Article supplied by the Devon Air Ambulance Trust
Jessica Westwood, 21, runs a successful business training racing horses at her yard in Exford, near Minehead. Until March last year, however, Jessica was an amateur jockey and on target to carve a career as a race rider.
A serious accident in 2007 had almost put paid to Jessica’s dreams, when she was kicked as she fell from her horse and suffered swelling on the brain and a perforated eardrum, which affected both her sight and her balance. After many frustrating months, however, Jess made an amazing recovery and was well and truly ‘back in the saddle’, enjoying both riding and training.
By March last year, Jess was aiming for a top six place at the annual Foxhunter Chase in Cheltenham, the amateur equivalent of the well-known Gold Cup, riding her 9-year old gelding, Monkerty Tunkerty. Jessica was relaxed about the race; she knew that Monkerty Tunkerty was on top form, having been owned and trained by Jess over the previous two years, and Jessica was unfazed by such illustrious competition as racing against horses owned by the Queen and J P McManus.
However, Jess’s dreams came tumbling down when she suffered a fall the Quantock Staghounds point-to-point meeting at Cothelstone in March 2012. Another head injury left the young rider with severe concussion, nauseous and exhausted with her standing and walking affected. Jessica was flown, unconscious, by Devon Air Ambulance, to Musgrove Park Hospital. Jessica has no memory of the accident, nor several days following and visits from worried family and friends went unnoticed. After five days, Jessica came round and started the long road to recovery. A further twelve days later, Jess started to walk again and was subsequently discharged from hospital. She felt far from ‘back to normal’ however, and, following further tests, it was realised that as well as her head injury, she also had two slipped discs at the top of her neck which had severely affected the left side of her body, leaving her with lack of balance and co-ordination and limited movement. Even her speech was affected as Jess was speaking using mainly the left side of her mouth.
Thanks to family friends who have an orthopaedic clinic, Jess found herself in Germany for a month, firstly undergoing more scans and x-rays, which revealed the two slipped discs, and then weeks of intense treatment, including massage therapy, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, neuropsychology, hand and finger therapy and computer reaction training.
As she gradually overcame all the physical issues, Jess also had to come to terms with the fact that, following two such serious head injuries, she would never get her riding licence back. Determined not to give up her equestrian life, however, Jess vowed to continue her other love; that of training race horses.
Demonstrating the same dedication and enthusiasm to her training as she had to her riding, Jess was soon reaping the rewards and, on Boxing Day, she saw her horse, Monkerty Tunkerty, win at Wincanton. Her horse also won at Doncaster and, despite being the youngest trainer there, she watched with excitement as Monkerty Tunkerty came in 7th out of 24 at this year’s prestigious Cheltenham Festival.
Jess explained, “So much has happened in this last year. From feeling at absolute rock bottom after the accident, to the absolute elation at the Cheltenham Festival just one year later. I am aiming to get my full training licence this summer and hope that other people will then send me their horses to train. I can’t thank everyone enough for the support they have shown and I will continue to raise funds for Devon Air Ambulance Trust whenever I can.”