‘The vet said he’d choke to death’: European team gold medallist’s unusual fight for survival

  • Frank Hosmar and his “once-in-a-lifetime” horse Alphaville NOP added two individual silvers and a team gold at the European Para Dressage Championships (5–9 September) to their incredible tally of 27 medals, dating back to the London 2012 Paralympics.

    Frank and his 18-year-old partner finished second behind Michèle George in the individual and freestyle tests, while their leading test in the team competition helped secure victory for the Netherlands.

    I don’t mind whatever colour the medal is,” says Frank. “Every day when I ride into the arena I try to do my best, and if it’s the best I can do, whatever the judges decide then for me it’s OK.”

    Frank’s sentiment is all the more poignant given that in the winter of 2021/22, the outlook looked bleak for his Sandreo gelding. He was so sick it didn’t look like he would pull through, let alone return to championship form.

    “It is amazing he is still here,” says Frank. “In November 2021 after Tokyo, he got sick, coughing a lot, and had 100,000 tests. We sent blood to America, did everything that’s possible, but they couldn’t find what was wrong.

    “First they thought it was a fast-growing tumour in the throat, and then two vets said to put him down because he wouldn’t recover and he’d choke to death. But my feeling said ‘No, I don’t think he’s ready to go’. He couldn’t swallow, but when he wanted to drink, he’d put his head up so the water could slide down, and I thought ‘If you are doing this you want to survive’.”

    Frank remembers staying up with his beloved horse until 1.30am, feeding him little titbits as that was all he could manage to eat.

    “Then I had a second opinion from Utrecht for a scan, and they found out there was no tumour, but they still didn’t know what it was,” he says. “The vet said that thousands of horses come in every year, and for one or two they never find out what’s wrong – he’s one of them.”

    In desperation, Frank consulted a natural healer, despite his initial cynicism.

    “So I went to this healer, who did a bit of this and that with a few drops, and I was cynical,” he explains. “This guy came with a machine, and some headphones, and said, ‘Oh I can fix this!’ – I thought, ‘That’s big talk, but I’ll try anything!’ And he survived, and he’s back.”

    “I keep him healthy in body and mind” says European Para Dressage Championships team gold medallist

    Initially Frank thought Alphaville would live out a happy retirement in the field, but his appetite for work was such that he made the trip to Herning for the worlds (winning individual silver and team gold), and now the Europeans in Riesenbeck.

    “He’s a competition horse and if you go round the stables here, he’s the only one who has his head out all day,” Frank says. “He loves going in the horsebox to competitions.”

    Frank makes no special veteran allowances, despite the horse’s advancing years.

    I just act normal with him,” he says. “He doesn’t get any medicine, he goes in the field, and I ride at lot in the forest where I live. I keep him healthy and also in his head.

    I’m really pleased with how the horse is in Riesenbeck,” adds Frank. “At the last check the vet said it’s amazing how he was not even breathing [hard]; he was just a little bit sweaty, but that’s normal in this heat. To me that says, ‘Well done Frank, you brought a horse here in great condition’.”

    And that has set him up perfectly for more medals in Paris, which would be his 12th championship.

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