Beatrice De Lavalette was the most critically injured person at the 2016 Brussels airport bombing. But after suffering severe injuries, Beatrice is back in the saddle with her sights set on the Paralympic podium.
When Beatrice De Lavalette was 17 years old, her life changed forever. Flying back to the United States for spring break to reunite with her family, Bea was severely injured in the terrorist airport bombing and “red-tagged” — which meant she wasn’t expected to survive the attack.
But five years after suffering internal injuries, second- and third-degree burns, a spinal cord injury and the amputation of both her lower legs, Bea is on the road to the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games with her two new horses, Duna and Clarc.
Finding Tremendous Courage
Although Bea’s life was forever altered on that fateful day in Brussels, her love for horses was unwavering. Five months after the accident, Bea’s coach brought her horse, Delegada X, a.k.a. DeeDee, to visit Bea at the rehab hospital.
“There are no real words to describe the feeling I had that day but it was the start of my new life,” says Bea. Within moments, Bea knew she had to get back in the saddle.
The first time riding DeeDee after the accident was “amazing,” Bea recalls. “She felt my differences instantly and adapted herself to what I needed. I was very lucky to have her as my horse.”
As Bea reimagined what her life could look like, she immediately gravitated towards para-dressage and put all her energy into learning how to properly adapt her new body to meet her existing riding skills.
“It was a big process,” she says.“I had to basically learn how to ride all over again because my center of balance was gone at the beginning.”
In addition to finding her balance, Bea had to identify specific aids and tools to help her stay safe and effective on the horse.
“Adding the little changes that needed to be done for me to become a rider again and figuring out the aids that I needed — prosthetics, elastics, Velcro, and stuff like that,” says Bea. “Just figuring out what I needed to stay on the horse and be safe while doing it.”
Learning the Ropes
Although DeeDee is semi-retired from competition now, she still plays an important role in Bea’s training process. “She’s just a great learning horse,” says Bea. “I work with her a lot because it teaches me about what I can do with my Warmbloods. I can make some mistakes with DeeDee that I can’t make with my other horses.”
Currently, Bea’s two top competition horses are Duna and Clarc, two Dutch Warmbloods that are relatively new to her stable. “I’ve had Duna for over a year and a half and I’ve had Clarc for just six months now,” she says. “It’s still pretty new with both of them and I’m still learning how to improve my riding and how to improve their training.”
For the past four years, Bea has worked closely with Shayna Simon, a Grand Prix dressage rider based in Loxahatchee, Flor., and the pair share a tight-knit, honest relationship. “When I first started working with Shayna, it was a little bit hard to teach me because I was always a ‘I can do it all’ type of person,” Bea laughs. “But now she brings me back to the basics. If I’m doing something wrong, she tells me and shows me how to do it properly.”
The Road to Tokyo
When COVID-19 hit the United States and the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, Bea took the change particularly hard: “I was in such a perspective of ‘I’m going, so nothing-can-stop-me attitude.’ Then the pandemic hit and there was literally nothing I could do to stop it.”
For a few months, Bea remembers feeling “really down on myself” — but then she realized that she had an entire year to get better, improve her riding and focus on her horses. With that, Bea felt “everything started to light up and I was able to focus on getting better with my horses.”
In March 2021, Bea faced a new, unexpected challenge: A broken leg after falling off one of her horses. “It was rough. I was out for a couple weeks,” she says. “Now I am getting back into riding and slowly getting back in shape and riding every day.”
With the Tokyo Paralympics just around the corner, all of Bea’s energy is devoted toward practicing her tests, going over her freestyle and getting as prepared as she possibly can.
“Every time I get picked to represent the United States, it’s a big moment for me,” she says. “It just shows me that I put the work in to get picked — and it’s not just a gift — it’s something that you really have to work towards. Even if it’s just representing the United States for one show, that’s a really special moment for me.”