Top hunter professional John French is healing in the hospital after a horse rolled on top of him at the Showpark Racing Festival CSI**, held in Del Mar, California, on July 25. French was finishing his round when the mare he was riding tripped and rolled on his right side, breaking seven ribs, puncturing a lung and spraining his foot.
“I finished my round and basically was coming back to the trot and gave the horse a pat—then the next thing I know the horse was going head first into the ground,” said French. “I went off to the side. I was kind of close to the ring fence and hit the ground pretty hard, but I was trying to protect my collarbone [which he broke in May]. I was thinking, ‘Oh I think I’m going to be OK.’ ”
But then the horse fell and rolled over toward the fence where French was. “Basically the horse fell on top of me,” he said. “And the horse was kind of stuck there. It couldn’t roll back. It seemed like a long time, but I guess it was like two or three seconds. Then [she] got up. I couldn’t breathe—was making all these noises and gasping for breath.”
French knew immediately that his chest was injured. “I could feel the ribs breaking,” he explained. “On my right side, when she rolled back over I guess, I broke every rib except for one.”
The owner told French she saw her mare get her right leg stuck behind her. “Instead of tripping out in front of her, she tripped with her leg back, so it’s like she went straight down,” he said.
The Paso Robles, California, professional who runs Waldenbrook Farm in Templeton, California, had just returned to the show ring after his collarbone injury. His collarbone hadn’t completely healed, but with the doctors’ permission, French got back in the saddle and was planning to compete at the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in Lexington, Kentucky, on Aug. 16-18 with Laura Wasserman’s Skyhawk and Hiller Farms LLC’s Center Court.
“The doctors told me with the collarbone, because it wasn’t healing very well, they said, ‘Keep going, and in five more weeks, if it’s not healing we’re going to talk about doing something else. Just don’t fall off,’ ” said French, 56. “I fell off last week, and I fell off this week. I don’t usually fall off. It’s not the kind where you get spooked or bucked—it’s just tripping. It doesn’t matter how good you are; nobody could have stayed on.”
Doctors were concerned about air escaping his right lung on Wednesday and considered putting in a chest tube, but it appears that his lung has little nicks instead of a puncture. And despite harming his ligaments in his right foot, French has been encouraged to walk to help with his breathing and his broken ribs. The recovery period is estimated to be about eight weeks.
“I think I’m giving up on this year,” French admitted. “I might show in the fall, but this is probably at least eight weeks off. Do I show up at indoors, or do I just stay home and wait for next year and get totally healed? [But] you won’t see me at Derby Finals. I was so looking forward to it.”