When seven-year-old Freddie Fletcher was hospitalised with a serious infection, it was his pony Tommy that kept him going. Now the budding jockey is taking to the racetrack to raise money for the hospital that saved him
This Sunday (26 March), seven-year-old Freddie Fletcher and his pony Tommy will be running in the Fighting Cocks & Chequers Inn Puffing Billy Stakes at the Isle of Wight Grand National and Ashey Scurry.
Freddie is taking on the challenge — which consists of five fences over three-quarters of a mile — in aid of the Oxford Children’s Hospital (www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Freddie-Fletcher).
Just six months ago, young Freddie, who comes from Steventon, Oxfordshire, woke with enlarged glands, appearing tired and lethargic.
“He had the rest of the week off school, and seemed to be getting better,” says his mother, Hannah Fletcher.
“On Saturday, he started to cough and then spent the next 24 hours on clinical decision before being sent home.”
Over the next 12 days, he was admitted to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital four times, before being rushed to intensive care on 12 October.
Swelling on the brain and a collapsed lung
Freddie had a serious infection, which would lead to swelling on the brain and his lung collapsing.
Freddie was intubated as the hospital staff tried to fight the infection. After an attempt to bring him round a week later, he was rushed to PITU [Paediatric Intensive Care Unit] to be re-intubated, and would then go on to PHDU [Paediatric High Dependency Unity], before being moved to the Bellhouse-Drayson Ward where he spent a week recovering before being discharged on 28 October 28.
“We didn’t go home during October,” says Hannah. “We stayed in a Ronald McDonald room so we could be close to Freddie.”
The Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) provides free ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families with children in hospital.
“They gave us a double room with en suite, use of a communal kitchen, living room and laundry room, and they also let his sister Katie stay with us when we needed her to. They were very, very good. When you’re going through it, every little bit really helps.”
Since then Freddie has been admitted another three times, staying on the Bellhouse-Drayson Ward for just over a week at a time.
Freddie is on daily steroids and inhalers but is “growing in strength day by day” and his parents, Hannah and James, are aiming to get him back to full time school.
‘He gets up at 5.30am to ride out before school’
What has kept him going during this difficult time is his love for his pony Tommy, a cheeky 12.2hh bay that he got last spring.
Freddie started riding in February 2015. It was a surprise to his parents (who aren’t horsey) who didn’t think he was interested.
“It all started with his younger sister who absolutely loved riding, after sitting on a pony at a school fête and then started having lessons. Freddie liked watching the horses on the telly, but was a bit scared to ride. Then, we put him on a pony one day for a hack and that was it — he now gets up at 5.30am to ride out before school,” said Hannah.
Tommy is on livery with Belinda Shaw of Grove Farm Equestrian, and her partner, former international eventer Mark Smith trains both Freddie and Tommy. Both have been instrumental in keeping Tommy ticking over while Freddie has been in hospital.
Tommy is just three days older than Freddie, and Hannah admits it hasn’t been easy. “Freddie has hit the floor many times, but if I’d just bought Freddie a pony that could do it all I don’t think the interest would have been so strong — he knew he’d have to work hard with Tommy.
“He’s now jumping 1m hedges,” says Hannah. “And he’s come on leaps and bounds at school — Tommy has given him so much confidence.”
Freddie dreams of being a jump jockey, and idolises AP McCoy. “It’s all he wants to do,” says Hannah. “When he’s not riding he reads about it, watches DVDs and studies it.”
Freddie is also an active member of the Old Berks Pony Club and aims to start pony racing as soon as he turns nine.
The pint-sized pair have been up the gallops at Lawney Hill’s yard, and Freddie has visited Oliver Sherwood’s yard, to watch morning exercise and have a walk round the yard on Carry On Sydney. As a treat, Oliver also gave Freddie the pick of his old silks when he came out of hospital.
Freddie also visits David Crosse once a week in Lambourn, to work on his technique and position on the Equicizer.