When Alessandra Doyle found Aldham Mill Marido “virtually dead” in his stable in 2011, a competitive come-back did not look likely.
That, coupled with his rider’s badly deteriorating hip — put in due to a congenital condition when she was 18 months old, having been born with only one — made the future for the pair look bleak.
Yet, this horse, a Danish warmblood by May Sherif, is now a double champion, having been crowned in the over 20s medium and advanced medium classes at the recent British Dressage Veteran Horse Championships.
Back in 2011, Marido was already a year out of colic surgery, but his next battle, with what turned out to be leptospirosis (an auto-immune disease spread by rats) was to take him even closer to the brink.
“I got to the barn in Germany where we were training and found him standing at the back of his stable looking terribly ill,” Alessandra tells H&H. “I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong and he had a temperature of 42 degrees.”
The vet came, and the diagnosis was made.
“We raced him to the clinic, but I was preparing to have to say goodbye to my best friend,” recalls Alessandra. “The disease attacks the liver and although vets worked to get the horse’s fever down, his liver was swollen and not working properly.”
Alessandra spent many months caring for him — including learning light therapy and Reiki — and his health slowly improved until he was well enough to be brought home to the UK in February 2012.
“He was back, but he looked horrendous,” she says. “You could see all his ribs and he looked like a rescue animal.”
Alessandra was told repeatedly that she’d be lucky to ever ride him again, let alone compete.
With patience, she got him back into work and — eventually — back out competing at small shows.
Alessandra — who runs Position Perfect Equestrian — was also struggling with her hip.
The replacement joint was crumbling away and doctors had told her she needed a complete replacement and wouldn’t be able to ride for a year afterwards.
But her and Marido’s scores were just high enough to qualify for the veteran championships, so she decided on a last hurrah with the now 20-year-old.
“He was a star — really tried his heart out,” she says. “I can’t ride to the best of my ability these days and struggle to keep him together, but he went in there and tried his bloody hardest, which is all I ever ask.
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“I was so proud but it was a huge mix of emotions when I found out I’d won. I went back to stables and gave him a hug and burst into tears. He’s still so amazing, but I’ve got to stop because of my hip, so that’s the last thing we’ll ever do together. It’s bittersweet.
“I’m having my hip replacement on 21 November, so this really was a finale for both of us. I hope to be back better than ever, but I doubt he’ll still be going once I’ve made my recovery. He’s going to be a schoolmaster for clients of mine and I hope to see him living out the rest of his days teaching others.”