Kauto Star: Rider Laura Collett hurt by 'lies' over horse's death
Rider Laura Collett says she feels "bullied and hurt" by claims she lied about the circumstances of record-breaking racehorse Kauto Star's death.
The two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was put down after complications following a freak accident in the field at Collett's Berkshire stables.
Collett, 25, said "malicious" rumours the horse ditched a rider and ran into a wall have compounded her grief.
"I feel like I'm being bullied at the moment and it's hurtful," she said.
Collett told BBC Sport she has been devastated by Kauto Star's death and he should be remembered for the equine legend he was.
Death of a racing legend
Kauto Star won 23 of his 41 races, including a record five King George VI Chases for trainer Paul Nicholls, and is the only horse to have regained the Gold Cup having lost it.
After retiring from racing in 2012, the horse was moved by owner Clive Smith to team up with event rider Collett, where he learned dressage.
Kauto Star was 15 when he was injured in a fall on Wednesday, 24 June. He had pelvic and neck injuries and was euthanised six days later.
But questions were raised on social media, leading to press coverage, about how the fall happened and whether the injuries could be caused in a field.
"People have been spreading malicious rumours. It's a tragic enough time as it is losing such a star," said Collett.
"I've stayed quiet. The horse should be remembered for who he was and what he did rather than causing trouble and even more upset."
Collett was away showjumping at Hickstead when the accident happened.
She said her staff told her they discovered Kauto Star walking back into the yard when he should have been in his nearby field.
"We can only guess as to how it happened, but he must have jumped the gate and fallen on landing. There were no broken rails or anything," she said.
"He walked around the corner and my yard manager found him. He had one small graze on his hind quarters but other than that no obvious injuries. There was no blood, nothing anywhere else, he wasn't in a state, he wasn't sweating. He couldn't have been loose for long.
"Sadly, there's no knowing, there's no explanation as to why he did what he did."
What happened next?
Collett said her vet, Tom Campbell, was called as a precaution.
Kauto Star seemed slightly stiff, and Campbell suspected a pelvic injury so put the horse on box rest. He went out for brief walks but his condition began to worsen on the Saturday after the accident.
Campbell and another vet, brought in for a second opinion, said the horse should be cross-tied (held by ropes to avoid rolling around and exacerbating the injuries) and Collett stayed with him.
But when he became more unsteady, it was decided to send him to the nearby Valley Equine Hospital in Lambourn.
"I went there several times and they were very hopeful he was going to make a recovery. Then sadly I got a phone call on Monday morning and they felt he had deteriorated and it was in the best interests of the horse that the kindest thing to do was to put him to sleep," said Collett.
"From the moment it happened, everyone that had anything to do with him - all they wanted was the best thing for the horse. It was just one of those things. It is unexplainable."
Collett said she has been told about one rumour that someone rode the horse, was thrown off and he ran into a brick wall.
"I can hand on heart say no-one else ever hacked him out for the reason that if a freak accident happened while hacking on the road, I didn't feel it was right for anyone else to have the responsibility because of the horse that he was," she said.
"I felt every time I got on that horse there was a huge responsibility. No-one else has ever taken him out of the yard. That story is absolutely ridiculous.
"Even if I had asked them to do it, they wouldn't have wanted to."
|Kauto Star factfile|
|Foaled||19 March 2000|
|Breeding||Village Star-Kauto Relka (France)|
|Key victories||Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007, 2009); King George VI Chase (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011); Betfair Chase (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011)|
Could more have been done?
Vet Campbell said: "I'm happy there was nothing we could have done to achieve a better outcome. We did everything we could for the horse."
Kauto Star recovered from various injuries in his career, including a serious fall in the 2010 Gold Cup.
"I guess this is where the horse didn't help himself in that he was such a fighter, he may have hid from all of us just how bad it was," said Collett.
Campbell believes the horse injured his neck and pelvis in the fall, although a neck fracture did not show up when he had X-rays on the Saturday following the accident.
"These injuries would be consistent with him jumping something, falling, and landing on his side. I'm sure he hasn't galloped into something," he said.
"I know the set-up of that yard. It's very professional. There is no way anyone would be getting legged up on Kauto Star.
"We knew how important this horse was. Nobody was slack. We were giving him 100% the best care we could. He was a tough horse but he had plenty of pain relief."
'Worst week of my life'
Collett describes Kauto Star as a "friend, a character" and will dearly miss him.
"It's been the worst week of my life. It would have been the worst week just dealing with the tragedy of what happened," she said.
"I absolutely love every horse on my yard. I work with them day in day out, it's all I know.
"To have to deal with losing one of them in such a sad way is hard enough, let alone all this which is happening now. It's heartbreaking."
Collett said she has nothing to hide, has no idea why stories would be fabricated and that she and her staff would happily take lie-detector tests.
"Things happen - horses get colic, horses get cast - there is no way of actually keeping a horse 100% safe. That's the bottom line," she insisted.
"I'm very proud of how happy my horses are and how well they are looked after and that's something I stand by and is the only thing that is keeping me going through this, which is bullying. I feel like I'm being bullied at the moment and it's hurtful."
Life with Kauto Star
Some racing fans had opposed Kauto Star's move into dressage, and there were even suggestions it was demeaning for a champion racehorse.
But Collett said he was "full of beans" and acted like a four-year-old.
"He was an absolute pleasure to deal with since day one. He was a very intelligent horse, and a joy to work with," she said.
"There was a misconception of dressage. He was retrained to have an active life. Every day he was cheeky, he was full of himself.
"He wanted to be kept busy and his mind kept busy which I think is why he was originally sent to me, an eventer, rather than just going to a pure dressage yard.
"He hacked out, he jumped, he did a bit of schooling and he could go for a canter up the field. He had such a busy lifestyle, which was what the horse needed.
"He was very opinionated and wasn't a horse who you could make do something he didn't want to do. He was happy in what he was doing. He wasn't just an old retired racehorse who was ticking over, he kept me on my toes and loved doing different things."
Collett said she felt "the luckiest person in the world" to be asked to look after him by owner Smith when his racing career ended.
"He was one of those horses who knew exactly how special he was. He loved cuddles," she said.
"It always brought a smile to my face whenever anyone came to the yard or there was a camera, he absolutely lit up with the attention. He was a people's horse. He was just unbelievable."
|Kauto Star timeline|
|24 June - Horse injured. Vet believes he has pelvic injury and puts him on box rest|
|27 June - Condition deteriorates. Slightly unsteady on his legs so cross-tied. Suspicion of neck injury and transferred to equine hospital.|
|28 June - Kauto Star initially appears comfortable but condition worsens.|
|29 June - Horse is euthanised, 15:00 BST.|
|30 June - News of his death announced.|
The final days
Collett saw Kauto Star for the last time on Sunday, June 28 at the equine hospital, where vet Hattie Lawrence treated him.
"He had his ears pricked, he was standing quite happily, he was being the Kauto I knew and asking for treats like mints," she said.
"From my point of view it was really, really touching that they said he recognised me. That meant more than anything.
"On the Monday when he deteriorated, Hattie wouldn't let me go down and see him and she said that's what I want you to remember him for - a happy, chirpy, lovely horse.
"As hard as it was not to go and say goodbye to him, I knew deep down I just wanted to remember him that way. He was a friend."
Owner Smith, who was with Kauto Star when he died, said: "Hattie did not want any visitors, she just wanted to concentrate on caring for Kauto Star. Hattie did a tremendous job in trying to save him.
"I have only ever had Kauto Star's best interests at heart and have supported Laura all the way."
Life after Kauto Star's death
Collett was criticised on social media after her post about a photoshoot for one of her sponsors she attended the day after Kauto Star's death was announced.
"I understand in a way where people are coming from but I was achieving nothing crying my eyes out into a pillow," she said.
"I don't think I've ever cried so much in my life. I was feeling horrendous. People can judge me all they like but it did help to have a reason to get out of the house.
"I just had to get on with the job and it was my way of dealing with it to be busy and feel like I was doing what Kauto would have wanted, to carry on and put a brave face on.
"I have to carry on with my career, otherwise my life's over. I couldn't prevent a freak accident from happening just as I can't rewind the clock."