'Magical' return for Upton months after breaking back

Little more than eight months ago, Bubby Upton was told there was a chance she would never walk again.

Having fallen off her horse in a schooling accident at home in August, the eventer had broken several vertebrae. Pressure on her spine was causing paralysis on her right side.

A seven-hour, ultimately "very complicated" surgery, lay in wait.

"Going into it, it was very unknown," Upton, 25, told BBC Sport.

"The surgeon made it very clear that we didn't know if I would walk again, let alone ride again."

Remarkably, after successful surgery, Upton was making her first tentative steps back into trotting by November, and was riding properly again by the start of 2024.

This week, she is competing at the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials on Cola III, and was the leader after the first day of the dressage test on Thursday.

"I'm very aware that I'm so unbelievably lucky," Upton said.

"Every day I count my lucky stars and it is the greatest fuel to my fire."

She added: "That was a very uncertain period for my family and I. And yet to be sat here today, it's really magical."

'A whole new perspective on life'

Upton is no stranger to broken backs, or indeed quick recoveries. She previously broke her back in August 2021, but was back out competing at five-star level in France by that October.

But that injury, she says, was like "breaking my toe" compared to her most recent.

Her 2023 fall, riding on the flat at her Suffolk base, had left Upton with a complete burst fracture of her L3 vertebra and a horizontal fracture of L2.

At the time, Upton's career had been on an upwards trajectory. Long-listed for her first senior Europeans, she had achieved a top-10 finish at Badminton on Cola last May, and won the under-25 national title for a second time the following month.

It was "full steam ahead" for Burghley later in the summer.

"I felt unbelievably lucky to be in that position kind of so early on in my career. And then it kind of all came tumbling down," she said.

Upton credits her surgeon with giving her a "second chance", and with such a promising future ahead of her, she is "so eternally and deeply grateful".

"I feel like it's given me a whole new perspective on life," she said.

"You'll never take out the inner competitiveness in me and the will to win, and the desire for perfection.

"But I definitely have a new perspective on life and realise that there is more to it. [I'm] just so grateful to still be doing a thing that I love on these incredible animals."

Watch highlights of the 2024 Badminton Horse Trials on Sunday on BBC Two and iPlayer from 14:00 BST.