Debbie Henderson, who broke her back in a horse-racing accident, and 10-month-old son Will at home in Oamaru. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
The horse-racing world might still be mourning jockey Ashlee
Mundy, who died after a fall at the Kurow races in December,
but one former Oamaru jockey who suffered a horror fall
believes jockeys will not be deterred.
More than nine years ago, a fall at Hastings racecourse left
Debbie Henderson in a wheelchair.
She said yesterday most jockeys accepted broken bones as a
hazard of the job but it had never crossed her mind that
racing could result in anything more serious.
''I never thought it was dangerous, when I was riding. I used
to think `if I break a bone, it's no big deal'. I never
thought I might get killed or break my back.
''It never crossed my mind.''
However, Miss Henderson said Ms Mundy's death had ''shocked''
The 38-year-old mother said she still vividly remembered her
own fall in June 2003.
''I remember coming into the fence and I can remember
[jockey] Chris Allen coming up to me saying, `We've got to
get out of the way; the horses are coming around again. And I
remember saying, `Not yet, I can't'. And then I realised I
couldn't actually move.''
In 1994, Miss Henderson, on Noble Express, became the first
female jockey to win the Grand National Steeplechase at
Riccarton in Christchurch, but the fall at Hastings resulted
in spinal injuries that left her without the use of her legs
and confined to a wheelchair.
She spent three months in Burwood Hospital, where she had
rods inserted into her back, as well as treatment for a
punctured lung and broken ribs. But she had always kept a
''When I was in Burwood, I believed I would walk out of
there. I thought `No, I can beat this; hard work fixes
everything', but it can't fix a broken back.
''I always hoped I would walk, and it's a good possibility to
think that, but I don't think it is a reality, to be fair;
not any more.''
She had been a jockey for about 11 years before the accident,
and adjusting to the realities of her injury led to a
''complete 360'' turnaround in her lifestyle, she said.
''I went from being away every weekend, riding through the
winter overseas and doing everything at the drop of a hat, to
everything having to be organised in advance. Some things are
just not accessible [in a wheelchair]. A lot of things are
out of reach.''
However, she remained fiercely independent, and still mows
the lawns at her Ardgowan home.
''It's hard. Everything I do is harder than it was before,''
''It's certainly a life-altering change. But I have great
friends and family; I couldn't have done it without my
Although some things might be out of reach, motherhood was
After a trouble-free pregnancy and birth, she and her partner
Mark Bamford are now the proud parents of 10-month-old Will,
and Miss Henderson said life had never been better.
Although there was ''no drama'' with the birth, she said she
did initially have concerns about her confidence to look
after a child. However, her doubts proved unfounded.
''I just thought it was hard enough to look after myself, let
alone someone else, but he's pretty good to look after,
''Baby Will is my greatest achievement.
''I'm healthy and I have a healthy wee boy. Life at the
moment has never been so busy. I've never been so busy or
tired, but it's never been so good.
''Just because you have an accident, it doesn't fundamentally
change who you are, even though a lot of people think that.
''Bloody-mindedness and stubbornness helped me out a long
''Everyone has issues. It's just how you deal with them, and
there's always someone worse off than yourself.
''It was an emotional roller coaster getting injured, but I
think we have come out the other end.''
Despite the accident, she is still involved with the racing
fraternity, as a shareholder in a horse, and she still enjoys
going to the races.
''Racing was so much fun. I had the most fantastic time. All
my memories are good memories.''
The racing world was ''just like an extended family'', she