Queensland eventer Mattea Davidson talks to Ute Raabe and reflects on the day her bridle broke on a cross country course, her recovery and her comeback.
Picture this, it’s a beautiful day out at Albury Wodonga Horse Trials and you’re competing in the CIC 3 Star event for a final qualifier. You’ve walked the cross country course multiple times, and you’re feeling really happy with the lines you’ve chosen. You know your horse well, the plan of attack for the day is clear. All the training in the lead-up to this event has been going well; there’s nothing on the course your horse can’t do. Everything unfolds according to plan and your cross country round is off to a smooth start, your horse eats up the course, and does everything asked of him. And then, just like that, in a split second, everything changes.
Queensland eventer Mattea Davidson and her own APH Charlie Brown were approaching fence 13 when the unthinkable happened. It is any rider’s worst nightmare to lose control of their horse, especially in full gallop at a competition. Five months on, she still remembers every moment of the accident.
“I was setting up for the fence, it was a right-hand turn, and I was re-balancing when all of a sudden I had no weight in my hands. My hands came back and I heard a ‘tschink’ noise,” she recalls. “It took me a second or two to realise what was going on. I’d been focusing on the fence, it was a tricky enough line and I wanted to ensure that I was coming in on the right angle and speed, and a gear failure was the last thing on my mind.”
Mattea says that she’s had parts of tack and bridles break on her before, such as a rein or a noseband, but she’s never had her entire steering piece – in this case a hackamore – fall apart. A lot of people asked her later why she didn’t bail, but she says that by the time she fully registered what had happened Charlie was already going too fast and beyond control. Her hopes were that he would slow down once he reached the warm-up area and other horses.
She adds, “I was trying to be really methodical about it, I can’t remember feeling panicked. I tried to do a couple of things to slow him down, talk to him, loop the rein about his head, grab his ears, but I soon worked out it was making him more frantic.”
Charlie continued to bolt in a straight line until he eventually reached the arena fence, where he continued straight at it to jump it. Realising the disaster that could happen if she jumped with no control, Mattea chose that moment to bail.
The fall put her in hospital with seven fractured vertebrae, a deep laceration and torn muscle in her arm, a broken rib and heavy bruising. The proverbial ‘hit by a bus’ aptly describes how she felt at the time. Her recovery has been a slow and painful one, both physically and mentally, with her body healing from a litany of injuries but namely the soft tissue damage and multiple torn ligaments around her broken vertebrae.
Eventers are a tough breed, but this accident was something else. “The first two weeks I was on so many drugs for the pain I would really notice it if I missed even a dose,” she says. “Then, when the brace first came off I just wanted to lie down and do nothing, the pain was so excruciating.”Afterwards came the mental rebuild. Mattea remembers going for a walk shortly after losing the brace and feeling really vulnerable and compromised. “When I had the brace on, people would respect my space and not bump into me,” she recalls. “Without the brace however, I looked like I was fine but I was overly-cautious of people coming near me because I was still tender and stiff and not very strong. I also felt vulnerable around the horses at first. From the outside everything looks normal, but the pain on the inside is still present.”