Jennifer Crawford was only five years old when horses changed her life. Riding lessons arranged by her mother introduced Jennifer to the world of dressage—a challenging start for any young equestrian. Patience, discipline, and resilience developed alongside riding skills. Some thought she was too young to work so hard, but Jennifer excelled. She loved the equestrian life.
By the age of ten, she added riding hunters and jumpers to her growing list of accomplishments. She was drawn to “difficult”, energetic horses that not everyone wanted to ride but that she found “exhilarating”.
Finding a special equine partner seemed only a matter of time. He was very skinny, standing alone in a stall with his head hung low. His sad expression pushed Jennifer to ask a lot of questions, and the truth was difficult to hear. The gelding was abandoned. No one looked after him. No one was feeding him. No one cared about him or wanted him—until Jennifer. “Beau” spent the next six months in a large grassy paddock, gaining weight and getting healthy. In the spring of 2018, Jennifer slowly began riding him, reviewing the basics, and even jumping a little. Beau soon displayed his talents. Jennifer dreamt of the gelding becoming an eventer.
On December 26th, 2018, the equestrian life she had built abruptly ended. Jennifer remembers, “I couldn’t move my legs; I couldn’t feel my feet. Everything else was a blur... this was not just a regular fall.” Beau made a simple side-step. Jennifer landed sitting upright with both legs stretched out in front of her. She felt a tingle in her lower back run all the way to the tips of her toes. Then she felt nothing. She couldn’t move her legs. Jennifer was in serious trouble. The stable was quiet over the holidays. She was alone with Beau. Her phone sat on a jump, far from her reach. She called out, desperate for someone to hear. When at last someone did, and help began to arrive, they found Beau beside her, quiet yet looking confused. He would not budge from Jennifer’s side despite the growing chaos before him.
Several people concentrated their efforts on persuading the gelding to leave as Jennifer was prepared for ambulance and helicopter transport. Her spine was agony. Her screams, constant. In the helicopter, Jennifer mercifully lost consciousness. She recognized the worried faces above her and listened to the surgeon’s voice. Fractured L1. Urgent surgery. Chances of walking again were minimal. Wheelchair for life. Jennifer heard the discussion and understood, yet her mind was filled by one other thought. She would never ride again.
Six weeks later, Jennifer was in spinal cord rehab: working, sweating, pushing herself to get stronger. Each achievement was barely celebrated before she moved on to the next. Jennifer called upon every lesson learned by the tiny girl in the dressage barn, utterly determined to reach her top goal. Nothing less. She would ride Beau again. When Jennifer walked out of the hospital using forearm crutches, she insisted on going to see Beau. Six months later, she got back on him, ready to start a new equestrian life. They only walked and trotted for over a year. When Jennifer finally felt confident to canter Beau, new goals were on the horizon.
Beau and Jennifer began to fine tune their partnership. They jumped a little, but with necessary adjustments to Jennifer’s riding and equipment, they transitioned to training dressage—returning to Jennifer’s original riding discipline—to refresh and strengthen their work on the flat. Their success expanded from practice arena to show ring, where the pair proved just how far they had come with impressive results. The partnership of Jennifer and Beau continues in both dressage and jumper disciplines.
They are competing in jumpers during the winter of 2022-23. The Angelstone summer series of shows are next year’s goal. Jennifer is also expanding her influence in equestrian communities by organizing a Para Equestrian Clinic in early summer 2023. The Equestrian for Everyone event will be the first of its kind in Ontario, bringing together Olympic athletes and young para equestrian stars from North America and beyond.