Equestrians are a hardy breed, but the obstacles that Horse & Hound readers have overcome this year would put even the toughest of horsemen and women to the test. Here we meet Anne Coombs, whose 16.3hh ‘tank’ has helped her get back on her feet following major surgery

Last year I bought “Joe”, a 16.3hh Irish gelding, for £1. He wasn’t easy — he was stubborn, pig-headed, built like a tank and he wouldn’t leave the yard on his own without rearing and generally making a fuss. Having had thoroughbreds in the past I liked the idea of a challenge and over six months we made huge leaps and bounds.

Fast forward to March this year and I had to be admitted into hospital for a major operation.
I was not allowed to ride for three or four months. I missed it terribly and while I went back to work after a few weeks I didn’t feel I would ever be well enough to ride anytime soon, let alone compete.

Little did I know that Joe was going to come into his own and become my recovery aid.

Gingerly I braved my first hack in August 2015. Not once did he try to nap; he stood like a rock while I clambered on in novice fashion — it was almost like he knew that my fitness and mobility was compromised and I was merely a passenger.

I gradually got my fitness back to a level where I felt confident enough to venture out to a small show with a friend and we managed to get a good result, which qualified us for the Sunshine Tour at Hickstead.

‘Playing it safe’

Playing it safe I just entered the intro dressage and combined training classes at Hickstead, hoping my body would cope.

The weekend was blessed with sunshine; I met wonderful people and spent the weekend with close friends who are equally as determined as I am. We managed two placings (one in dressage and one in combined training), gaining a much-coveted Sunshine Tour rosette or two — unexpected and gratefully received for all our hard work.

And then imagine my pure delight when the class scores were amended on the website a week after we came home, which put us reserve champion in our intro combined training section, and low and behold another sash.

I cannot praise this lovely gelding highly enough — thank you Joe.

This story was first published in the Horse & Hound ‘Reader Issue’ (17 December 2015), where we hear your stories from 2015