The "kindest" rider ever seen sitting on a horse fell off for the last time yesterday.
Tom Gadsby won over much of the New Zealand equestrian world and had his sights set on leading it when he approached fence 4B during the cross-country at the Somerford Park Horse Trials in Britain.
His mother, Louise, was moving too, en route for home after seeing her son alive for the last time.
The 26-year-old and a 7-year-old skewbald gelding fell at the hurdle and Mr Gadsby suffered fatal injuries.
The horse walked away unhurt.
Last night, speaking while in transit in Singapore, Mrs Gadsby told the Waikato Times how proud she was as she watched her son compete days earlier.
"When I was listening to the announcers talking about Tom, when he was riding, they were saying: I wonder who is going to knock him off the perch this time," she said.
"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."
Mrs Gadsby had spent a week travelling with her son in Paris and London prior to the event, and described their trip as a "special time".
"I just thank God that I went over there and we had that time together."
Mrs Gadsby said her son had aspired to be among the best and had worked hard to achieve his goal.
"It's been his passion since he was a very little boy. He'd be 5 years old, out in the dark, brushing and plaiting, and packing up all the gear."
Equestrian Sports New Zealand chief executive Jim Ellis described Mr Gadsby as a "rising star".
Mr Ellis said the number of deaths in eventing has decreased over the past 20 years due to various safety measures and the toll now sat at about one life, worldwide, every two to three years.
Mr Gadsby had a "rotational fall", which tended to happen at slightly slower speeds where the horse tripped at the top of an obstacle, went over head first and the rider got rotated off the front. The relatively slow speed of the jump means the rider is not thrown clear of the horse and the sheer weight of the animal is the danger.
Raised at Pakaraka, near Kerikeri, in his early 20s Mr Gadsby got a job with top Kiwi showjumper Katie McVean at Mystery Creek in Hamilton.
McVean was still overseas yesterday but her sister Emmalee Browne said she became close friends with Mr Gadsby.
"He was great to talk to and just a great person to have around. . . . He was a good mate and I'll miss him a lot," she said.
Mr Gadsby left the Waikato and travelled to Europe where he focused on event riding.
Friend Debs Hill took to Mr Gadsby's Facebook page, saying his death was a "huge loss to the world". "The kindest rider I've ever seen sitting on a horse.
"RIP to a truly lovely man."
He was man who was passionate about horse riding and Te Kauwhata-based eventing champion Donna Smith, 33, knows how strong that pull can be.
Ranked among the top 10 in the world, she has been on horses her whole life and has the bumps, bruises and sprains to show for it.
Safety measures had improved over the years, Ms Smith said, "yet you never know what might happen".
"If you're going to fall off, you're going to fall off and you don't know what day it is or when it's going to be.
"But everyone falls and 99.9 per cent of the time you stand back up."
British Eventing, Equestrian Sports NZ and the International Equestrian Federation will investigate Mr Gadsby's fatal fall as will relevant British authorities.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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