Venezuelan rider Andres Rodriguez and American showjumper Sophie Walker died in the accident. The crash happened at around 3.25am on Monday (4 January), in Wellington, home to the US Winter Equestrian Festival. Ms Walker, 30, was pronouced dead at the scene. Mr Rodriguez, 31, was taken to Delray Medical Center. He is believed to have died in hospital several hours later. According to Palm Beach Country Sheriff’s Office, the car reportedly crashed into a concrete pillar at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington. Both riders were based in Wellington.
Mr Rodriguez won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto last summer with 13-year-old gelding Darlon Van Groenhove, finishing behind the USA’s McLain Ward and Rothchild. He last competed on 28 November in Wellington with S F Ariantha and had been aiming at the Venezuelan showjumping team for Rio this year. He rode for Rancho Golden Point in Wellington and also trained with Eddie Macken.
A well-known rider, Mr Rodriguez also competed in the Nations Cup final in Barcelona with his Pan American Games partner Darlon Van Groenhove. His last win was at Tryon NC CSI3* in October. A newlywed, he married Clementine Goutal in November.
Sophie was an amateur rider from Woodside Farm, which she ran with her husband Brian. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating what happened.
A statement was posted on Mr Roderiguez’s Facebook page yesterday. “It is with the deepest sadness that we have to announce that Andres Rodriguez and his passenger Sophie Walker suffered a tragic car accident on Monday morning in Wellington, Florida,” it read. “Circumstances of the accident are still unclear. Sophie Walker passed away in the accident and despite all efforts Andres passed away a few hours later. We are lost for words. Our prayers and thoughts go to Sophie’s family, to Andres’ wife and family.”
FEI secretary-general Sabrina Ibáñez paid tribute to the riders today. “To lose two young athletes in this dreadful way is a terrible shock and our hearts go out to their families and friends”, she said. “Andres Rodriguez was a world-class athlete and clearly a super star in the making. For his life to be cut short in this way is absolutely heart-breaking.”
FEI jumping director John Roche added: “The sport has tragically lost one of its greatest ambassadors with the passing of Andres Rodriguez, and I have lost a dear friend, as indeed have many others. “Andres was a wonderful horseman and an amazing person with a very positive approach to life. He had a heart as big as Mount Everest. He will be greatly missed by us all.”