Leading the campaign for more opportunities for para showjumpers, former international showjumper Dame Emma-Jane Brown is bringing together Britain's top para showjumpers for a training weekend at Arena UK on 29-31 January 2016. Disabled rider Karen Bostock, 53, from Yorkshire, explains why the opportunity to compete means so much to her
My life before the accident was wonderful. I was 24 years old, pursuing my dream of working with horses. I managed a competition yard of 42 horses, and particularly loved breaking, schooling and competing the young horses.
Then, on 14 July 1987, I had a freak car accident that changed my life forever. I can’t remember anything about it — all I know is that my car crashed through a post-and-rail fence, and one of the posts went through the windscreen, and through me, impaling me to my car seat.
The post took out my collarbone, chest wall and two ribs, rotated my shoulder, fractured my spine and punctured a lung. Somehow, I survived — but the doctors told me I’d never walk, have children or ride again.
Determined to prove them wrong, I was back on my feet within a year and went on to have two children, Emma, now 27, and Jack, 24. However, it was by no means plain sailing. I have serious mobility issues — with so many bones missing, my right side is very weak, and I can’t walk unassisted for long — and am in constant, acute pain.
I couldn’t imagine ever riding again. As a disabled mum with two children to look after, it seemed like an impossible dream.
‘My thoughts turned to horses’
But once the children were teenagers, my thoughts turned to horses once more. A keen equestrian, my daughter Emma encouraged me to start riding again, too. One day, I saw an advertisement for a para showjumping competition that really intrigued me. I hadn’t ridden in 20 years, but I wanted to compete!
A good friend put me on her horse — it was like riding a bike, despite my mobility issues, and in that first session, we popped a few cross poles. It felt so good. I took the horse to the para showjumping competition — and we won our class!
That was it, I was bitten by the horsey bug once more. Emma found me a lovely safe horse, Chouss, a 15.1hh Welsh Warmblood, now 14, and I have a fantastic trainer, Michael Potter.
For disabled riders like me, riding is therapy. On the ground, I can’t move fast or easily, but on the horse, I’m free. I forget about the constant pain and enjoy myself. It’s like a physio session for me every time I — I can’t move my own arm and leg, but the motion of the horse does it for me.
Campaigning for change
But I can’t compete on equal footing against able-bodied riders — my limited mobility means I’d be at a huge disadvantage in a jump-off, and as a Grade One/Two disabled rider, I can’t jump higher than 70cms. Last year, there were only three shows that catered for para showjumpers – SCOPE, the National Championships at Stoneleigh, and the RDA show.
That’s why it’s so important that Emma-Jane Brown is campaigning for change, for more competitions for para showjumpers. I’d love to see showjumping entered into the Paralympics, but what I’d really like to see are more opportunities for para showjumpers at club level.
‘Never give up’ is my motto. Riding has transformed my life once more — it would just be fantastic if there were the same opportunities for disabled riders like me as there are for the able-bodied.