Video: By head and heart, British eventer Laura Collett's confident recovery inspires safety in the saddle

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This is the story of a comeback. And if you needed any more proof that safety equipment is now cool stuff to have (and wear), this is your article.

July 8

"Following Laura's bad fall today Laura is now in ITU in hospital. She has been stabilized?and we will know more over the next 24 hours?" ?(Note: ITU is British-speak, short for Intensive Therapy Unit)

It's high sport season here in New England?and the news is filled with updates on injured stars:?Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury injured his navicular bone, and every time a newscast mentions it, I chuckle, thinking of navicular problems and how they plague performance horses. I wish him luck.

Laura Collett and her horse Rayef airborne at Badminton Horse Trials in 2011. (Tim Simpson photo)

Laura Collett and her horse Rayef airborne at Badminton Horse Trials in 2011. (Tim Simpson photo)

On the football side of the news, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is recovering from spinal surgery for a herniated disk this summer. He didn't play in yesterday's game but he's been able to practice, amazing at that seems.

July 9

"As a result of the damage to Laura's lungs it has been decided to give her longer under sedation and it is anticipated waking her tomorrow."

Both of these professional human athletes are being groomed for post-injury returns to their respective playing fields in almost ?super-human time. If only horses could make such speedy recoveries, but of course horses can't tell us when it hurts or how much it hurts. They can't say, "Phew, that's enough of that" to a physical therapist.

But the same attention to medical and rehabilitation detail focused on our professional team athletes has been seen in the past month in equestrian sports, as British eventing star Laura Collett has risen from a six-day induced coma and an intensive-care hospital bed to return to the saddle in what seems like a very, very short time.

July 10

"Laura remains in a stable condition but will remain sedated for further 24 hours."

Day after day, the horse world listened faithfully to reports that the rider was in an induced coma to preserve her recovery odds. This is not the news we're accustomed to reading about this up-and-coming young rider champion turned serious professional competitor.

We're more used to seeing her paint a gray horse like a union jack flag for the runup to the 2012 Olympics. Or seeing a fashion clip about what she wore in the trot-up at Badminton. Laura recently moved the retrained racehorse of a lifetime, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star, to her barn so that he can start a second career in dressage. Laura knows and capitalizes on the role that social media and publicity can play in a rider's career. She could write the book for others to follow.

Is it any surprise then that Laura has made a miraculous comeback?

July 11

"Laura has had a comfortable night and responding well. She will remain asleep today to aid recovery."

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Hang on: when it comes to the human body, charisma takes the back seat. Fan mail is great, but you still have to get yourself mentally fit for the physio appointment and you must do the work yourself.

Laura Collett ?hasn't done it alone. The British high performance sports program and her family have made sure that she has had the support she needs and access to physical therapy and rehabilitation services that many of us can only envy.

July 12

"Following her fall on Monday Laura has injuries consistent with being crushed, the injury causing most concern is the damage to her lungs. ??It is for this reason that she continues to be sedated and kept intubated so the lungs can recover. ???This process is likely to continue over the weekend. ?We can confirm that she had no injuries to her limbs and all tests to her head and brain have been clear. When in lighter sedation she is very responsive."

Now that Laura is technically back in competition, she's spending some time in the limelight to talk about her fall and, most importantly, her good fortune at being alive and being able to return to work.

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July 13

"Laura is now breathing with a mask and talking with her family for short periods. ??She is very tired and sleeping most of the time."

Surely at the top of Laura's list would be her helmet and her body protector. Most of us take safety equipment for granted now. We've stopped grumbling about helmet hair. Burghley Horse Trials winner Jock Paget even appeared at his press conference wearing his body protector this weekend; will he spark a new fashion trend?

We saw inflatable vests in action at Rolex when Oliver Townend tumbled in 2010. We've seen helmets elevated to a fashion item as dressage rider Isabell Werth competed in a metallic-finished model, and Olympic Gold Medalist Charlotte Dujardin ?turned down a top hat and added patriotic red piping to her helmet for London in 2012. In the BBC video, British eventing coach Yogi Breisner sings the praises of air vests.

Are we approaching a day when air vests will be compulsory equipment? For the immediate future, it is still the rider's option which body protector is worn. British Eventing (BE) chair Michael Etherington-Smith provided this insight:

"For general information, the BE Safety and Sport Committees have been very closely monitoring the development of all air jackets and will continue to do so. As things stand it is a matter of personal choice for riders as to whether they chose to wear an air jacket and which one. At the upcoming Sport and Safety Committee meetings, this subject will again be discussed. It would be wrong to pre-judge the outcome of these meetings.

"We are very mindful that air jackets are not inexpensive and we are also very aware that at this point in time there are no agreed minimum performance standard requirements for air jackets; this is something that we have to consider as well. As with many things it is not a simple matter, it requires an all-round appreciation of the issues."

If there is one thing that Laura Collett is showing us, it is that it is what's under the helmet that counts, both in building your professional career and in staying alive. It's worth protecting, as is the generous heart that shares the experience so that others may, if they fall, have the best chance of avoiding life-threatening injury.

Note: Quotes in italics are from Laura Collett's diary and Twitter feed.

--by Fran Jurga

For more news, connect with Fran Jurga on her Facebook page

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