Equestrian eventing is one of the most dangerous sports at the Olympics. Still, year after year riders compete with their beloved horses at the chance of winning a Gold Medal.
Despite the unfavorable risks, one young girl named Emma Jonathan took her chances with her horse El Nino. She was set to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, but an unfortunate event wouldn’t let her get that far…
Emma Jonathan, from Petersfield, Hampshire, had been riding horses since the age of 5. When she was enrolled in boarding school at Stonar School in England, she was finally able to compete in the sport.
Stonar school is a British Horse Society approved Equestrian Center, where 65 horses are stabled and riders have the option of bringing their own horse or pony to school. The school’s website reads: “Our desire is to ensure that every rider will become the very best they can be,” and Emma became just that, the very best…
In 2004, when Emma was 18, she bought her first horse. El Nino was described as a “careful and good-tempered horse,” and Emma began training him herself.
A Future Olympian
By 2008, Emma had polished her skills and was a talented cross-country rider with her beloved El Nino by her side. It wasn’t long before she received the great news that she had been picked to join an elite group of riders by British Eventing. This meant that she was right on track to be able to compete in the London 2012 Olympics…
Hartpury Horse Trials
But first, to prepare for the Olympics, Emma was competing in the Hartpury Horse Trials in Gloucestershire. During one of her competitions on August 8, 2008, one of the judges, Elizabeth Hill, remarked on how comfortable Emma looked on El Nino and how the pair embodied a “real partnership.”
A Proud Equestrian
This was a huge compliment to any young rider and Emma was proud of herself and El Nino. But the competition took a turn for the worst when El Nino somersaulted over a jump…
Emma Fell Off El Nino
The 5-year-old horse struck the fence at jump 19, just before the end of the course and he flipped vertically mid-air. Emma slipped to the right-hand side and landed on her front before El Nino toppled onto her back.
El Nino Was Unharmed
El Nino had thrown Emma Off and the judges ran to her aid as she groaned and tried to move. “I told her to stay still and that help was coming…I could see blood coming from her mouth,” the judge said. In the meantime, El Nino rolled off Emma and trotted away unharmed…
As Emma lay on the ground after being thrown off El Nino, a team of doctors and paramedics tried to save her by carrying out emergency resuscitation which took place for 30 minutes.
Emma’s Mom Was Waiting At The Finish Line
Emma’s mother, Jane, had been waiting at the finish line for her daughter with buckets of water to cool El Nino down. “I was listening to the commentary over and suddenly it went quiet…Then there was an announcement that there was a hold-up on the course…I went to investigate and saw El Nino being walked towards me.” At that moment, Jane knew Emma had fallen…
El Nino’s Weight Crushed Emma
Jane shouted to her daughter to stay away, but her eyes lost focus and she started to fade away. It was apparent that Emma’s chest had been crushed under the weight of El Nino.
She wound up passing away from massive internal injuries on August 8 and her death prompted investigation as to how this could have happened. Was the fence that struck El Nino at jump 19 too high?
The judge, Elizabeth Hill said, “There was no obvious reason through Emma’s riding, the structure of the fence or the weather condition, for this to have happened…Emma was using her judgement, she was riding well and she came at the jump at exactly the right pace.”
But, after an accident investigator evaluated the case, he learned that a builder had re-installed the frangible pins at jump 19 shortly before the fall. Were the pins the cause of El Nino’s somersault?
Investigation Of Jump 19
Special pins on the fence were designed to break the bar on impact from a horse, which are intended to keep the horse upright. But a second inspection wound up ruling them safe.
The accident investigator also determined that there was a 30% chance that a rider would suffer serious injury or death after a somersault fall, being that it is the most dangerous. Sadly, Emma fell into that 30%…
At the time, she had recently graduated from the University of East Anglia with a 2.1 in the history of art. “Emma was a talented young rider and had formed a great partnership with her horse, El Nino, bringing her up through the grades from intro in 2005 right up to two-star level.”
Call For The Sport To Be Made Safer?
A British Eventing spokesman said, “[Emma’s] loss was a tragic accident, and our thoughts are with her family at this time.” She wasn’t the only rider, however, that suffered tremendous injuries while riding her beloved horse…
A talented equestrian from Long Island, New York, died in a freak jumping competition accident upstate in 2016. Rebecca Weissbard, 22, was thrown to the ground when her horse named “Remember Me” hit the cross pole while trying to clear the second hurdle in a 10-hurdle course.
A True Talent
The horse then stumbled and fell on Rebecca. Earlier that day, Rebecca had ridden the same horse to a first-place victory in another jumping event at the competition. Her death was devastating and Rebecca’s grandmother said, “She was joyful…She was a champion in everything that she did.”