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Inexperienced rider paralysed after being thrown from racehorse

Author: Gail Harris

A teenage girl, who ended up with paraplegic life changing injuries after being thrown from a race horse, won the right to pursue a multimillion pound negligence claim against the horse’s owner.

Ashleigh Harris, who was 14 at the time of the accident, won her 4-year legal battle, after the court found that there had been a breach of duty by the owner of the thoroughbred horse, Rachel Miller.

In September 2012, Ashleigh fell from the horse, breaking her back and losing the function in both her legs. She claimed that the horse, Polly Perks, “misbehaved” and broke into a canter while they were riding through an open field, throwing her off.

Ashleigh commented: “I had been riding for about 5 minutes and started trotting Polly. She then went into a canter ….she was throwing her head around and bucked. Then I came out of the saddle and went over the horse’s head. “

Mrs Miller disagreed, saying that the horse was blameless and that Ashleigh had lost her balance while going down a gentle slope and fell off.

The court found that Mrs Miller had made a “serious error of judgement” when she acquired such an unsuitable horse, in what was “the early stages of her riding hobby.” She had encouraged Ashleigh to ride the horse, and whether she “instructed the trot or not, she condoned it and had therefore exposed the rider to risk of injury.”

The standard of care Mrs Miller had exercised had to be assessed against that of an “ordinary and prudent horse owner”, who the court said, would have ensured that they had sufficient information about both the horse and the rider to be able to assess any potential risk.

The horse was a strong thoroughbred, trained to race and was difficult to control. It should have been apparent to Mrs Miller that the horse was likely to unseat an inexperienced rider who was not used to managing a horse of this calibre.

The rider should have been restricted to walking in the lanes around the stable or similar trotting and should not have been allowed to trot in an open field, where the horse was likely to take off at speed.

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