Meade back after horror fall
British eventer Harry Meade completed one of the sport's great comebacks on cross-country day at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
Meade, son of three-time Olympic gold medallist Richard Meade, delivered a clear jumping round with 16.4 time faults as Badminton's punishing four-star course took an otherwise hefty toll in stamina-sapping soft going.
A dreadful competition fall last August, when 30-year-old Meade, in his words, was "speared into the ground like a javelin" left him with elbow injuries so serious that one consultant said the shattered bone resembled grains of sand.
And Meade's appearance at Badminton - he lives in the neighbouring village of Luckington - represented a remarkable recovery from being stuck in a hospital bed unable to feed or wash himself to once again rubbing shoulders with the sport's elite.
Expertly guiding Shannondale Santiago through the horse's first advanced class at Wellington Horse Trials in Hampshire on August Bank Holiday Monday, he suffered a rotational fall, the sort of fall that all riders fear and that claimed the life of fellow event rider Tom Gadsby only the weekend before.
The galloping Santiago made an uncharacteristic error on take-off at an early fence on the cross-country course, chesting the solid fence at speed and sending horse and rider momentarily into the air.
Meade stretched both arms in a split-second attempt to break his fall - "it was either my arms that were going to take the impact or my neck," he recalled - and he knew instantly the injuries were bad.
"My arms were out straight, they locked at the elbows and snapped backwards. I remember it all, 100 percent," he said.
"As soon as my hands hit the ground it felt like a trigger detonated explosives strapped to my elbows."
Meade's elbows were dislocated and shattered and required emergency surgery, but he never gave up hope that he could make the Badminton starting line-up.
"I had a wonderful ride. He is a super cross-country horse," Meade said of his Badminton entry Wild Lone after being among Saturday's early starters.
"I said to my wife this morning - she was very nervous and knew the course might cause problems - that this is what I love doing and these are the conditions you look forward to.
"I have had the horse since he was a four-year-old and we know each other like old friends. It was a case of getting on him and getting the job done.
"I was excited in the start box. I knew how much pressure I had put on myself to come back for this. This is what it was all about.
"It was a feeling of nervousness and feeling a bit sick, but at the same time reminding myself that this is what I do. I wouldn't swap this for the world.
"It was seat of your pants kind of stuff. It was just a case of sticking to your plan and getting on with it.
"To be back at Badminton was my big target. When someone tells you that your career is over, it makes you look at things in a very different light.
"I didn't discuss my aims with too many people, but I think that the few who knew didn't believe I was serious.
"My father thought I was in denial that my career was over. When I said I planned to compete at Badminton he assumed it was part of a grieving process.
"When you get a second chance, you don't take things for granted. I have been determined to enjoy Badminton, especially having thought it was never going to happen again."