Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 1, 2019 – Beatrice de Lavalette, also fondly known as Béa, is no stranger to a challenge. On March 22, 2016, de Lavalette was standing only a few feet away from a suicide bomber when he detonated an explosive in the Brussels’ Zaventem International Airport. The blast of the explosion left her on the brink of death with severe burns covering 35 percent of her body, internal injuries caused by the shrapnel and damaged vertebrae.
Nearly an hour went by before first responders tagged her with a red card, meaning that she would be treated last because she was least likely to survive. When they were finally able to reach her, she was airlifted to Queen Astrid Military Hospital where a team of specialists treated her. For nearly a month de Lavalette was put in a medically induced coma in order to minimize her suffering, and it was then that doctors made the decision to amputate both of her legs below the knee.
Her life was changed forever, but one thing has remained constant: her love for horses. The road to recovery for de Lavalette has been long and winding, but her dedication to her dreams in the face of adversity has finally led her to compete in her first CPEDI 3* in January at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida.
She rode her 17-year-old PRE mare Delgada X, or as she is affectionately called, Deedee, into second place in the Grade II Team test with a 62.525 percent, the Individual test with a 63.186 percent, and the Freestyle with a 64.889 percent over the course of the competition.
“She was really good,” de Lavalette said. “She was lacking a little impulsion, but she’s not a big horse and she was never trained for these kind of shows. I did my best to keep her there and the circles were as round as they could be, all the figures I tried to do as best I could. In the end I was very happy with it.”
Based now out of Southern California, de Lavalette is currently a student at the University of San Diego, balancing training with her studies. While in recovery after the terrorist attack, she decided that she would study business with a focus on sports equipment for disabled athletes. She has been training with Shayna Simon at the Arroyo Del Mar facility since January 2018, and has set her sights on riding in the 2020 Paralympics.
“Preparation was very intense, but the only way to get better is to train,” she explained. “I say my full time job is riding my horse and training, and the rest is going to school. Finding that balance between the two was a little tricky at first, but now I am a lot more organized.”
As a child in Paris, de Lavalette participated in several different equine disciplines before her love for horses grew into a passion for dressage. At age fourteen, she took a brief break from the sport, only to return when an opportunity arose to ride a PRE mare named Delgada X. Her parents soon purchased DeeDee for her, recognizing that the pair’s connection was undeniable.
In early 2016, de Lavalette’s parents decided to relocate to the United States. De Lavalette was set to begin the journey to her new home in Florida from Brussels on the day of the bombing.
With a new way of life to adapt to and years of physical therapy ahead of her, de Lavalette drew her strength from the desire to ride her mare DeeDee once again. After a year of rehabilitation, de Lavalette rode in her first para-equestrian horse show, competing at the Haras de Jardy Equestrian Center in Belgium. There she took her first trot steps since losing her legs, completing her test in the Grade I classification with a 78 percent.
Since her first show, de Lavalette has worked tirelessly to prepare for higher level competition with DeeDee, and recently was paired with another mount named Velvet WD, a 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare.
“Velvet is incredible,” de Lavalette explained. “She’s taught me a lot in the last couple of weeks that I’ve had her. She’s a great horse, I love her to bits. We still have a lot of work to do together, and unfortunately we had to withdraw this weekend but the next show we will be definitely be competing.”
Following her debut in Wellington, de Lavalette expressed her gratitude for the support she has received from the community of para dressage riders in both the United States and Europe, as well as everyone involved in making the shows successful for athletes like herself who are so passionate about the sport.
“I love this team,” de Lavalette said. “If anyone has a problem or a question with a horse, we all give suggestions and numbers for vets, osteopaths or whoever we need. It’s a big family and we’re all kind of in the same boat where we have our disability but we deal with it and we keep going. We always have that support from the people who get it.”