Health Issues

I have gone very quiet on the Para scene since 2016 but I hope that is not forever. I have a progressive disorder and I know that I won’t be able to compete forever but I’ve seen the wonderful impact Para Equestrian Dressage has had on my life and I would love to get back competing and stay involved.

I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia in 2002 and one of the associated conditions is scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I am sure many people have heard me complaining about back pain in recent and not so recent times. 17 years ago in 2001 I was operated on for scoliosis curvature of the spine. My operation was pretty much success but less than a year after I was diagnosed with FA. If we had of known my operation would have been done differently. As it stood they operated on my thoracic spine just the top part. This got me out of trouble for a number of years but in 2010 I presented to my original surgeon with back pain and he informed me that an operation might help but if I could manage without that would make my life easier, as I wouldn’t have to go through the operation and recovery again. At this time I had just bought Mister Cool my Paralympic horse for London 2012 and I really had my eyes on the prize and the last thing I wanted was an operation so I put off and said no I can manage it’s only a little pain. After the Paralympics my back pain was getting worse and I was really starting to struggle standing so I thought it was time I seek a bit of advice. I went to 2 different guys one said my only option was surgery and the other thought maybe I should give injections a go to see relieve some pain and I went with that option. Surgery was not what I wanted as it would require at least six months off horses and a considerable amount of time off my feet and I worried what that would do to me. Between 2013 and 2016 I got several different injections went to see several people in terms of osteopaths, spinologist, massage therapist and physios but I was only ever getting short-term relief

In July 2015 I got into a really bad way with my back for no clear reason and luckily a few days of rest heavy dose of painkillers and a few injections sorted it out but it was the start of my bad back pain. I already had my horse for Rio 2016 horse and I didn’t put surgery on the radar at this point in time because of that. In 2016 just prior to the Paralympics I got really bad again with my back and it made me question whether I would be able to go to the Paralympics but luckily a heavy dose of painkillers and physio sorted that out and I managed to get back going. However it made me realise that once the Paralympics was over I needed to get something done with my back. I’m messed around with different consultants until April 2017 when I met consultant that was brave enough to take on my back and the complicated procedure and I decided I wanted to go for the operation. After 13 months waiting I got my operation in May 2018

I am now almost 7 weeks post op and I’m a lot straighter (and taller). I am still struggling with pain and under normal circumstances you might expect more improvement but my x-ray show things are okay so we are hoping the pain will ease soon.

The surgery was done in two stages. My first operation they went in at the front and released the discs and in the second they went in at the back and straightened me up and put in some rods and screws. The rods are necessary to keep the spine in place until your spine fuses and that can take between 6 months and two years.

Doing the operation in two stages is a lot but I think for patients with FA it is important. My younger sister has FA and scoliosis and her operation was only done in one go. They did not release the discs from the front. She had an easier time but the fusion did not take and rods started to stick out and her operation had to be redone twice

After Rio, when I made up my mind to get the operation I decided to sell rocky. I didn’t do as well as I’d like in Rio and with surgery pending I didn’t think I would have enough time and energy to devote to training and improving on my Rio scores. I thought my operation would come up quicker than it did, so this year I realised that I needed to take action and find another horse with a view to Tokyo and the future. Qualification will be next year and I will be off riding until earliest December and I didn’t want to be looking for something then. To that end I tried a lovely horse 1 week prior to my surgery and then I handled the purchasing in hospital between surgeries so I have an exciting new project when I return to riding. I don’t know if we will be ready to compete next year but we can aim.

Exercise is so important when you have FA so when I sold Rocky I was generously given an older horse to ride and I took up cycling a recumbent trike which has been super fun for me. In the main picture Mozart is the grey horse who has been so good to me for the last and Benny the dark brown horse is my new exciting horse

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