Tales from the H&H Festival of Eventing: meet the mother of five contesting her first three-day event

  • Deborah Burrell is not only a mother of five children, but she also contested her first ever three-day event at last weekend’s Horse & Hound Festival of Eventing at Keysoe (25—27 May). Deborah rode two horses, Imperial Tango in the Spillers 80cm and Silver Nemesis in the DriRug 70cm.

    “‘Impy’ is my ‘proper’ competition horse, but Silver Nemesis, or ‘Andrew’, as he is known at home, is my fun horse and my baby — I call him ‘mummy’s son’,” laughs Deborah, who has owned the grey 10-year-old for five years. “He’s had time off competing due to a tendon strain, and this is his first event back on grass, three years later. I thought he was going to buck me off in excitement over the first few cross-country fences!”

    Deborah, who is from Chobham, bought Andrew unseen from Cumbria.

    “I saw his advert and loved the look of him, so took a chance, and thankfully it has paid off,” explains Deborah. “He likes his personal space and thinks he’s a stallion — so much so that we had him tested to make sure! We have a saying for him — like it, lick it, kick it as that’s exactly what he’s like. But he lives for being ridden.”

    Deborah’s five children, four boys and one girl, were all born within five years of each other — the youngest is now 13.

    “I had a lot of time off competing while the children were young, but got back into it six or seven years ago,” says Deborah. “I have a wonderful husband and support team, which means I can carry on riding.”

    The Burrell family has endured a turbulent past eight months, with Deborah’s 14-year-old son, James, being diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins Lymphoma last September.

    “James had begun to start struggling to walk, so we took him to the doctor and they said it was growing pains,” explains Deborah. “Not long after that, I got a call from my husband to say James was paralysed in bed. We carried him to the car and took him straight to hospital, where they said they would scan him in three days. I insisted on an immediate scan, which showed a mass on his top three vertebrae the size of a grapefruit — it was wrapped around his spine.

    “He was taken straight to St. George’s Hospital where a team of surgeons were ready and waiting for him — the operation lasted six hours and the surgeon said to me afterwards that if we had waited another hour, James would have been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

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    “We decided to take part in a medical trial from Germany, which meant James had three times as much chemo in one day over a shorter period of time than the normal course of treatment. Sitting there for 15 hours a day watching my son being poisoned was so hard, but he never cried or moaned. I knew if we could keep infection at bay, he would pull through and that’s exactly what he did — at the end of March he got the all-clear and he’s now back at school.

    “Once his course of chemo was completed and he was back at home, I started riding again — that’s one of the big things that kept my head together through that time.”

    Deborah finished second in the 80cm and sixth on Andrew in the 70cm.

    Don’t miss the full report from the H&H Festival of Eventing in Horse & Hound magazine — on sale Thursday, 6 June

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