An incredible bond of trust between a Wroot horsewoman and her stricken mare has brought them back in to competition against all the odds.
Sarah Jo Gregory-Wicks, who conquered cancer in her twenties and went on to compete for Britain in paralympic riding events, seems to have passed on her fighting spirit to her horse.
Her mare Conischa was almost written off after a nasty break to her leg, but three years of nursing by devoted Sarah saw her back in the arena and jumping double clears in top level competition last weekend.
Many people would have ended Conischa’s life after the break, due to financial implications and possible limitation of her work,.
Sarah said: “I bought Conischa for quite a lot of money as part of my dream of competing for Great Britain. But it all fell apart when Conischa had an accident in the field as a four year old. Initially I thought she had an abcess until the vet confirmed her leg was broken.”
Conischa underwent surgery and came home to 24-hour care. But her leg gave way a few days later. The fracture had branched off and she was rushed in to surgery under general anaesthetic.
Sarah, aged 38, said: “At this point many would have given up, but this horse was special to me. I cannot tell you how devastating it was. I felt like I was cursed. I had thyroid cancer, then I lost my finger and suffered spinal injury after being dragged by my horse. My mum was diagnosed with kidney cancer, I lost my grandma who I was very close to, and now my horse, my best horse, had broken her leg.
“I have to say this was a time that tested my strength as a person but I had to give this horse a chance.”
The long journey began, with 18 months of box rest for Conischa and bandage changes three times a day, plus a good diet to gain back weight.
Sarah added: “I could count on one hand how many said to save her life. The rest just thought I was crazy!”
With support throughout from Jonathan Anderson of Rainbow Equine Hospital, Sarah decided the mare needed more time. She put Conischa in foal and on July 31 last year a filly, Candischa, was born.
Later, when her foal was weaned, the vet told Sarah there was ‘no limit’ for Conischa and to ‘crack on’.
The rider, however, had become wary of her horse. Two friends, Jamie and Neil, had been helping to work Conischa. Neil challenged Sarah to mount her again.
She said: “It took courage after memories of being stuck underneath her when rearing over on me. It was baby steps, I had to dare myself constantly to jump on for ten minutes.”
That was the turning point.
Sarah remarked to Facebook followers as she entered both her horses, Conischa and Avalon Mill, for national and paralympic classes at Bolesworth last week: “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be paying for BS membership and entry fees again for Conischa. The happiest £76 I ever spent.”
Both horses jumped winning rounds.
An overjoyed Sarah wrote on social media: “I have never been so emotional as Conischa just jumped the grade three para competition at Bolesworth. Unlucky last fence in the timed phase but I totally cried my eyes out over the last fence.
“What an achievement for my girl to come back from such a horrific injury!”
“We both absolutely loved it and she was immaculately presented thanks to Jamie Woody Evison, Jessica Caudwell, and Laura Jayne Barton.”
Home briefly before setting out to compete again in Devon she said: “The bond we have is amazing. The horse is jumping her heart out for me. I have never felt so rewarded. The journey for Conischa and I is only just beginning.”
Sarah is always looking out for sponsorship opportunities and support from local businesses to promote Para Showjumping.
Her next goal is to compete at international level with Conischa, alongside Avalon Mill.