Festive stars: ‘After breaking my leg, I thought last season was a write-off – but I ended up with an international win’

  • For Tom Woodward, the 2021 eventing season looked to be over at the end of March when he suffered a bad break to his leg.

    Remarkably, the 19-year-old defied expectations by returning to the saddle 10 weeks after the accident. He was back competing in affiliated horse trials in July and finished the season by picking up his first three-star win – in the youth CCI3*-S section at Cornbury – and going clear cross-country round his first advanced.

    Tom took his A Levels “Covid-style” in the summer of 2020 and in September that year went to work for Lucy and Padraig McCarthy.

    “I’ve known I wanted to pursue horses since I was 12 or 14,” he says. “I’ve ridden all my life, my parents are horsey and I was put on a pony at a young age. I loved it from day one.

    “I did quite a bit of showjumping when I was younger, then when I started British Eventing when I was 14, I fell in love with it and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I was always balancing horses and school.”

    Tom Woodward was rugging up a horse at Lucy and Padraig’s when he broke his left leg.

    “I don’t know quite what happened, but for whatever reason the horse had a moment and knocked me over and trampled on my leg,” he explains. “It was a compound fracture so was pretty ugly. I had surgery and have two plates and 13 screws still in my leg. I’ve got to have another operation hopefully to take those out in January.

    “I very much said when I saw my leg that last season was probably not going to happen at all, so it was a bit of a crazy year. It felt like I achieved a lot in a season that was almost a write-off.”

    Tom had support from the Injured Jockeys Fund centre at Oaksey House in his recovery, working on areas such as physio, rehabilitation and a fitness plan.

    “They were fantastic – there’s no way I’d have been back on as quickly without them,” he says.

    Tom started riding again on his mother Sue Thompson’s old hunter and built up through some unaffiliated events to re-starting affiliated competitions.

    “For quite a while I’d ride two or three horses, then I couldn’t do any more as it started to hurt,” he says. “My riding boots were very uncomfortable at first, though that’s improving now.

    “I definitely feel like there’s a bit of difference between my legs – I almost feel like one heel can go lower than the other and I’ve lost a bit of movement in the ankle. But looking from the outside you wouldn’t know. You get used to it and adapt – I don’t really notice it when riding.”

    Tom Woodward is now based at his parents Sue Thompson and David Woodward’s home, near Hartpury.

    “I’ve been umming and ahhing whether to go somewhere else now or later, as I’m keen to expand my knowledge and keep learning, but I’ve got a couple of owners so am making a bit of a go of it,” he says.

    Tom’s top horse is Low Moor Lucky, who will be 15 in 2022. Bred by family friend Richard Dennis, he had been given to Cherry Coward and was at her yard when Tom and his mother went to try another horse.

    “They said he wasn’t for sale, but I was welcome to have a sit on him as I was just getting a feel for different horses coming off ponies. I loved him and thought, ‘This is the one’ so they said to make them an offer.”

    The family ended up buying Lucky and another horse, also bred by Richard, in one deal.

    “We didn’t pay a lot for him as he hadn’t done brilliantly in his early career,” says Tom. “He was only broken aged nine and is called Lucky because he was a nutcase as a young horse and was nearly disposed of. You wouldn’t know that now as he’s the kindest horse and very sensible. He’s a brilliant horse across all three phases and I always feel I’ve got a chance to be competitive on him.

    “We’ve now had six horses from Richard and they’ve all been brilliant. The next horse down in my string is Blackwell Shanti, also bred by Richard. He has done well at novice, but is perhaps too careful for eventing so we’ll probably move him on as a jumper.”

    Tom Woodward will focus on having a crack at young rider selection in 2022, but says he learnt a lot about goal-setting from his time in ponies.

    “I had a talented pony who was a bit green, set my goals too high and had to deal with disappointment, so for me it’s a case of focusing on each event as it comes and trying to do my best each time out, then letting the rest come naturally.

    “Realistically, I’m a bit short on horse power for young riders; it’d be great to have a second horse to run alongside Lucky, so I’ll ideally try to find one to take the pressure off him a little bit. I’m not be able to go out and buy one so it’s a case of finding someone kind enough to let me have a crack with theirs.”

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