How dressage helped rider recover from breast cancer

  • Rachel Constantine, 46, tells H&H about how her drive to make it to the British Dressage regional championships helped her to get back in the saddle while recovering from cancer treatment

    At the start of June, life was pretty sweet. I loved my job as yard manager for a busy livery yard, Foxisle Stud. With 20 liveries and another 20 horses belonging to the owners Edwin Cumberland and Tina Gray, I was kept pretty busy. And I’d just taken on the task of training one of their horses, a 17hh grey Dutch warmblood called Foxisle Eloy Donae, in dressage.

    He’d previously evented and showjumped, but I had had a hunch he’d make a great dressage horse. It was a huge challenge for me — I normally show Welsh cobs!

    On our very first outing, we were placed. I was over the moon — and started making big plans for us. I had my eye on the British Dressage regional championships. But a few days later, my world fell apart.

    I found a lump in my breast. I was referred to hospital, where I was given the devastating diagnosis — breast cancer. I had an operation to remove the lump and some of my lymph nodes. The next stage was radiotherapy.

    Exhausted after my operation, I had to spend two weeks lying on the sofa — but as soon as I felt well enough, I went back to work.

    I’m not the sort of person who can cope with sitting around doing nothing. I needed work to keep me busy, to take my mind off what was going on with my health.

    It was a huge struggle, though. The radiotherapy left me very weak, tired and nauseous. I wasn’t able to do much around the yard, and although Edwin and Tina couldn’t have been more supportive, it was frustrating watching other people do my job for me.

    The only thing that got me through each day was the thought of competing Eloy in the British Dressage regional championships. To qualify, we’d need three scores over 62%.

    Practice, practice, practice

    So, although I was sore and shattered, I got on him every day and practised, practised, practised.

    We competed at 10 local shows, always finishing in the top three — and it wasn’t long before we’d qualified.

    Two weeks after my final radiotherapy treatment — which meant I’d had no show practice — Eloy and I set off for Warren Farm near Liverpool for the BD regional championships. Edwin, Tina, my eight-year old daughter Olivia and my friend Jenna were there to support me.

    As I rode Eloy into the ring, all I could think was that we’d made it! Despite everything, I was here, I was competing, and I was going to do the absolute best that I could. I had a huge grin on my face as I rode the test.

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    I couldn’t believe it when the scores came through — we’d got a total of 70.26%. I’d been hoping to get in the top 10, and we came third. It was an amazing achievement, and I couldn’t have been happier. We narrowly missed qualifying for the nationals but I’m still hoping for a wild card.

    That’s the new goal for Eloy and I, and as the cancer is now in remission, there should be no stopping us.

    My advice for anyone struggling with a life-changing event like mine is to hang onto your dream. Keep going, keep putting one foot — or one hoof! — in front of the other and you’ll get there in the end.

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