Riders know about sacrifice and risk. We just don’t talk about them. If we analysed our sport objectively — how much time and money we spend, what we’re missing out on, how dangerous it is — we probably wouldn’t do it.
But how far would we go to keep riding? Is it worth losing our job or house, our partner, or even our ability to walk? For many people it is. As high risk as the sport may be, horses seem to provide a rock of stability when everything else has gone pear-shaped, or simply a reason to get up every day.
We meet one owner, Judith Costello, who remortgaged the house and lived on beans and toast to look after her horse.
Judith spent many a happy hour hacking or riding along the beach on her ex-racehorse, Bugsy, who was her pride and joy.
When, in June 2004, he contracted endotoxic septicaemia and clostridial myositis in his chest area following an infection from a nail injury, she was devastated. He was given a 25% chance of survival and Judith took the brave decision to give up her job as a personal assistant to care for him.
“He spent about 4 weeks in Langford Veterinary Hospital, Bristol, so I would do the 1hr 45m drive from Bridgend, South Wales to be with him, spend a couple of hours sitting in his stable and then drive home,” says Judith, who then had to administer round-the-clock medication when he returned home.
“My insurance money soon ran out, so I paid around £10,000 from my own pocket — for a horse who only cost £700! It seems a lot of money for a failed ex-racer, but he was priceless to me.
“Although my father wasn’t best pleased I’d walked out of my job, my family were great and helped me pay the bills until Bugsy was well enough for me to get a permanent job — which was over 3 months,” adds Judith, who was 27 at the time. “At which point, I remortgaged the house to pay everyone back and lived on beans on toast for a very long time.
“Bugsy did come through his ordeal but, although his chest healed, there was always a lot of scar tissue around the girth area, which would randomly pop open if he stretched it too much — usually having a gallop round the field. This meant he couldn’t be ridden again apart from the odd quiet hack.
“Would I do it again? Absolutely. I loved that horse. I said to all the vets from the outset that if Bugsy wanted to fight it, we’d fight it. He never gave up, so I didn’t either.
“I didn’t like thoroughbreds before, but I’ve since taken on 6 more. I wouldn’t be without one now.”
Read more stories about the sacrifices riders make for their horses in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (12 September 2013)