A horse rider has made a miraculous recovery after she came millimetres from death when she was kicked "square in the face" by her stallion.
Becca Brown was turning out her Dutch warmblood, called Gibson, earlier this month after eight weeks of rest when he bucked and kicked her with his metal-booted hoof.
The 33-year-old was rushed to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital with a cracked skull, fractured cheek bones and eye sockets, and a ‘concertinaed’ nose.
Doctors told her she would have died if the bone fragments had gone into her brain.
Surgeons worked over seven hours to repair the damage, peeling back the skin from her face to pin and screw her bones back together.
Royal Navy officer Becca’s nose was so badly fractured that consultants compared it to "sticking cornflakes together" and she had a bone graft from her hip to create a brand new one.
But just a fortnight later, she is out of hospital and looking to ride Gibson again.
Becca, from Newton Abbot, Devon, said: "I can remember everything. When I got to hospital, I had a 3D CT scan on my head.
"Consultants then started coming and examining me. The scan revealed I had fractures to both eye sockets, both cheek bones, my nose had concertinaed.
"I was in surgery for seven hours [on February 4] and a cranial flap was required where they made an incision from ear to ear and peeled down my face to access the bones. They used titanium screws and bolts to fix my face back together.
"I have 42 staples across my head and stitches in my gums and under my eyes.
"They said there were millimetres in it. If the kick had done any more damage and the bone fragments had gone into my brain, I’d have died."
She added: "It’s my face and, at the end of the day, it’s what makes me confident. It’s a massive part of your confidence to go about day-to-day life, performing a presentation at work, it’s what makes you you.
"I was in the high dependency unit for hourly observations to ensure they hadn’t caught an optic nerve when reconstructing my eye sockets.
"I thought I might pass out from the shock and pain but I was thinking so clearly I could tell [my trainer] Sarah where my keys were, the number for my parents, how she could get into my dog who would need looking after.
"Normally in these cases people will be knocked out or not remember anything. I don’t remember the pain as much as the complete loss of sight.
"I could still think and move. I managed to walk to the ambulance because they couldn’t get the stretcher through the mud.
"I knew Sarah my trainer was behind me so I just shouted ‘Sarah, I need an ambulance’. If she hadn’t been there I would have had to crawl back to the livery myself.
"Despite us being out in the countryside, the ambulance arrived within in 20 minutes. The NHS is amazing. It was called at 10.30am and by 10.55am I was in the ambulance on the way to hospital."
Becca and Sarah had taken out Gibson to help with his rehabilitation after he suffered a minor injury and needed surgery.
The strong steed had been confined to his stable for nearly two months with minimal exercise to help him heal but Becca likens the transition from being a competitive show jumper to staring at four walls to being a child kept inside on a rainy day.
She had even taken steps to give the horse a sedative so he didn’t run around "like a lunatic" and injure himself before putting turn out boots on him. Despite the precautions, less than 30 minutes later she was in the back of an ambulance.
Becca said: "It was a totally normal Sunday. I was turning out my horse after a period of box rest and wasn’t doing anything exceptional or dangerous.
"Gibson’s a strong competition horse with a very active mind, so being on box rest in a 12 x 12 ft stable was frustrating and boring for him.
"He was a bit like a schoolchild when it’s been wet play at school. It was like he’d had eight weeks of wet play and he was excited.
"I began with a lesson and we’d made him use his brain and work correctly which made him a bit cross. After that I jumped straight off him, untacked and popped his turn out rug and boots on.
"I gave him the last three notches of a tube of Sedalin [a horse sedative] and he was already very quiet so we thought we would pop him out. The Sedalin was to stop him going running around like a lunatic and injuring himself again."
Becca was wearing a riding hat but the strength of Gibson and his metal boots "made the impact even worse".
He had been trained to have massive power in his back legs to help him clear fences however this time his agility backfired.
Becca said: "We walked him to the field and he was jogging slightly but perfectly calm then we approached some muddy areas around fences.
"He hates the mud so we use a lunge rope to help but because it was muddy it was sucking my wellies from my feet. I was trying to cross the mud myself while holding on to Gibson then I just saw a hoof.
"He’d launched a few seconds before I was ready and he bucked and kicked out with joy, catching me square in the face.
"Horses do this a lot, it’s just what horses do and beautiful to watch when they run off into a field. But this time he bucked before I was ready.
"In terms of his weight and power, to put the kick into perspective, he is 610kg and as a show jumper, we’ve trained him specifically to have huge power in his hind legs. He can jump 1.3 metres without trying.
"This, and the fact he was wearing metal shoes, made the impact even worse."
Miraculously, Becca remained conscious throughout the ordeal and was able to relay to her trainer her parents’ number, the medication she was taking, where her house keys were and how her dog should be cared for.
When the ambulance arrived, she was rushed to hospital and given a CT scan which found the face was crushed, with her nose fractured so badly the bones were likened to "cornflakes".
After just a week in hospital, Becca moved into her parents’ house so she could be with her family who are caring for her. Admitting she’s "completely independent", Becca fears she could lose her home if she cannot get back to work soon.
Her body was so badly affected by the accident that she even struggled to change her bedsheets, a huge change for someone who regularly carried 2kg bags of horse feed just last month.
Becca said: "I’m now so weak that I struggle to change my bed sheets. When I went to change the sheets in my parents’ guest room after getting home from hospital, it felt like pushing a car up a hill with the handbrake on. It was exhausting.
"A month ago I could carry a 2kg bag of horse food without any problems. Despite everything and the severity of my injuries I’ve exceeded expectations.
"It’s been two weeks since the accident and I’m staying at my parents but at least I’m out of hospital.
"I’m normally a completely independent person. I live alone and have a mortgage, a car loan, other animals to care for. I have a totally normal life."
Going from self-sufficient to relying on her family was difficult and it soon made Becca realise how her situation could have been very different.
When she contacted her insurance company, they informed her the cover she had did not include accidents or injuries incurred from her own horse, unless she was killed, had lost a limb or went blind.
Becca took the "horse and rider" cover at face value without reading the small print and if she wasn’t entitled to full sick pay from work, she fears she could have lost everything.
Becca said: "I would advise all other horse owners, or anyone who enjoys sports, to take out appropriate insurance and read the small print. I didn’t and I’m paying for it now.
"I started to worry because all of these things don’t cease to exist because I’m in hospital or recovering.
"If I didn’t work where I do or have a family to care for me, what would happen? I’d lose my house. That is a real possibility.
"Luckily as a Royal Navy officer I will stay on full pay during all of this and receive amazing medical care but some people won’t be this lucky. I was due to start a new job on the Monday, luckily with the Royal Navy too otherwise I wouldn’t get any sick pay.
"My insurance was ‘horse and rider cover’ but apparently I’m not entitled to any pay out unless I’m dead, have loss of sight or loss of a limb. I pay £180 per month for that cover.
"I’m now facing having to sell my horse box to get some money together while I recover.
"Horse riding is actually in the top-ten most dangerous sports. I read somewhere that a rider will sustain one injury for every 350 hours of riding. I ride for an hour each day.
"This could be something small that doesn’t affect your life, or it could be a freak accident like this."
Despite the major injuries she incurred after Gibson’s kick, Becca is determined to get better for her beloved animal and to continue to care for him like a ‘mummy’.
The horse, which has been competing for three years, is currently staying with another trainer to keep up his routine.
Becca said: "Gibson is still my pet and I’m his ‘mummy’. He didn’t mean for this to happen. It’s important to me that he’s being looked after the way I would look after him.
"I’m a survivor. I want to get better and help Gibson recover too so we can get back to competing."