A flood of tributes to late eventing rider Tom Gadsby have appeared on social media sites in past days as news of the talented young rider’s death hits home.
Friends have posted notes and pictures on Gadsby’s Facebook page with an outpouring of shock and grief at his sudden death.
Gadsby, 26, was fatally injured in a rotational fall at Somerford Park International Horse Trials in Cheshire, Britain, at the weekend.
His is the second fatality this year in eventing, after French rider Bruno Bouvier was killed at an event in Portugal in March. Following several new safety initiatives in the sport, there had been no reported deaths since four in 2010. While records are incomplete, it appears that Gadsby’s is the first death of a New Zealand rider in eventing.
While the 26-year-old had returned to eventing in recent years, he was also a successful showjumper and had competed in Europe at grand prix level. In his early 20s, he got a job with top New Zealand showjumper Katie McVean at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton. He then competed up to intermediate level in eventing in New Zealand.
Earlier this year he began riding young eventing horses for British Olympian Tiny Clapham near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.
Yesterday, Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis told TV3 News: “As a rider he had the talent to go all the way in the sport, which is to the Olympics and World Championships for us.
“There’s always complexities in the jigsaw puzzle that get riders to that level, including the quality of horse. But as a talented rider he had everything going for him,” Ellis said.
“Tom was a talented showjumper and eventer who was in Europe to fulfill his dream of competing as a professional event rider – a dream he achieved but which has been tragically cut short.”
Gadsby, originally from Kerikeri in Northland, was riding at in a one-star intermediate level competition when his mount, The Drover, hit the B-part of the fourth obstacle – a table type – on the cross-country course at Somerford. This caused a rotational fall, in which horse and rider somersault over the jump.
“The nature of a rotational fall is that rider and horse tend to fall together, and they are the most dangerous falls that can occur in the sport,” Ellis said.
Somerfield Park starter Mike Bain said despite not knowing Tom personally, he felt “empty” after the accident. “It’s such a pity that I was the last person he spoke to as I set him off from the Start,” Bain said.
Tom’s mother, Louise, had spent time with her son in Britain and was en-route home when she was informed of the accident. She told the Waikato Times how proud she was as she watched her son compete days earlier.
“He was becoming really well-known really quickly and I just felt at last he’s got the chance to be where he wants to go.”
She had been to a competition with Tom, and before that they had spent a week travelling in Paris and London. She described their trip as a “special time”.
“I just thank God that I went over there and we had that time together.”
Many of Tom’s friends have gathered and others from around the world have posted online tributes to Gadsby, noting his talent as an equestrian and his immaculate style.
Aucklander Tess Williams told TV3: “Such a lovely, caring fun guy. Such a good mate and this is such devastating news.
“He was always the most immaculate-looking person on a horse. There was not one grain of dirt and he just always looked incredible on a horse,” Williams said.
Natalie Fraider told the NZ Herald that Tom was “the most wonderful person”.
“We have lost a part of our heart today but you gave us such wonderful memories to hold onto forever.”
Also speaking to the Herald, Australian dressage rider Nicholas Fyffe said his life was “swiftly put into perspective” when he heard of Tom’s death.
“My thoughts go out to his family having lost him so young. Such devastating news for the equestrian community worldwide. May he rest in peace.”
Amanda Redditt said she gave Tom his first pony when he was 13. “I gladly gave you Muffy and watched the both of you learning together and you having so much fun with her.
“I was honored to have known you as a friend, you had a heart of gold and a huge personality to match. It is such a waste to lose not only such a hugely talented rider but a truly lovely person as well.”
International event rider Emily Baldwin tweeted: “Horrific news from Somerford. Once again it’s a reminder of how precious this life is and how real the risks are in our wonderful sport.”
New Zealand equestrian safety campaigner Elizabeth Charleston also knew Gadsby. “My memories of Tom are that of a charming and dapper young man who was a sociable person and a lot of fun to be around,” she said.
“Like many of his friends on Facebook I have been enjoying reading of his successes this eventing season in the UK and loved seeing his photos of his lovely horses with the rosettes he had successfully acquired.”
But Charleston also spoke of the “other side” of social media, after news broke of the accident around the world. Officials had fought to keep Gadsby’s name from being published as his mother was en-route home after visiting Tom in Britain, and had not yet been informed of his death. However, two New Zealand media organisations chose to publish Tom’s name.
“I’m very disappointed how this tragedy has been handled by the mainstream media as Jim Ellis was doing a commendable job dealing with questions from news outlets,” Charleston said.
“ESNZ had not named Tom as key family members had not been advised. At a time like this the focus should be on those closest to Tom and not merely something to be used a media fodder.
“Sadly we live in the age of social media and this is one of the downfalls,” she said.
British Eventing, ESNZ and the FEI will investigate the incident.
Tom Gadsby is survived by his parents, and two sisters and a brother.