Doctors told Karen Bostock she would never walk, have children or ride again after she was impaled by a railing in a horric car crash. They were wrong.
Now a successful para rider she is campaiginng for show jumping to be part of the Paralympics.
“I want that to be my legacy,” says the 53 year old fromSkelmanthorpe near Wakefield.
At 24 years old Karen had a successful equestrian career ahead of her.
“It was all I ever wanted to do,” she recalls. “My life was wonderful. I was 24 years old, pursuing my dream of working with horses. I managed a competition yard of 42 horses, and particularly loved breaking, schooling and competing the young horses.”
Then, on 14 July 1987, a freak car accident changed her life forever.
“I can’t remember anything about it — all I know is that my car crashed through a post-and-rail fence, and one of the posts went through the windscreen, and through me, impaling me to my car seat.”
The post took out Karen’s collarbone, chest wall and two ribs, fractured her spine and punctured a lung.
“Somehow, I survived — but the doctors told me I’d never walk, have children or ride again.”
Determined to prove them wrong, Karen was back on her feet within a year and went on to have two children, Emma, now 27, and Jack, 24.
However, it was by no means plain sailing. She was in Stoke Manderville Hospital for more than six months and although she received excellent medical care, she says there was no psychological counselling to help her deal with what happened to her. “Things have changed a lot since then, but it was very much a ‘just get on with it’ attitude. I left hospital in a wheelchair and moved in with my boyfriend who looked after me as my family lived miles away. It was very difficult. I spent all my time trying to walk again I never let the thought of riding again cross my mind.
“I have serious mobility issues — with so many bones missing, my right side is very weak, and I can’t walk unassisted for long — and am in constant, acute pain.
“I couldn’t imagine ever riding again. As a disabled mum with two children to look after, it seemed like an impossible dream.” It was actually Karen’s daughter Emma who encouraged her to start riding again.
“One day, I saw an advertisement for a para showjumping competition that really intrigued me. I hadn’t ridden in 20 years, but I wanted to compete. A good friend put me on her horse — it was like riding a bike, despite my mobility issues It felt so good, although I do get frustrated sometimes as my right side just won’t do what I tell it to do.” Karen took the horse to the para showjumping competition — and won their class.
“That was it, I was bitten by the horsey bug once more. Emma found me a lovely safe horse, Chouss, who is fantastic and I have a great trainer, Michael Potter.
“For disabled riders like me, riding is therapy. On the ground, I can’t move fast or easily, but on the horse, I’m free. I forget about the constant pain and enjoy myself. It’s like a physio session for me every time I — I can’t move my own arm and leg, but the motion of the horse does it for me.”
Ironically before her accident Karen had done some work with Riding for the Disabled.
“It was amazing to see the immediate effect that being on a horse had on someone who was in a wheelchair. You could see the light in their eyes, but I never even thought that one day that could be me.”
While a huge advocate of Riding for the Disabled, Karen is one of a growing number of people who believe there need to be more competitive events for the disabled riders.
“ I can’t compete on equal footing against able-bodied riders — my limited mobility means I’d be at a huge disadvantage in a jump-off, and as a Grade One/Two disabled rider, I can’t jump higher than 70cms. Last year, there were only three shows that catered for para showjumpers – SCOPE, the National Championships at Stoneleigh, and the RDA show.”
Now former international show jumper Dame Emma-Jane Brown is campaigning for change and for more support for disabled riders like Karen.
She is championing the cause of Karen Law and 16 other talented disabled show jumpers whose sights are set on international competition, including Karen.
At the weekend Emma, who was forced to hang up her boots when a severe allergy to horses ended her career, organised a training event for the para riders at Arena UK in Lincolnshire.
“There is a real need to support the para riders, some of whom have the ability to represent the UK in international para show jumping competitions,” says Emma.
“ Unlike countries like France, in the UK there is very little support from the official bodies. Sometimes courses are set up without appropriate consideration for the riders’ partucular disabilities and the facilities and support on offer to them can be poor.”
“What Emma is doing for para riders is fantastic,” says Karen who is due to undergo two knee operations later this year. “Even though she suffers such a severe allergy to horses she wants help and mentor us.
“I’d love to see showjumping entered into the Paralympics, that would be a great legacy. I am not thinking about me but about future riders, but I’d also like to see are more opportunities for para showjumpers at club level.
“‘Never give up’ is my motto. Riding has transformed my life once more — it would just be fantastic if there were the same opportunities for disabled riders like me as there are for the able-bodied.”