Olympic equestrian star killed during cross-country event

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The Independent Online

A leading Northern Ireland equestrian rider was killed after falling in a cross-country event over the weekend.

Sherelle Duke, 28, died after being crushed by her horse when it stumbled while tackling a fence at Brockenhurst Park in Hampshire on Sunday.

Ms Duke, from Portadown, Co Armagh, a former European Young Rider champion, was competing in the advanced section of the one-day event.

She was a member of the Irish team at the 2003 European Championships and won the bronze in the World Young Rider event in 1999.

Yesterday her sister Sonia said: "I don't think they'll replace her, not the dedication she gives to the sport ... trying to lift it to a new level. It's just the small things that come into your mind ... you know we all live the major things that happen in our lives, [but] it's the small things that you remember the most."

Ruth Loney, an equestrian journalist who was also a friend of Ms Duke, paid tribute to her, saying she was a "super-fit athlete", who was "totally focused".

Ms Loney said the cross-country section of three-day eventing was a dangerous sport because horse and rider had to negotiate solid timber fences, which when hit often threw the rider in front of the horse. She added: Whereas in national hunt racing when a jockey is thrown they're going at speed over smaller fences and the jockey will be thrown clear."

Ms Duke had been competing in horse trials for 15 years and was training for the next Olympics in Beijing. Ms Loney said that she had ridden professionally and trained horses to international level. "She competed in all the big events across Europe," she added.

Ms Duke's family are well known in the Portadown area, where they set-up the Dukes Transport Company. For years Ms Duke rode in the company's colours of red and white.

She had been due to represent Ireland in the Burghley Horse Trials next month and had also helped Ireland qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

A friend and fellow rider, Vina Buller, said the family was struggling with the loss.

"We are devastated, but the whole equestrian community will pull together and try to make sense of this all. A lot of close friends are riding in the Aachen World Games in Germany and a lot of them will be coming back for the funeral."

Peter Durrant, chief executive of British Eventing, said: "On behalf of the whole sport, I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Sherelle's family."