AN inquest into the death of nine-year-old Bonnie Armitage yesterday heard how a farmer’s beloved ‘gentle giant’ horse kicked the child off her pony during a Cotswold Hunt.
While taking part in the hunt at Miserden Park, Bonnie was kicked to her chest and fell off her Shetland pony unconscious at about 11.10am on Saturday, April 2 last year.
She died two hours after the tragic accident in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
At an inquest yesterday, a jury of 10 concluded that Bonnie died an accidental death following a sudden impact to her chest.
During the inquest, farmer and circus boss Toti Gifford spoke of how he saw a black and white pony without a rider running past him “like a bullet” before he realised that something terrible had happened.
He described how his horse Harvey - “a lovely, calm, gentle giant’ - went “irregular”. He initially thought Harvey had stumbled, put his foot down a hole or lost his shoe.
He said: "It just didn't feel right.
"Because my horse is really big, there was this really little horse underneath my feet almost. It went really fast past me without a rider. Then I heard shouting and looked back, then I saw Bonnie.
“She was lying there. Big blue eyes…”
Mr Gifford believes what happened with Harvey was instinctive and was uncharacteristic of him: “He was shocked, frightened or spooked”.
The hunt, the last of the season, was described by Mr Gifford as a “very social event, everyone was very excited.”
The incident happened just 10 to 15 minutes after the start of the hunt. An ambulance arrived at 11.49am and Bonnie was airlifted to the Gloucester hospital.
In a statement, father Nick Armitage said Bonnie was an “experienced” and “competent” rider. She could walk, trot canter, gallop and jump.
He said: "She first sat on a pony at six weeks old. Bonnie could ride before she could walk.
“She had been hunting many times at different hunts.”
Her black and white pony, Lindsay, who is eight years old, was also described as “very controlled” and easy to manage, “a perfect child’s pony”.
Paying tribute to his daughter, he said: "She was a bright girl, fit and healthy, a good runner - she enjoyed everything. Bonnie was a glass half full type of girl.
"She was always positive. She was very popular.”
Bonnie, born in Stroud, was the middle child of three children. She had an older brother and a younger sister.
She previously studied at Beaudesert School in Minchinhampton and was a pupil at St Hugh’s preparatory school in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, where her father is deputy head and housemaster.
The family currently live in Wantage.
According to pathologist Dr John McCarthy, the child suffered no fractures to her limbs but died due to blood from a burst vessel in her chest collecting in her heart, putting pressure on the heart.
Stroud District Council (SDC) officer Phil Park raised concerns about safety management by the Cotswold Hunt.
Mr Park said that the level of supervision for the 9-year-old girl, who was one of five children under the supervision of family friend Melissa (Billy) Kennedy, "fell short of what would be expected”.
He said: “If she had been actively supervised, there could have been a possibility that Bonnie was directed not to go too close. If Bonnie had not got too close, the horse in front could not have kicked her.”
He also expressed concern about the lack of rules set down about protective equipment and rider competence.
But James Chamberlain, senior master of the Cotswold Hunt at the time of the tragedy, believed that even if Bonnie had been supervised one to one, it would not have made a difference.
He said that the ratio of adult supervisors to children depended on the competence of the child and the horse, which in turn was determined by parents.
He said: “No parent is going to put their child out there if they are not confident.
“I think parents know their child, know the pony and their relationship with the pony more than anybody.”
Though it is not set down in regulations, according to Mr Chamberlain, children were expected to be accompanied at hunts and organisers would expect all riders to wear a hard hat and boots.
SDC officer Mr Park responded saying that though parents are important in assessing the competence of their child, there should be consistency and legally it was up to Cotswold Hunt organisers to regulate safety during their events.