Muscles: a protective shield

Alexandra Löwy fell from her horse while vaulting, leaving her with multiple fractured vertebrae. Thankfully, her vaulting team members responded correctly. The 23-year-old athlete tells her story.

11.09.2020 Christian Benz 2 minutes

“I was supposed to backflip off the horse, which I’d done a thousand times before. But this time I slipped, and didn’t make the flip. I slammed down onto my back and lay there motionless. The accident happened during the dress rehearsal before the first group vaulting tournament of the 2017 season. Vaulting is a sport that can be described as gymnastics on the back of a galloping horse. Several of my vaulting team members quickly rushed to my aid in addition to my trainer, who immediately dialled the emergency number. In the meantime, one of my team members gently slapped my face to try and get me to regain consciousness. They did the right things in a critical situation. Then, all of a sudden – and I don’t know how – I managed to reposition myself from lying on my back into the recovery position. My team members were also astounded by this. And relieved. They were extremely reluctant to move my body, as they didn’t know the extent of my injuries. The ambulance arrived a short time later. From that point onwards, everything happened very quickly. Neck brace, stretcher, helicopter, emergency department. The diagnosis? Two spinal fractures.

Even stronger as a team

I was extremely lucky, given the circumstances. The doctors told me that my well-trained muscles had spared me from the worst. Nowadays, I can move normally again. The only thing is that I get a little bit tired if I sit or stand in a certain position for an extended period of time. I can barely remember the accident itself – most of what I know about it comes from what others have told me. My team and I often talked about it afterwards. It was a shock for all of us, as nothing like that had ever happened at our club. Talking about it did us good – it made us even stronger as a team. I was back at training and with the horses three weeks after the accident. I didn’t actively participate, but I sat in the stands to support my team. After three months, I got back onto a horse for the first time, which was important to me. I wanted to start vaulting again after my injury recovery period. The horse wasn’t to blame for my accident – I was just unlucky.

A team effort between humans and horses

You can’t be afraid when you vault. It requires courage, respect and concentration. Particularly difficult moves such as pirouettes or back handsprings are first practised on a motionless wooden horse. Once you start to feel comfortable on the dummy horse, you can progress to a real horse. Just standing still to begin with, then at walking pace later on. The horse also has to get used to the moves. Vaulting is a team effort between humans and horses. In autumn 2019, I retired from my active career. The accident wasn’t the main reason – it was simply the right time for me. I began this sport when I was seven years old. I’ve experienced so many incredible moments and achieved a lot, which I’m proud of; I’ve won four Swiss Championship titles. I haven’t completely given up vaulting, though – I’m now training the next generation. It’s a role that brings me great fulfilment.”

Read more

First aid quiz
An emergency can occur anytime, anywhere. Do you know what to do? Test your knowledge.
September 4, 2020

Emergencies from A to Z
From asthma attacks to tick bites – find out more about triggers, symptoms and the right things to do in an emergency.
September 4, 2020