Our Sporting Life SA

A South Australian website publication that delivers a passionate and unique insight into SA Sport

Exclusive: The Libby Hopwood Story - Part One

Image Peter Argent/OSLSA

Star jockey Libby Hopwood was badly injured in a race fall at Murray Bridge on October 15 last year - it was a crash that claimed the life of her close friend and flatmate Caitlin Forrest. Libby has spoken exclusively with Our Sporting Life's Andrew Frackowski. Here is the first of a three part story. PART ONE: THE FALL On October 15, 2014, Libby Hopwood was involved in a horrific race fall on Murray Bridge Cup day. During Race 8, the late Caitlin Forrest mount Colla Voce stumbled which brought down Barigan Boy (Libby Hopwood), El Prado Gold (Adrian Patterson) and Ethbaal (Justin Potter). Potter and Patterson walked away and Hopwood was rushed to Murray Bridge hospital before being transferred to the Flinders Medical Centre. Hopwood is still recovering and suffered a fractured collarbone, fractured verterbrae, punctured lung and bleeding on the brain. “This is the worst fall I’ve had,” she said. For Hopwood, she doesn’t remember anything from the day of the fall. “I don’t remember anything,” she continued. “The last day I remember was the Saturday before the fall. “I looked up some of the results (from the day of the fall) and I rode Umaluka (her favourite horse) but I don’t remember riding him. “I spoke to his trainer when I got out of hospital and he said you probably don’t remember, but you told me this horse isn’t right, I was like yeh nah sorry.” Her housemate and carer Alexia Styles was a frequent visitor of Hopwood whilst she was recovering in hospital. “It’s funny because she knew, her memory got worse,” Styles said. “When it happened she asked about Caitlin the next morning she rang me and it was 6am. “She said what are all these messages saying I hope you and Caitlin are alright, what happened to Caitlin? “So I said that she (Caitlin) died and she didn’t really react, she was like where was she, what was she doing? “So I explained she was in a race with you,” Styles said. Hopwood then asked “Did I bring her down? Alexia continued- “No her horse brought everyone else down.” “Then two hours later at the hospital she didn’t remember a thing about the conversation. “At first she thought she got back on the horse and rode back to the mounting yard, she then thought she had fallen off Zoran (her favourite horse). “She wouldn’t really acknowledge what had happened to Caitlin and then one day she just started to remember, but she would fall asleep, wake up remember, then she would forget and fall asleep. “That happened about ten times a day and every time she would send me the same message saying she was ‘sorry she couldn’t be there for me and that she loved me’ and I’d send the same thing back and then a few hours later I would get it again, it was de ja vu. “I felt terrible for her having to repeat it over and over again.” Hopwood is still on her long road to recovery and her injuries have changed her life. “When I got tired I suffered headaches, not so much now as I did in the early days,” Hopwood says. “The biggest thing that annoyed me in the early days aside from balance and that sort of thing was sound. “I was really sensitive to sound and even when I got home we went down the Bay and I just couldn’t handle being down 'The Bay' because there was too much noise. The specialists explained like I knocked the filter part of my brain out so instead of the brain filtering and giving me what I needed I couldn’t, it was taking on everything and getting overwhelmed. “I had a bleed in the middle, but most of it was around the front, it just sort of aches like a general ache when I get a headache. “I saw the neurologist and seen the scans and it was like tiny and I said surely I can get back sooner and she said ‘for it to actually show on the scan it is quite significant’ I was like, its tiny lets move on.” Despite her injuries, Hopwood declares she feels fine other than being more frequently tired. “I feel fine, that’s the annoying part,” she said “I pretty much feel a hundred percent, apart from the fact I get tired quickly or I’m a little bit slow, my brain will just throw words at me. “I tried to tell the dogs to settle down and I ended up saying woosh at them!! Close friend Styles explained. “Initially when she got tired it got worse,” Styles said. “She would have a sentence that she is trying to say and her brain goes faster than her mouth and she just dribbles it out. It’s entertaining. Hopwood said it frustrates her along with her balance when she is tired. “It’s really frustrating and getting tired it gets worse,” Hopwood continues. “My balance gets a bit off when I’m tired and things like that. Styles told of a moment early on from hospital when Hopwood bent down to pick up a dollar coin and went to fall head first, before she held her up. Other struggles Hopwood still encounters are signing her name, her reaction time and when she went to change a light globe the other day. “I tried changing a light globe and the chair ‘bucked me off’ (she laughs) I fell right into the ‘cloudsack’ (large beanbag),” Hopwood said. “I also still have trouble signing my name, because my real name is Libbet Hopwood there is a lot of up and downs with it and I can’t seem to coordinate that anymore. “Maybe I’ll just start signing my initials LH, problem solved. “I’m alright in a normal environment and when I’m under pressure or need to think quickly it just doesn’t work. “At the repat the last bit of testing I did they identified my reaction time being pretty much buggered along with splitting focus, I can’t split focus and peripheries, I can’t judge peripheries. Hopwood is back behind the wheel but she admits she has to be extra cautious on the road. “I drive but I need to be careful I’m not too bad in my car because I know it quite well,” she says. “I can see the front left hand side of the car, but I cant judge where it is in relation to other things. “The first few times I drove, I had to keep looking in the rear vision mirrors to make sure I was within the lines, because I couldn’t tell if I was within the lines or not.” Hopwood said driving for the first time since the fall wasn’t scary but more frustrating. “Not scary, more frustrating the first time I got back in the car, I was aware of my limitations the next day I was having bad head spins, I was tired and things like that,” Hopwood said. Alexia recalls once of the first times they went for a walk since returning home from hospital. “When we would first go for a walk we would go to cross the road and I would be like what are you doing? Libby then said, “I thought the car was closer than it was.” She relates all her required rehabilitation treatments of balance, split focus and judging peripheries to everything she needs to start riding again. “Basically everything I need on a racetrack.” The memories of Caitlin Forrest Libby Hopwood was at Caitlin’s funeral but was in a wheelchair still suffering with the injuries from the fall. “I remember bits and pieces from Caitlin’s funeral. Caitlin Forrest was just 19 years old. She had 408 starts for 51 wins, 35 seconds and 39 thirds. She was awarded 2013/14 South Australian Provincial and Country apprentice jockey of the year. Libby Hopwood, Alexia Styles and Forrest had all lived together just two weeks prior to the fall before Hopwood moved into her own house. Hopwood was quick to respond when asked what she loved the most about Caitlin. “Her personality she just did the most random things,” Hopwood said. Close friend, Styles, was asked to organise the music and photos for Caitlin’s funeral, she described a story about her. “I cried when I went to the funeral and it wasn’t until then and it was like, because we were still in the house I guess,” Styles said. “All her stuff, we got home from the hospital at 1am after Caitlin died and I walked to the front door. “We had this spare room at the bottom of the stairs, it was where they put all their race gear. “She had a load of washing on the line inside, a load of washing on the line outside, two loads of washing in the bathroom up stairs and one in the washing machine, and I was like…yes.. of course you did. “Because when I was stressed I used to clean and so she would be saying to me ‘well get cleaning. I left you something to do. “It was just typical of Caitlin, she had clothes everywhere.” Another moment they recall was when Caitlin used to ask them to do her makeup for her. “Caitlin would come in and ask can you do my makeup” “She would be like keep brushing my face, she was a character,” Styles laughs. “Before she died we were all at a wedding and Caitlin and I were the last two left and we had an enjoyable night. “Then we were like I don’t feel like going out, we were sleepy so we went home and we were walking to the car and she was like I think that wine was a little bit stronger than I thought and she got home and she couldn’t get her dress off. Alexia showed a video of how she would sing to Alexia’s dog and the dog would sing back to her. “Every morning she would come home from work she was always home before me and the dog would go running down the stairs and they would do that at the front door with out a doubt. “She bought the dog for me for my 21st birthday last year. Styles recalls a conversation she had with Forrest the night before the fall regarding the late Queensland jockey Carly-Mae Pye who passed away through injuries sustained in a fall at Rockhampton just 24 hours before Forrest passed away. “The scary part was the night before when Carly-Mae Pye died, Caitlin and I were at home, alone in the lounge upstairs," Styles said. “She come out the bathroom because she had been sweating and said ‘that girl just died from Queensland.’ “She then said ‘It just goes to show you never know when its going to happen’ and then 24 hours later it was her…just weird, terrible.”

Pictured: Libby Hopwood and Alexia Styles with race horse Cavaloce Image: Peter Argent - Copyright Our Sporting Life SA Part Two- 'The Journey to Becoming a Jockey' will be published next week.