A rider has spoken of how her ambition to don a tailcoat and complete an advanced dressage test on a very special horse has helped her battle a brain tumour.
Charlotte deMetz had only recently begun to lease former international dressage horse Monty (Mastermind) when she received the shock diagnosis in March.
Following brain surgery, Charlotte had to learn to walk and talk again, but within months she has been back riding the powerful 20-year-old chestnut gelding — who was a former gold medallist with his owner, Canadian Jade Deter.
“Last year, I’d had to have my mare put to sleep and I came across Jade’s advert for Monty and I just fell in love with him,” said Charlotte. “I started leasing him in December and it took me a long time to work out how to ride a schoolmaster; they are very different to ride, as everything you do means something. He’s a big 16.3hh and I had to sit for a while before I could even manage his rising trot!”
Charlotte, 37, explained that the pair were just beginning to gel when she went to the doctor after suffering with some headaches.
“I had no real symptoms, I just mentioned to the doctor that my handwriting had gone weird — I wanted to join my letters up, but I was having to work hard just to write normally,” she said. “He sent me in for a CT scan the next day and the next week I was in for surgery.”
Charlotte was diagnosed with a grade four malignant brain tumour. In addition to a six-and-a-half hour operation, she has had to have both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“My husband passed out, literally!” said Charlotte, who has a high-flying job as a global human resources executive for a software company, along with juggling two children, three other horses and three dogs.
“It’s absolutely crazy how your whole life can crash down so quickly. One minute I was flying all over the world for my job and the next I was learning how to walk and talk again.”
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Charlotte recounted how during treatment she would often imagine riding Monty.
“I lost count of how many MRI scans I had, but when I was having them, and even when they were putting me under, I was just going through elementary 43 in my head thinking ‘not so much leg there, a bit more here…’” she said.
Although there was some doubt whether she would be able to ride again, within four weeks of surgery Charlotte got back on her cob Kevin.
“I remember putting my feet in both stirrups and my husband had me on the lead rein and took me down the road. I thought ‘I don’t know if I can do rising trot’, but the feeling does come back.
“By the time I rode Monty for first time again, other than being terribly unfit, it felt natural, thankfully.”
Although she is continuing to have maintenance chemotherapy until the end of the year, last month Charlotte was able to go out to her first competition, winning a BD walk and trot test on Kevin with a score of 72%.
“He’s uncomplicated and is a bit easier than an international dressage schoolmaster!” she said. “I’ve had Monty out now training at a few different venues with Jade and the main focus now is to get my fitness back up so I can get through a whole test.
“We’re hoping to go out and do an elementary at the beginning of October, but I’ve always said that my ambition was to wear tails— Jade said to me that as long as I could count for threes, then we’d be able to aim for the advanced 100.
“He’s a schoolmaster, so it’s no problem for him but at the minute my stamina isn’t great. I’m riding for 15-20 minutes at a time and trying to build it back up.”
Charlotte said that even on days when she couldn’t ride, just having the horses had been a “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“Someone once said to me that horses have kind souls, and when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you understand that it is so true,” she added. “Just having a thought process to get me out of the house into the fresh air and seeing Monty and the other horses’ faces made me stronger.
“It’s something that really helps aid you in the journey of recovery. It’s kind of magical the way they have a healing power without you even knowing it.”
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