MEET THE SWEDISH PARALYMPIC RIDER
LOUISE ETZNER JAKOBSSON
The journey from surviving a life-threatening accident – to becoming a part of the equestrian world elite
About ten years ago, Louise’s life changed drastically when she almost passed away due to an accident in the stable. Louise went from having three serious cerebral hemorrhages and a skull fracture – to participating in big international dressage competitions and winning a silver medal in the Paralympics. In order to succeed with such an outstanding achievement, Louise had to rethink and change her way of life completely.
At the age of three, Louise sat on horseback for the first time. It was in the saddle in front of her father, in the city Eskilstuna in Sweden, where she grew up. Later on, when she was about nine years old, Louise started taking lessons at Eskilstuna’s riding club and spent the summers riding on Gotland with her best friend.
–It’s hard to say what it was that made me stick with the horses. It just became more and more. The summers spent on Gotland together with my best friend involved many horses, so my life eventually revolved there.
It was not a matter of course that Louise would become a dressage rider though. At the beginning of her career, she did both dressage and show jumping. At the age of 15, she bought a small half-blood that she competed in show jumping with. As her interest in horses grew, Louise went to Germany to work for the showjumper and Olympic medalist Karsten Huck. At this time, Huck worked together with the dressage rider Jürgen Koschel, and after some time at the facility, Louise switched and started to work for him instead. It wasn’t until then that she put jumping on the shelf and went all in for dressage.
The love for dressage became more prominent after the time spent in Germany, and Louise also worked as a dressage trainer back in Sweden before the terrible accident that would change her entire life happened. One day in 2011, Louise and her daughter were bringing the horses from the paddock to the stable at their home on Gotland. Louise was just about to lead the last horse, which also was the kindest one in the stable, when he got frightened and landed on her feet.
– I was all stuck and tried to get her away from me. And when she jumped again, she brought me with her. I was placed between the horse’s foot and chest and couldn’t move, so when she jumped over me I fell helplessly backwards, landed on my back and hit the back of my head on the ground.
Louise’s last memory before getting unconscious for a few minutes, is the color of the tree branches. At first, they are green and in the next minute, the color changes and they’re not green anymore, but brown and yellow. After that, she couldn’t talk or move her arms anymore.
– My daughter, who was with me, thought I was dead, but I don’t remember that at all.
This happened in August and the big folk festival called medieval week was happening on Gotland, with lots of people visiting the island. However, when Louise’s daughter called for an ambulance, there were none available and the ambulance helicopter was on the mainland. So instead, the rescue service came in a decommissioned ambulance with staff who had to take a break from their vacation to help.
– There was a lot going on at that moment and when the ambulance finally headed towards the hospital, I lost all focus. I was in a lot of pain.
Louise was x-rayed twice at the hospital before the doctors could determine that she had a skull fracture and three cerebral hemorrhages. She doesn’t remember much from receiving the information nor the first days after the accident. Everything was just like one big fog.
The path to get back in the saddle…
After spending two weeks at the hospital, Louise was finally allowed to return home again. After that, three months of recovery and doing absolutely nothing was waiting. Louise spent most of the time sleeping, due to the terrible tiredness she experienced.
The brain fatigue was a fact, and light and sounds were unbearable. Just the sound of someone scraping cutlery against a plate made Louise feel as if her head was about to explode.
– Brain fatigue can be described as having a certain amount of battery, and when the battery runs out, you can’t do anything. Nothing works, and your body can barely move. Once you’ve charged the battery, you can continue a bit further. But after a while, it runs out completely. The energy is very limited.
The first couple of months were horrible, and Louise was counting the days until she could get back up on the horse again. Even though the accident happened in the stable, it was the place she longed for the most. It wasn’t until six months later when the rehabilitation started, that Louise could finally start riding again. Louise began by riding an older horse from her own breeding that she’d educated herself. A very kind horse, which made Louise very calm and secure.
– At first, I rode the horse in a longe line together with my daughters. They only allowed me to walk initially, so I was quite annoyed with my daughters, Louise says with a twinkle in her eye. I continued with the longe line the next day, but stepped up the level of difficulty a bit. My daughters thought they were gonna die of fear when I galloped. But I did not lose my balance in the accident, so it was not a problem at all for me to ride at a higher pace.
Louise’s everyday life took a real turn. From having a full schedule with many things happening, to a life where a lot of rest is vital. A rhythm had to be found, which involved regular meals and rest in the afternoons.
During rehabilitation, a typical day started with breakfast in the morning followed by taking care of the home and office administration. Louise mostly avoids sitting in front of the computer after the accident due to her brain fatigue. After she has worked through the inbox, she’s off to the stable to muck, arrange the horse feed, and do other essential tasks. Then she rides before it’s time for lunch followed by rest. When she’s done resting, it’s time to go to the stable again to ride the second horse for the day.
– I still work as a trainer, but not to the same extent as before. I can’t teach as much as I did before due to my fatigue. But when having great and motivated students with a lot of dedication, you want to stand up for them.
Getting up on horseback after such a big accident is nothing to take for granted. But despite that, Louise has been very determined to recover completely and get back.
– You can’t give up. It will be tough, but not impossible. The impossible is just more complicated. You simply have to be prepared to do the work.
…And all the way to the equestrian world elite
One can not miss what a tremendous job Louise has done since the accident. How about participating in the World Championships, attending three European Championships and also the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2021 – where she got a silver medal? But the journey has been challenging and Louise has encountered several obstacles along the way.
During the Corona Pandemic, the Paralympics in Tokyo decided to move the event to the following year. Unfortunately, when the news was announced, Louise lost the horse she was riding, since the owner decided to break the deal and bring the horse home for retirement. Zernard, as the horse is called, had been Louise’s competition companion for seven years and also the horse she had qualified to the games with – which put Louise in a difficult position.
– I ended up in a kind of vacuum for a few months and didn’t know what to do.
After a few months, Louise’s friend found a new horse and bought it for her. Goldstrike B.J (Goldie) was a very kind horse with three good gaits. There were no downsides and he had a lot of energy! Although Goldie is a happy and positive horse, he is also very sensitive. Most of the time he’s a calm horse, but when he gets scared, Goldie gets terrified.
There was a lot to do with a brand new horse that wasn’t qualified for the Paralympics. The first international competition in Mannheim didn’t go as planned, and because of that, a competition in the Netherlands became their last chance to qualify. On the second day of competition, Goldie managed to convince the judges and got 72% – which secured a spot on the starting list for the Paralympics 2021!
…Until the next obstacle appeared. With only months left until the big competition in Tokyo, Louise broke her leg. She was just about to get off her bike, when she suddenly stumbled and got hit by the bicycle frame.
– I immediately felt that something had broken, but I didn’t know if it was my skeleton or soft parts that had been damaged.
Later at the hospital she was informed that it was both soft parts and the skeleton. It was a fracture that required an operation, anesthesia and screws inserted into the leg. Since Louise has been fractured before, she knew it can be healed in about six weeks – which meant enough time to compete in the Paralympics. She just needed time for the operation instantly! After some nagging to the doctor, she got to have the surgery with a two-month margin to the Paralympics.
– The orthopedist wanted the cast to be on for six weeks, but in the end, he agreed.
I told him that I’ve been training two whole years for this competition, and That I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
It was a close call! One with one week left until the Paralympics, Louise rode for the first time after the surgery. Her daughter got to be the one training Goldie the time before the show, allowing Louise to save energy. When they arrived in Tokyo, the time had come for Louise to get back in the saddle – and she did it with outstanding results. Her and Goldie’s ride resulted in a silver medal!
– This medal is a team medal, because my whole family has been helping me along the way. Without my daughters’ help with Goldie, or my husband driving me to competitions, I would not have come this far. The mental support they offer me means everything. And also how they’ve managed to put up with my purposefulness, and me being stuck in a wheelchair and with crutches.. It truly means the world to me.
Louise about her future goals
Louise plans to participate in multiple international competitions in the future, where Scandinavium and Blue Horse to mention a few. The big goals are set to the world championship in Denmark in 2022 and the Paralympics in Paris in 2024.
– I think I’m still evolving and getting better even though I’m getting older. I feel more energetic and I’m also learning how to manage and deal with my brain. I know how to handle my days now.