Two years ago, Lucienne Elms was lying in a hospital bed near her hometown of Hampshire, England, unsure if she’d ever ride again.
A car accident left her with 28 broken bones, and she spent weeks in intensive care before moving to Oaksey House, a renowned rehabilitation center run by the Injured Jockeys Fund in Lambourn, Berkshire, England.
Elms was “dogged” about her rehabilitation and defied the odds to ride again in the spring of 2019.
An entrepreneur and four-star eventer, Elms has since permanently relocated to the United States to expand her multi-pronged business, Horse Scout, and to bring her international horses through the levels, with the goal of getting to a five-star.
This weekend, she has four horses entered at the MARS Equestrian Tryon International in Mill Spring, North Carolina, including her longtime partner, off-the-track Thoroughbred Mistralou in the CCI4*-L.
Elms grew up in New Forest, Hampshire, England, and was riding before she was walking. Her family trained New Forest Ponies, and she learned to ride in Pony Club. She bought and sold horses and ponies as a young rider but wasn’t able to compete in affiliated eventing until she got a job as a working student with five-star rider Nick Campbell.
She was officially eventing by 18, and two years later she was helping Campbell with his international sales yard in Dorset and also starting race horses.
When she was 21, Elms went to chiropractic school so she could make enough money to keep her own horses instead of selling them.
“True to form, I got bored!” Elms said. “I was doing that for a few years, had my own practice. It was working nicely with a string of horses and a string of owners that I’d built up. I was riding at what is now the four-star level. Then I had a freak accident in 2013. I was riding a young horse, and he fell on me on a tarmac road. I broke my foot and ankle in 16 places and had to have my foot and ankle reconstructed. I was in a wheelchair for a year. In that time I lost my horses and my owners, which is fair enough. When you’re not riding for 12 months, nobody wants to support you.”
During her rehab, she dreamed up Horse Scout because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to return to riding. But as soon as she was out of a wheelchair, she was back on a horse and competing at the three-star level the following year.
“I felt very lucky that it happened out hacking and not at a competition,” Elms said. “It was just a freak accident. It wasn’t a case of, ‘Oh God, I don’t want to jump anymore,’ or I keep getting a memory triggered. It was literally a young horse slipped on the tarmac. I think with all horse people, all you want to do once you’re injured is work out how quickly you can get back on a horse.”
After her injury, Elms deregistered as a chiropractor and began working with Oliver Townend in Shropshire. Horse Scout was growing, so she was traveling internationally trying to find investors for the start-up.
Then in 2018, Elms was driving near her home when she hit a tree. Her list of injuries was extensive. In addition to the broken bones, she punctured both lungs and her spleen and says she probably should have died.
“Long story short, I’m now very full of metal,” she said. “I’ve got a metal hip, metal femur, metal wrist, shoulder, arms—all got reconstructed.”
Elms, 36, spent months at Oaksey House, determined to get back on a horse again.
“I was a chiropractor, so I understand rehab really well. When I woke up in the hospital, and they told me I’d broken 28 bones—16 ribs, your thoracic spine, your leg, your arm, your shoulder, I obviously thought, ‘Hmm. This could take a while,’ but I didn’t think, ‘I don’t want to ride again,’ ” Elms said. “[Oaksey has] an amazing rehab unit. They have cranes that lift you into pools, and they have the zero gravity tanks that the military use, so you’re able to submerge yourself and create an environment around you where you weigh maybe only 5 percent of your body weight, so you can start to bear a little bit of weight. You slowly build up again. It was the most pain I’ve ever been in, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but there’s a huge difference between fractures, trauma, bones and disease. I didn’t have a disease; I just had a lot of rehab ahead of me. I was doing about four hours a day in the gym. Whatever I could do I would do.”
Elms said her accident has left her asymmetric. “My whole right side I can’t feel properly, but I can still grip, so that’s OK!” she joked. “Psychologically I felt so damn happy to be back on. Although I keep deviating and doing other businesses, riding is when I feel most authentic. To me, the second I’m in the saddle I’m happy, and if I’m going cross-country I’m happy. The moment I was competing again I sort of felt like I could exhale and relax and go, ‘OK, yeah, I am coming back from this.’
“Physically I do get frustrated,” she continued. “With my lateral work, I am two different halves completely, but I feel as though every year that will get better, and it’s down to me needing to do a bit more work in the gym and get my right side so it matches my left side.”
Elms is based in Campobello, South Carolina, and Wellington, Florida. Mistralou, an 18-year-old Irish Thoroughbred (Fourstars Allstar—Flying Chance), has been with her since he came off the track at age 9. If he’s still feeling good next year, she may try for a five-star, but she doesn’t want to put too much pressure on him.
“He should have been a great race horse, but he was way too careful to jump and very sensitive to ground and didn’t settle as a race horse at all,” she said.
Elms also has Diamond Duette, a 10-year-old Anglo European mare (Carrick Diamond Lad—Fachoudette, Kachou) she’ll ride in the CCI4*-S this weekend at Tryon. She’s new to the level, so Elms is looking for a confidence-boosting ride.
Atlantic Vital Spark, a 10-year-old Irish gelding (Atlantic Sparkey—Atlantic Biance, Aldatus Z), competed to the four-star level with William Fox-Pitt and came to Elms just a few months ago. She’s looking for a good finish in the CCI3*-L this weekend.
“We’re still getting to know each other,” she said. “He’s a lot of horse. I’m just trying to put my stamp on him a little bit.”
Tremanton, an 8-year-old British Sport Horse (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz—Trevia, Hand In Glove), is new to the CCI2*-L level, so Elms is hoping for an educational run with him.
Elms has been doing virtual flat lessons with Canadian Grand Prix rider Jacquie Brooks, but she hasn’t found jumping help yet in the USA. She’s enjoyed eventing here so far, noting the driving distances are long, but the riders are friendly, and the courses are great.
Because of COVID-19, she hasn’t been able to travel as much for Horse Scout, but normally she spends about 25 percent of her time in the U.K. for the business. Horse Scout has three main components: a marketplace for horse sales and for professional riders to advertise themselves; an agency that helps draw more sponsorships to events; and Horse Scout Designs, which allows users to print photos on various home décor items. Elms is hoping to expand her business in the U.S. and bring more sponsorship to events.
“When I was working full time and running a big yard, my horses were always kind of deprioritized because your clients and sales horses come first. When I started doing the chiropractic, it was a similar scenario,” she said. “You’re always putting in your own horses early and late. With Horse Scout, I was based in Hampshire and renting a nice facility, and if I had to ride at 4 a.m. or 11 at night, that’s just what happened. I was commuting to London and Europe a lot, so I earmarked which big international events I wanted to aim for and worked backwards. Nowadays I get them done in the morning since I’m only riding four, so if you’re systematic about it you can get everything done before 11 a.m., then carry on with your working day.”
Disclosure: Elms is married to Chronicle owner and publisher Mark Bellissimo, and Horse Scout Designs advertises with the Chronicle.