United Kingdom

How eventing star Laura Collett, 31, overcame death threats and a nearly-fatal fall to land gold

Olympic hero Laura Collett's gold medal comes eight years after an accident that nearly killed her and permanently blinded her in one eye.

The 31-year-old Team GB eventing star was lucky to survive a terrible cross country fall which left her in a coma for two weeks.

She suffered a punctured lung, lacerated liver, a fractured shoulder and two broken ribs.

At the time she publicly posted a picture of herself from her hospital bed and later said she had been so bored in recovery going for a shower had been the highlight of any day.

She told Horse Magazine: 'I have blurred vision in a quarter of the eye and the rest is blacked out.

'I have no recollection of my accident at all. Everyone else was more worried about me getting on a horse for the first time than I was, but it was part of me getting better as it gave me something to look forward to. 

Oliver Townend, Laura Collett and Tom McEwen of Britain pose for a photo with their gold medals after the Equestrian events of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games today

Laura posted this picture to all her fans from her hospital bed to show she was on the mend

Laura Collett of Team Great Britain riding London 52 competes during the Eventing today

'I never really acknowledged what happened because I don't remember. When I woke up, I didn't feel any pain.

'The main thing that bothered me was during the last week in hospital, when I was conscious. I was so bored that having a shower was the highlight of my day. Luckily, I had plenty of visitors coming in to see me.'

She was discharged from hospital after two weeks and was back in the saddle the same day she came home.

When she competes outside she wears googles to stop the wind interfering with her health eye.

She is open about the reasons, telling one fan 'sun and wind affects my good eye.' 

Collett spent time at Oaksey House in Berkshire, flagship rehabilitation centre of the Injured Jockeys Fund, and it proved an odds-defying recovery as she was not only competing again seven weeks later, she won an open intermediate class on her comeback. 

Laura Collett outside Badminton House, in preparation for competing at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trails in 2019

Dressage rider Laura Collett with Kauto Star and owner Clive Smith at Kempton racecourse

Like her fellow British Olympian, dressage star Charlotte Dujardin, Collett enjoyed success as a youngster at the Horse of the Year Show, winning the Supreme Pony Championship in 2003.

On moving to eventing, her main ride was a pony called Noble Springbok, and team gold and individual bronze proved an impressive return at the 2005 Pony European Championships in Pratoni, Italy.

Her considerable talent had now been spotted by a wider audience, and she was selected for the Lottery-funded World Class Development (podium potential) Programme, aimed at identifying and nurturing young riding talent.

Yogi Breisner, former performance manager of the British equestrian team, was an influential training figure for Collett in those formative years, and by the age of 16, Collett had moved off ponies to horses, winning a three-day event at Weston Park in Shropshire aboard Fernhill Sox.

Her eventing career had lift-off, and there was a prolific consistency to Collett's results at headline venues on the circuit such as Belton Park and Hartpury.

More success followed at European young rider level, including a double gold, and in 2010 she completed her first elite four-star event at Burghley aboard Ginger May Killinghurst.

She was eighth on her Badminton debut the following year, riding Rayef, and then delivered a third place at Barbury three-star in Wiltshire, when she joined Pippa Funnell and Piggy March on the podium.

Such was Collett's pedigree as a trainer and expert across eventing's three phases that she additionally worked with National Hunt racing owners and trainers.

Double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star learnt dressage at Collett's base following his retirement, before he was put down after a freak accident at her stables in 2015.

'Halfway through the year, we had the tragic loss of Kauto Star which devastated the yard,' Collett wrote on her official website. 'It was an absolute privilege for myself and my team to be part of his retirement.'

It was a death that saw her receive death threats over untrue stories over how he had perished.

Some online wrongly suggested he had injuries from falling in a field.

At the time Collett had said 'People have been spreading malicious rumours. It's a tragic enough time as it is losing such a star.

'I've stayed quiet. The horse should be remembered for who he was and what he did rather than causing trouble and even more upset.'

While these were tough times for Collettt.  her riding career continued to flourish, and she was among the group considered for Rio Olympic Games selection before ultimately missing out.

She continued to clock up one consistent result after another, and then a breakthrough elite win arrived at Pau in France late last year on London 52.

It put them firmly in the selection picture for Tokyo, and so it came to pass, with Collett thriving after achieving her 'ultimate dream' of gaining Olympic Games selection.

Her topping the podium alongside Oliver Townend and Tom McEwen in the team eventing at Tokyo Equestrian Park should help banish those hard times. 

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