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Top international rider killed instantly in fall from her horse

THE DEATH of the British international horse rider Polly Phillipps brought the Scottish Open Championships to a tragic and premature end yesterday.

Phillipps, 30, sustained fatal injuries in a fall during the competition at Thirlestane Castle, near Lauder in the Scottish Borders.

The accident happened when her horse, Coral Cove, took off too early at sloping parallel rails, the tenth of 28 fences on the cross-country course. She was killed instantly and the remainder of the championships was cancelled, leaving thousands of sombre and silent spectators to make their way home.

This was the third fatality in the sport in Britain this year, after the deaths of Peta Beckett in May and the Australian rider, Robert Slade, in June. Both Beckett and Phillipps, well known for their verve and courage, were on the squad for the World Equestrian Games in Italy last year.

Phillipps, who finished seventh and best of the British, was subsequently embroiled in an acrimonious controversy after a urine sample from Coral Cove, taken on the final day of the World Games, was found to be over the permitted level of the pain-killing drug salicylic acid. It led to disqualification for the team, which meant the loss of team bronze medals and Olympic qualification.

Phillipps was later exonerated by the Judicial Committee of the International Equestrian Federation in a statement that read: "There was no deliberate attempt by Polly Phillipps to affect the performance of Coral Cove."

Vere Phillipps, Polly's horse-dealing husband, was looking for new purchases at Millstreet in Co Cork, Ireland, when he heard about the fatal accident. It was there, about five years ago, that he first saw Coral Cove and bought him.

Polly Phillipps, who was individual and team silver medallist at the Junior European championships in 1986, was studying for her veterinary finals when she first completed the three-day event at Badminton in 1992. "I was too busy mugging up on pig vetting to be worried about the cross- country," she had said after that achievement. She established her own veterinary practice, specialising in horses, at Rampstone in Leicestershire, where she often travelled on her rounds by bicycle while getting fit for major events.

She was among the leading contenders this year at Badminton, where she also had a horrific fall during May.

She suffered concussion, a broken collar-bone, and injuries to her back, ribs and the optic nerve in her right eye. She had fought back bravely, only to suffer the fatal injury just over four months later.