In July 2013, two days after her 21st birthday, Julie Flintoff was kicked in the face by her horse, Belladonna MH.

It caused her eye to rupture, her jaw to break and much of the right side of her face to shatter. At that point, she was faced with giving up on her horse-riding dreams which she has had since she was four. She didn't and she hasn't looked back.

"It wasn't easy coming back after the injury, sometimes I can't believe how I did it," Flintoff said.

The Kerikeri local was leading her horse on the family's beef farm when her horse, uncharacteristically, jumped and kicked out with her back legs, striking Flintoff in the face. She was flown by helicopter to Whangārei hospital and then on to Auckland to receive treatment.

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Five years on, she competed at the Northland Dressage championships at Barge Park last weekend and was named level seven champion and the overall winner for levels four to nine for Hanoverian-bred horses.

The sun was shining on Julie Flintoff and Belladonna MH as they accepted their two awards after the Northland Dressage championships on the weekend. Photo / Supplied
The sun was shining on Julie Flintoff and Belladonna MH as they accepted their two awards after the Northland Dressage championships on the weekend. Photo / Supplied

She has also been selected for New Zealand's dressage development squad in what has been an incredible comeback from what could have been a life-ending injury let alone a career-ending one.

"They said to me then it would take two years to get better but it's taken longer," she said.

"I still get fatigue and headaches and I have to sleep a lot, so it's really an ongoing thing that I have to manage everything around."

Despite having only one eye of vision after being fitted with a prosthetic eye, Julie humbly admitted she was confident she could beat the other three riders in level seven on the weekend.

"I did think I could win, but only as long as everything went to plan.

"On Saturday, it didn't go to plan because of all the rain which made it hard to warm up, but Sunday went much better."

It was just eight short weeks when Julie was up and riding her bay mare again after the incident. She said this was the first horse she has trained herself beyond level 4, which had helped in her progression up the levels.

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"We've got quite a strong connection. I've never ridden this level and she's never done it so we've been learning together.

"Other riders that have more experience and know what they are doing might go ahead a little bit faster but we are not really that far behind the ones that have kept moving up the levels."

Julie's mother Kay, was watching her daughter ride this weekend and said her pride was something she couldn't put into words.

"It's emotional, to see her on the same horse.

"I think I'm having a harder time dealing with it now than I did then because it's been five years and then I thought nothing else bad is going to happen to her and now I wonder what might happen."

It's been a team effort from Julie Flintoff (left) and mother, Kay Flintoff, to get the 26-year-old back to winning ways. Photo / File
It's been a team effort from Julie Flintoff (left) and mother, Kay Flintoff, to get the 26-year-old back to winning ways. Photo / File

To see her daughter still competing, Kay said it gave her a bit of anxiety but remained sure Julie was capable to progress up the levels.

"You can't wrap yourself up in cotton wool, you've got to just try and get on with it the best you can.

"She was at level two then and now she's at level seven. There's only level eight and nine to go until she's at the top level and both of them are capable of it."

While Julie may be humble, she was certainly not reserved in her ambitions. She hoped to make level nine by the next season and had her eyes set on the world equestrian championships in 2022.

"You've got to have goals and we've just been quietly working towards them and it's been working out so far," Julie said.

She said it would take a lot of hard work and a bit of luck to get to where she wanted to go, but she was determined to compete amongst the best in the world.

"I can see the difference in the way that she's going and a lot of the trainers and judges have said she's a good horse and she's got potential.

"I might not have known where I was going when I started but now I realise maybe I could do it and so can she."