Debbie McDonald Credits Helmet with Saving Her from Serious Injury in Horse Accident

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Steffen Peters, Courtney King-Dye and Debbie McDonald in 2008. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Debbie McDonald, Olympic and World Equestrian Games medalist and World Cup champion, was thrown from a horse in Southern California Tuesday, and said that wearing a safety helmet helped her escape severe brain injury.

“I told Courtney (King Dye) that she saved my life, Debbie, aged 56, told dressage-news.com. “Ever since Courtney’s accident I have been wearing a helmet.

“I think I dodged a big one.”

She said that on her way to the hospital after the accident on a young and big 17-hand horse in Thousand Oaks, California, she was thinking of her team mates, Courtney and Guenter Seidel who lives in Cardiff, California, and also suffered a horse accident last summer.

Debbie first reported her accident in an email to dressage riders saying: “Wanted to let you all know that I escaped a severe brain injury yesterday by wearing a helmet. I was launched over 30 feet (10m) straight into ground. Escaped with a concussion, facial lacerations and severe whip lash. Please everyone wear your helmets!”

Courtney King-Dye, who was on the 2008 Olympic team with Debbie and Steffen Peters, was seriously injured in a horse accident in Florida almost a year ago.

Gunter Seidel, a three-time Olympian for the United States, was injured in a horse accident in Germany last summer and fractured his pelvis.

The accident to Debbie occurred less than a month before safety helmets become mandatory at national level dressage classes in the United States as well as for junior and young horse classes and seniors who compete in both national and FEI levels at the same competition.

“I feel like I’ve been run over by a Mack truck,” Debbie said of the accident that left her with lacerations on the left side of face that “looks like I was dragged along the asphalt” and a black eye. She suffered severe whiplash and a concussion.

She said that she was riding the horse belonging to a client when it started to go into bronco bucking mode, throwing its head and stretching down between its legs.

“I realized that at some point I was going to come off,” she said.

“I went head first into the footing,” Debbie said. “The helmet showed that the footing went up to the base of the helmet.

“It was like a Christopher Reeves’ fall, with my hands out behind me,” referring to the actor who suffered a riding accident in 1995 that left him a quadraplegic. He died in in 2004.

She was knocked unconscious.

Debbie said the ambulance arrived quickly and took her to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

Debbie said she was concerned about her neck, but that a CAT scan found no trace of bleeding from the brain.

“I feel very, very, very lucky,” said Debbie who became America’s most beloved dressage rider when she rode the mare Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, to team silver at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain in 2002, team bronze at the WEG in Aachen, Germany, in 2006, team bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics and World Cup champion in 2003, the first American ever to do so.

“I was thinking on the way to the hospital of Courtney and Guenter.

“This has totally convinced me. From now on I won’t teach any one unless they’re wearing a helmet.”