EQUESTRIAN communities on both sides of the Atlantic have rallied to support Irish Olympian Kevin Babington (51) after a life changing riding accident last week.
The Carrick-on-Suir native was injured in a fall at the Hampton Classic Horse Show last Friday, when the hugely experienced Shorapur, the mare on which he won the Hampton Classic in 2014, fell at the third part of a triple combination.
Kevin was airlifted to nearby Stony Brook University Hospital before being transferred to New York University Langone Medical Center where he underwent a five-hour operation on Tuesday, to stabilise the bones in his neck.
“Today I sit in this hospital living the darkest hour of my life,” Kevin’s wife Dianna Babington posted that day on Facebook. “He has suffered a complete injury to his cervical spine and today is to prevent him from living in a cervical collar.”
Kevin was in a stable condition this week and post-surgery, was reported to be breathing on his own and no longer in a collar.
The Plaid Horse magazine editor Sissy Wickes has set up a Facebook fundraising page (Sissy’s Medical Fund) to help the Babington family with the major medical bills and rehabilitation costs ahead. Between it and a parallel GoFundMe account, organised by Kathy Gilbert, donations totalling €440,000 had been received as we went to press.
Speaking to The Irish Field on Thursday evening from NYU’s Langone Medical Center, longtime family friend Sissy Wickes said another purpose of the fundraising drive was to provide “peace of mind” to Dianna and the couple’s teenage daughters, Gwyneth and Marielle.
“Kevin was the primary breadwinner. The fund will also be dedicated to getting them through this very trying time,” said Sissy, who is setting up a Special Needs Trust to utilise donations.
“The outpouring of support for Kevin has been overwhelming and the family is so thrilled with everybody’s response, not only in terms of donating money, but the messages of support and concern. So they are feeling very surrounded and embraced by the horse industry and I think it’s also a tribute to what an incredible human being Kevin is, not only a horseman, but just a nice man.
“He is an exceptional person and I think that is reflected in the response that we’ve gotten. I’ve gotten so many stories about Kevin, little vignettes about things Kevin did for them. He was always the guy who held out his hand to help others and that is being reflected back now.”
Several fundraising events will take place to further add to the donations for Kevin’s rehabilitation. A number of trainers, including Cian O’Connor, Gerry Flynn, Gary Marshall, Derek McConnell, Paddy O’Donnell, Denis Flannelly and Sorrell Klatzko have already volunteered to teach at instruction clinics, organised by Lizzie Burcher at her Fethard yard, from October to January.
Donations were gathered at last weekend’s Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show and Country Fair, several American companies are donating sales of bespoke products to the fund and a benefit show will be held at Duncraven Stables in New Jersey on October 13th,
“My hope for him [Kevin] is focused on quality of life and that there will be clinical trials to help him move forward,” Dianna said this week on Facebook. “Much of these avenues are not covered by insurance and will be dependent on private funding. I am sharing this because I want people to understand that the fundraising is essential. It can mean the difference in equipment available to him, therapies, vehicles, honestly I don’t even know.
“If you know him you know he is talented but humble, kind, private, and giving among all things,” she continued.
“Above all things he is a great father and life partner, and as he lays here, he is panicking about the three of us instead of himself. I am so thankful for all the support we have received, there are no words.”
Kevin, who trained at Iris Kellett’s yard, has been based in the United States since 1988 and moved to a new yard in Allentown, New Jersey this summer. His former Gwynedd Valley base was home to numerous Irish riders, staff and students from the University of Limerick equine programme.
A member of the highly successful Irish Nations Cup team in the early 2000s with Saly Glassman’s Irish Sport Horse gelding Carling King, the pair were on the gold medal winning team at the 2001 European Championships.
Three years later he and ‘King’ were joint individual fourth at the Athens Olympics. They also recorded wins in a world class 2001 La Baule Grand Prix, regarded by Kevin as one of his career highlights and the King George V Cup at Hickstead.
This July, Kevin recorded a remarkable result in the Lake Placid Grand Prix by taking the top-three places with Shorapur and the Irish-bred pair of Super Chilled and Mark Q.