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July 5, 2013

A Tragic Trailer Accident Hasn’t Slowed Tipperary Liadhnan Down

A trailer accident interrupted Louis Rogers' dream of competing Tipperary Liadhnan, but they're back in fighting form together. Photo by Kathryn Tice/Brant Gamma

“I got butterflies just looking at him,” said amateur eventer Louis Rogers. For Rogers, owning and riding the former four-star eventer Tipperary Liadhnan is a dream brought to life.

Rogers purchased the horse from Nina Ligon, who’d bought the gelding as a possible partner for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, last year. Tipperary Liadhnan previously competed with Kim Severson aboard, including finishing fifth at the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI****.

“Right after the Olympics, [Rogers’ trainer and four-star eventer] Laine Ashker got word that ‘Paddy’ might be available,” said Rogers, who started riding in 2007 and then switched to eventing after a year of doing jumpers. “I couldn’t believe it. I asked if we could buy him by wire transfer that second, and we were able to buy him sight unseen from the Ligons. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

The gelding was still in Great Britain, where he’d been based with Nina, and Rogers had him shipped over. The two started getting to know each other and competed in a few novice-level events together last fall. Ashker rides with Severson, so Severson was able to help the whole team with the transition.

“We were amazed and thrilled to be able to have him," said Rogers, who holds a law degree and works full time as a real estate fund manager. 

But for a few weeks this winter, Rogers’ dream became more like a nightmare. In January, on his way from Glen Allen, Va., to Florida with Ashker, Paddy went down in the trailer. Ashker pulled out of her farm around 3 a.m., bound for Ocala, and she stopped to get fuel in North Carolina just a few hours later.

“It was still dark, and I parked and looked in, and I saw five horses and not six,” said Ashker. “All the doors were closed because it was cold, so I knew no one could have jumped out. I finally saw that Paddy was underneath Roadie, and he was kicking at Roadie because he was under him, and then Roadie was kicking back at Paddy.”

After Ashker unloaded the horses around Paddy, she went to work freeing him. The gelding was trapped under a partition and couldn’t stand.

“At this point, I had three men watching me, but no one was helping,” said Ashker. “But I was able to use some superhuman strength and break the metal to get Paddy out.”

Once the horse was free, Ashker called an equine ambulance. They were more than an hour from N.C. State University’s veterinary hospital, and Ashker drove her rig there while the ambulance hauled Paddy.

“It was the most horrific scene I’ve ever seen,” said Ashker. “There was so much blood. Roadie was beaten up too. I’ve gone over and over what I could have done better or differently, but Paddy had hauled in that trailer plenty, and he’s such an experienced horse. There were shavings down so the horses wouldn’t slip, and the horses were all tied so they couldn’t bite each other. I did learn the lesson to get cameras installed in the trailer, and I’ll never haul without them again. For me to not feel a horse as big as Paddy go down—it was very unsettling.”

Veterinarians at N.C. State determined that Paddy had broken a bone above his eye socket—though the eye was unaffected—and a non-weight-bearing bone in his withers as well as multiple cuts and abrasions. The gelding spent three weeks in intensive care in North Carolina, and then he was released for rehabilitation at Rogers’ Hillbrook Farm in Glen Allen, which is also where Ashker’s based when she’s not in Florida.

“They gave him better care [at N.C. State] than I would get if I went into the emergency room,” said Rogers. “Without us having to call them, they would give us a morning and evening update every day. He looked terrible at first, but every day he got better and better.

“He came home on stall rest, and at that point I was going back and forth to Florida with Laine, so he was home with my wife, Paula. She had to wrap and unwrap him three times a day, treat all his wounds, medicate him; she basically had an infant to care for for six weeks. He’s a very big horse, and he is patient, but he doesn’t just stand there,” Louis continued.

Paddy, a 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Fast Silver—Gypsy Star, I’m A Star), went from turn-out to hacking and then, finally, back to full work earlier this spring.

“He’s 100 percent now,” said Louis, 55. “He’s looser; the chiropractor that does his back says he’s better than he was.”

Louis and Paddy even made a return to competition earlier this spring, most recently finishing sixth in a division of novice at Surefire Farm Horse Trials (Va.), June 21. Louis is aiming for a move up to training level next with Paddy, and he’d like to eventually tackle a CCI* with the gelding. Then once the horse is ready for the next step in his career, Paula will do dressage on him.

“I’m very much an amateur, and I’ve never been on a horse this big and powerful, so the hardest part is to learn to release,” said Louis. “When you release, then he relaxes. It’s all about finesse and technique; it’s not power.

“It’s a happy ending for everyone, and I can’t thank the Ligons enough for giving us a chance to buy Paddy,” Louis added. “I get the chance to learn to ride on an amazing horse. He never takes a bad step, and he only gives the best he can give. He’s had such good training. It’s as good as it gets.”

Both Ashker and Louis now recommend hauling with a camera in the back of the trailer, a set-up they say can be accomplished for a few hundred dollars.

“I’ve been hauling my whole life, and something like that will probably never happen again, but at least I’ll know right away if it does,” said Ashker. 

 
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