space to a degree, but that since the accident, there has been a difference.

    “It’s almost like seven years on [since he arrived], the accident has convinced him that we’re on Team Jasper,” she said. “His physio says ‘He lets me in now’, that she can get much deeper; it’s like something has changed in him. He’s a self-reliant horse but I think he’s realised that people are here to help him, and he lets them.

    “And I think he lets us in more too; when you go to catch him, he used to look up and go ‘Oh, ok’, now he comes up to the fence to say hello, and get the attention. He was self-sufficient but he’s finally realised he needed help.”

    Jennifer added that there was a degree of relief when Jasper and Emma crossed the finish line.

    “I trust the horse implicitly, and I trust Emma, but you never have any guarantee,” she said. “Blair was awesome. I watched the first half, and the last bit, and I was next to a jump judge and asked if I could listen in on her radio when I couldn’t see Emma, and she was brilliant.

    “When they came in sight, Emma saw a long one to the last and Jasper being the clever one he is, chipped in. It didn’t look the best but it was him saying ‘I’ve got this’. I was so thrilled; I was in tears. It was fabulous.”

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