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Equestrian Jump Fall

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Hans Winkler Equestrian Olympics

Equestrian Jump Fall

Heeding teen’s horrific equestrian jump fall ‘could have saved Olivia and Caitlyn’s lives’

The family of Olympic equestrian hopeful Chelsea Higgins realised just how lucky she had been when they heard about the falls that killed two of the promising young riders she had competed against.

The family of Olympic equestrian hopeful Chelsea Higgins realised just how lucky she had been when they heard about the falls that killed two of the promising young riders she had competed against.

Chelsea Higgins
Chelsea Higgins, aged 24 in 2018, with her horse Kenya.

Her mother Kerry Higgins yesterday revealed that she believed the shockingly-similar twin tragedies involving riders Olivia Inglis, 17, and Caitlyn Fischer, 19, could have been avoided if Equestrian Australia had not brushed off Chelsea’s near-fatal accident six years earlier.

Like Olivia and Caitlyn, 16-year-old Chelsea fell in an elite competition, in 2010.

Her horse Mon Ami Scaramouche — known in the paddock as Stumpy — clipped the top of a fence and crashed on top of her, leaving her with horrific injuries including brain damage.

Through her mum, Kerry Higgins, Chelsea is now suing EA, the country’s crisis-hit national equestrian sports body, and its NSW branch, in the Supreme Court claiming the fence was illegal because it was too high and not fixed to the ground as it should have been under EA’s rules and because it was 106cm high when the maximum height for the event was 105cm.

Olivia InglisThe inquest found EA broke safety rules again in 2016 when the fences hit by horses ridden by Olivia and Caitlyn in two separate events did not collapse when hit despite being required to do so under international rules.

All three tragedies shook the country’s close-knit equestrian community and thrust EA into the spotlight.

It is now in voluntary liquidation after internal dysfunction and questionable governance led to the withdrawal of funding by Sports Australia.

“I think EA should have learned and maybe Olivia and Caitlyn would be alive,” Kerry Higgins said yesterday.

“I don’t think they took any real notice of (Chelsea’s fall) because she didn’t die, thank God. They didn’t respect how much damage Chelsea suffered.”

Chelsea, who had been competing in the Inter-School Nationals at the former Olympic stadium, the Sydney International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park, had stopped breathing by the time doctors got to her and was in a coma for nine days.

She woke unable to talk while doctors told her she would never walk again.

Determined to prove them wrong, Chelsea beat the odds and now competes as a para-equestrian in dressage events because she can no longer jump.

She is mother to one-year-old Jasmine Rose and her dream is now to compete in the Paralympics.

Yesterday she said riding events should not be dangerous if you have trained, prepared well and the course was set up in accordance to the rules.

Caitlyn Fisher“When I heard about (Olivia and Caitlyn), I counted my lucky stars because they had very similar accidents to me but they were not as lucky,” Chelsea, 26, said.

“I feel my accident could have been prevented. I was fully prepared for the course if it had been set up in the right way.”

After her accident, Chelsea moved back to Queensland to live with her parents where they carefully followed the inquests held in Sydney late last year into the deaths of Olivia and Caitlyn.

NSW Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee handed down 31 recommendations, including the appointment of a national safety manager, to overhaul equestrian safety.

He was told EA only began using frangible fences in 2018 despite them being mandated internationally since at least 2000.

Chelsea Higgins
Chelsea Higgins with her horse Comedian as she dreams of competing for Australia in the Paralympics.

After the resignations of three chairs and eight directors in 16 months and its poor safety record, EA has also been warned by the Australian Olympic Committee that it’s AOC membership would not be automatically reinstated while its high-performance program has been transferred to the Australian Institute of Sport.

Caitlyn Fischer’s mum, Ailsa Carr, yesterday said EA had not taken safety seriously until after the deaths.

“Clearly they had not learned from Chelsea’s accident. It has been every parent’s worst nightmare,” Ms Carr said.

Chelsea’s solicitor Ross Koffel said EA had “completely rebutted responsibility for their failure to comply with their mandatory rules despite the evidence highlighting serious safety lapses on the part of EA and their delegates”.

“We remain committed to holding EA accountable for Chelsea’s injuries in the Supreme Court proceedings,” Mr Koffel said.

The Supreme Court has ordered EA to mediate Chelsea’s case by November 20.

Chelsea Higgins

 

The designer of the 2010 course and the technical delegate are also being sued.

EA said that 25 of the coroner’s recommendations had been completed with four partially completed and two under further review.

 

Chelsea’s solicitor Ross Koffel said EA had “completely rebutted responsibility for their failure to comply with their mandatory rules despite the evidence highlighting serious safety lapses on the part of EA and their delegates”.

“We remain committed to holding EA accountable for Chelsea’s injuries in the Supreme Court proceedings,” Mr Koffel said.

This article appears in The Daily Telegraph and was written by Janet Fife-Yeomans.

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