‘We must keep doing the things we love’: Badminton grassroots rider speaks up about menopause

  • A 55-year-old rider who will compete at the Voltaire Design Grassroots Championships at Badminton Horse Trials this spring has urged others not to give up doing what they love because of the menopause – and to seek support dealing with the symptoms.

    Rachel Fisher, from Surrey, qualified for Badminton with her 17-year-old Irish sport horse Sidney Rebel at Blindley Heath in August last year. Rachel has owned Sidney since he was a four-year-old, and the pair event up to BE100 level. This is the second time Rachel will compete at Badminton, having completed the BE90 final in 2019 with a double clear.

    Rachel told H&H she started experiencing symptoms of the menopause aged 52, and this started to affect her riding and confidence.

    “The first thing I started noticing was joint aches, which I know is common with riders anyway, but I was struggling to get my leg on properly. Another common thing with menopause can be frozen shoulder, and I’ve found I really struggle with one of my shoulders when I’m riding,” she said.

    “I noticed my confidence slipping, and I’d find myself sometimes looking at things and thinking ‘Do I really want to jump that?’. I’d think ‘I don’t recognise myself, that’s not how I used to be’. Brain fog is also a big thing; I’ve found I need to walk courses three or four times to really make sure I’ve got it in my head, and I never used to have to do that.”

    At the beginning of the year Rachel, who runs a gardening business, started working with personal trainer Frankie Clutterbuck of ProRiderFitness, who takes a holistic approach to rider health and fitness, and offers a “PowerNotPause” toolkit and coaching system for those going through peri–menopause and the menopause.

    “We first spoke about nutrition and me feeding my body properly. I’m always in a rush, with work, four horses, dogs and a family, and my lunch would often be a chocolate bar or crisps,” said Rachel, who added that she was also not staying hydrated enough.

    “Frankie encouraged me to make all my lunches for the week ahead, and suggested linking my water intake to doing something. For some it might be whenever you empty a wheelbarrow you take a drink, and for me it’s whenever I get in the car between clients I make sure I have a bottle with me. Water is really good for lubricating the joints and staying hydrated and it really does make you feel better.”

    Rachel and Sidney.

    Rachel has also been working with Frankie on her fitness. Rachel sees Frankie once a week, and has an exercise programme she does at home.

    “We looked at which is my stronger and weaker side, and that definitely corresponds to Sidney’s stronger and weaker side. I was given strengthening exercises and I also do weights, with the aim to get my core stronger and my legs equal in strength,” said Rachel.

    “We also considered whether I’m breathing properly when I’m doing a showjumping or cross-country round. The answer is probably no because I always end up blue in the face, so we’ve been working on breathing exercises and things to release and move my neck, which gets really stiff when I’m competing.”

    Rachel has urged other riders to talk about the menopause with each other, and to seek help dealing with the symptoms.

    “A lot of my friends have stopped competing because they’ve lost confidence, and the brain fog has kicked in. We need to try and help ourselves to keep doing the things we love, and not give up,” said Rachel.

    “You do so much for your horse, like paying for physio and spending time getting them fit, you look at their nutrition and everything else, but I don’t think enough of us think about our own health and fitness.

    “I think it’s really important to speak to each other and recognise that a lot of us are feeling the same. There’s a lot of help and support in just knowing other people are going through something similar. We can do things like walk the course together, do it three or four times to really get it in our heads, and if someone has had a confidence knock then there’s also no shame in stepping down a level and enjoying it.”

    Rachel will continue working on her fitness and nutrition as she prepares for Badminton in May. She is competing in memory of her long-term friend Kristi Lane, who died from cancer in June 2023 aged 54.

    Rachel is raising money for Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity, which organised visits for Kristi to Carl Hester’s and Pippa Funnell’s yards before her death. The charity was set up by young eventer Hannah Francis, who died from cancer in March 2016.

    Kristi meeting Valegro at Carl Hester’s yard.

    “It was in 2019, just after Kristi had come to watch me compete at Badminton, that she found out she had cancer. She struggled with it for four years or so, and I told her before she passed away that if I got to Badminton this year, I would do it for her. Then I did qualify and I decided I wanted to raise money for Willberry Wonder Pony, who were so brilliant with Kristi before she died,” said Rachel.

    “Kristi loved Badminton and she had a very close-knit group of friends known as the ‘Pony Mafia’ who have visited Badminton for the last 20 years. It was always a highlight of Kristi’s year, and they’ll be there remembering her this year. Kristi was a real trooper, and I know she’ll be cheering me on from up there.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...