Irish show jumper Kevin Babington suffered a catastrophic fall competing his grand prix partner Shorapur in the $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier at the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton, New York, August 30. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital and then transferred to the New York University Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. Shorapur was not injured.
Kevin underwent a five-hour spine stabilization surgery to stabilize the bones in his neck on September 3. “He has suffered a complete injury to his cervical spine and today is to prevent him from living in a cervical collar,” said Kevin’s wife, Dianna Babington, in a Facebook post. After the surgery, an update from his sister-in-law Daun Imperatore stated, “It went well. The vertebrae were fused and his neck is stabilized. He is out of the collar and breathing on his own.” According to Facebook post from Daun, Kevin had an additional surgery on September 5 and his breathing is becoming stronger. “Kevin is showing that Babington spirit he is known for,” said Daun. “He is fighting hard and doing all and more that is asked of him from PT! He is determined to recover and anyone who knows his spirit, know it is still there!”
Kevin, 51, competes for Ireland but is based in Allentown, New Jersey, along with Dianna and daughters Gwyneth and Marielle. The youngest of 11 children and the son of a politician/wool merchant, Kevin began riding in his native Ireland at age 11 where he foxhunted and participated in Pony Club before training with Irish show-jumping legend Iris Kellett and earning his British Horse Society instructor accreditation. Kevin later moved to the United States, where he worked for Frank and Mary Chapot for several years before striking out on his own.
In 2000, one of Kevin’s students, amateur jumper Saly Glassman, gave him the opportunity to ride the phenomenal Irish Sport Horse gelding Carling King. The pair went on to represent Ireland in numerous international competitions earning, among many other honors, 12 Nations Cup team wins, victory in the La Baule Grand Prix in France and the King George Cup Grand Prix in Hickstead, England, (both of which Kevin names as his fondest wins), individual eighth place at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and individual fourth place at the 2004 Olympic Games.
Most recently, Kevin won the CSI*** Assante Classic at the International Bromont in early August with Shorapur, and in July, he made history at the Lake Placid Horse Show, sweeping the top three places in the $100,000 Great American Insurance Group Grand Prix.
Although an incredible horseman, teacher and competitor, Kevin’s many accolades and impressive resume do not speak to the kind of person he is.
“If you know him you know he is talented but humble, kind, private, and giving among all things,” said Dianna in a Facebook post. “He was the friend that tried to donate a kidney when one was needed. He is the trainer that didn’t charge the kid he knew couldn’t afford the lesson. He is a vegetarian because he found slaughter impossible to support and is so empathetic to living things he couldn’t eat them. He literally helped me give shots of antibiotics to a fish with swim bladder (not joking) when our daughters fish was upside down. He stops to take turtles off the road. Stops to assist when a horse trailer has a flat. He ran from two rings away to help save a horse’s leg that was caught in a roll-top after a spill. So many of you have more stories to retell of how he helped you than I even know. Above all things he is a great father and life partner and as he lays here he is panicking about the three of us instead of himself.”
In just another example of how Kevin is always thinking of others and stepping in to help, just days before the accident he opened up his Florida farm as a place to bring horses who needed a place to stay in anticipation of impending Hurricane Dorian.
Kevin is also a Professional Ambassador with JustWorld International, a nonprofit organization that funds humanitarian programs for children living in improvised communities. “He has played a vital role within the organization since its foundation,” said JustWorld International’s Ambassador Coordinator Molly McDougall. “Over the years, Kevin has visited and volunteered with the JustWorld partner program in Guatemala, Los Patojos. Kevin has also volunteered his time and talent to host fundraising clinics to raise funds and awareness to further JustWorld programs. Having his support as part of the team has truly impacted the organization and helped thousands of children living in impoverished communities around the world.”
Recently, I had the privilege of working on a training story and podcast with Kevin for Practical Horseman. In May, I made my way up to his new farm in New Jersey for a photo shoot and to record the podcast. It was my first time meeting Kevin, and I was immediately struck by his calm, confident and kind demeanor, which put me at ease and are surely some of the qualities that make him such a gifted horseman.
When I asked Kevin about why he wanted to become a professional rider, he said, “It’s all to do with a love of animals.” He told me about how when he was a kid, he was “animal crazy” and every penny he could save went to buying more pets. He joked that he had more pets than his parents knew about. “I had rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, turtles, tortoises—you name it.”
How to Help
“My hope for him is focused on quality of life and that there will be clinical trials to help him move forward,” said Dianna on Facebook. “Much of these avenues are not covered by insurance and will be dependent on private funding. I am sharing this because I want people to understand that the fundraising is essential. It can mean the difference in equipment available to him, therapies, vehicles, honestly I don’t even know.”
“The cold reality is we are desperately trying to raise money for medical and rehabilitation which I have been told can be staggering,” she continued. “It will be a long, challenging, journey ahead. I want to thank everyone for every prayer, kind word and thought and every dollar that has been donated so far. I remain hopeful that as the body heals his condition will improve. Please keep praying that as time passes we will receive a miracle. I am getting messages with stories of people walking and moving after worse injuries. Hope is all I have left and I am hanging onto it with everything I have.”
Sissy Wickes started a Facebook fundraising campaign to help with Kevin’s medical expenses and care. In coordination with the Facebook fundraiser, a GoFund Me was started by Kathy Gilbert, a close friend of the Babingtons’, as an option for those that would like to donate but aren’t on Facebook. As of September 6, the two campaigns had pulled in more than $487,400. According to a recent update, Sissy is in the process of setting up a Special Needs Trust.
In addition to the Facebook and GoFund Me fundraisers, there are other ways to support the Babingtons. One would be to support Kevin’s feed and bedding business, Babington Mills, which was “his dream for his retirement,” Daun. “We are committed to continue this for him,” she explained.
In the wake of this tragedy, the equestrian community has rallied around Kevin and his family.“Your prayers, messages and donations are carrying them through this life changing event,” said Daun in a Facebook post. “Dianna and the girls are so grateful. We are all amazed at how this wonderful community has pulled together to help them.”
Here are more ways to help:
- Every competitor at the Princeton Fall Equestrian Festival (September 19–October 13) will have the opportunity to donate a portion or all of their prize money to Kevin. Competitors just need to let the show secretary know what percentage of prize money they’d like to be donated. Each rider who participates will be given an Irish green arm sash to wear in the competition ring.
In addition, the Princeton Fall Equestrian Festival will hold a 1-meter jumper class—“Jump for Kevin”—on every Saturday during the four-week competition. The entry fee is a minimum $50, but you can donate more if you’d like. 100 percent of the entry fees will go to Kevin.
- All weekend parking proceeds will also be donated. The Prince Fall Equestrian Festival is looking for volunteers to help collect parking fees from spectators and donations from exhibitors. If you can volunteer, please email [email protected]
- Duncraven Stables in Titusville, New Jersey is holding a horse show to benefit the Babington family on October 13. If any vendors would like to donate any products or services that can be raffled or auctioned at the show please contact Julie Roslowski ([email protected]) or Karen Raach ([email protected]).
- Malvern Saddlery is offering a belt ($50) and baseball cap ($25) both with embroidered shamrocks for purchase, with all proceeds going to the Babingtons.
- Ruespari has released an equestrian belt with Kevin’s signature on it ($75 for adults and $60 for kids), with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Kevin and his family.