Equestrianism: Fall claims Phillipps' life

THE DEATH of 30-year-old Polly Phillipps brought the Scottish Open Championships to a tragic and premature end yesterday at Thirlestane Castle, near Lauder in the Scottish Borders.

Phillipps sustained fatal injuries when her mount, Coral Cove, took off too early at sloping parallel rails, the 10th of 28 fences on the cross- country course which had caused little trouble beforehand. The rider was killed instantly and the remainder of the championships were cancelled, leaving thousands of sombre and silent spectators to make their way home from this normally happy event.

This is the third fatality in the sport this year, following the deaths of Peta Beckett at Savernake in May and the Australian rider, Robert Slade, at Wilton 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 exonerated by the Judicial Committee of the International Equestrian Federation in a statement which read: "There was no deliberate attempt by Polly Phillipps to affect the performance of Coral Cove." She was still waiting to hear the date of her appeal against a one-month suspension which had been imposed.

Vere Phillipps, Polly's husband, had returned to Doncaster from Millstreet in County Cork, Ireland, when he heard about the fatal accident.

Polly, 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.

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

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