Merlin, a blind Welsh Section C gelding, helped Vicki Jones get back in the saddle after breaking her back in a fall

A blind Welsh Section C grey gelding called Merlin, now aged 32,helped Vicki Jones recover from the psychological effects of bad fall from a young pony, which broke her back when she was eight-years-old.

Vicki, who had ridden since she was a young child, was having a lesson at a local riding school when the accident happened.

“The pony she was riding that day took off bucking and Vicki had a nasty fall. She was in terrible pain so I took her straight to hospital where they told me she had broken her back,” explains Vicki’s mum Sandra, who nominated Merlin for the award.

Vicki remained in hospital for a month before returning home in a wheelchair. Although the physical damage healed with time, Vicki’s whole character was transformed. From a happy, energetic and fearless child, Vicki became introverted and withdrawn.

Sandra spent two years looking for a pony to help Vicki regain her confidence but she refused to ride any of them until they found Merlin.

“When we arrived at the yard to see Merlin I could only describe himas the ugliest horse I had ever seen. But Vicki agreed to ride for first time since the accident, and she even cantered and popped him over a small jump. I was delighted!”

As Merlin and Vicki’s relationship developed, her self-confidence improved until she was competing him at local shows in unaffiliated show jumping competitions.

When Merlin went slightly lame after a show, the family called out the vet who announced that in spite of having won a jumping class the week before, the pony was completely blind. The vet explained that Merlin’s cataracts were so bad that no light was reaching the back of the eye, and that it was likely that he had been blind for at least two years.

“Vicki and I were distraught,” says Sandra. “We spoke to an equine eye specialist, but were told corrective surgery would be impossible.”

Refusing to give up, they contacted Dr Derek Knottenbelt at the University of Liverpool, who agreed to operate, but warned that it would be costly and Merlin was unlikely to survive.

Against all the odds however, Merlin pulled through the operation, although sadly it failed to improve his sight. He subsequently developed uveitis and now has to wear special “sunglasses” to prevent further attacks.

“I believe that if it wasn’t for Merlin, Vicki would never have overcome her fears,” says Sandra. “Despite his blindness, he totally changed her life.”