A young rescue cob known as “super” Mario has belied his years to help a rider regain her confidence after she broke her back in a fall.
Fiona Bloomfield feared she might never return to the saddle after falling from her horse on a Boxing Day ride last year.
The festive hack with a friend turned into a nightmare for the Buckinghamshire rider when an unadvertised clay pigeon shoot spooked both of their horses.
Fiona was flung to the ground and soon realised her injuries were serious.
“Initially I thought I was OK,” she recalled. “I was talking and I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain, and then I realised I needed to stay still.
“The ground was so cold and the longer I lay there the more pain I felt. I thought I’d injured my pelvis but I didn’t want to take the risk. I had two kids at home and knew I couldn’t afford to get up without knowing I was OK.”
Her friend called for help and an air ambulance arrived to take her to hospital, where it was discovered she had a fractured spine.
The injury was 3mm away from paralysing her and doctors said that if she hadn’t been wearing a back protector, she would probably not be walking today.
Fiona’s long recovery involved six months in a body brace, but her drive to ride again helped push her through her rehabilitation.
The first pony she acquired to help her back into the saddle didn’t prove the right match, however, and she was left with her confidence shattered for the second time in a year.
It was after this that the borrower of a cob called Mario, who was on loan from the Blue Cross, spotted Fiona’s plea for a horse that could help her.
His circumstances had changed and he was no longer able to look after the coloured gelding, who had been transferred by the RSPCA into Blue Cross care in 2015.
Backed by the charity as a four-year-old, Mario’s golden temperament had been apparent from the start and he had quickly become a favourite with the grooms for his sweet nature and willing attitude.
The Blue Cross arranged for Fiona to meet Mario in his current home and the bond was instant. He went to live with the Bloomfield family soon afterwards.
“The first time I got on him after I brought him home, I was only just getting back in the saddle after my accident. We went out for a hack and I literally held my breath the whole way round, waiting for something to jump out of the bushes. I think I wanted to see the monsters before he did,” Fiona said.
“I still felt like a china doll, like I was going to smash if I hit the floor again. But he never did, and every day just got easier and easier.”
Tackling Burghley or triumphing at Hickstead might be an unlikely prospect for most of us. But there’s another way to
Annie is now looking for a new home thanks to successful treatment
Christine Sullivan has been reunited with the piebald cob she bought from a sale 14 years ago
Jen Hubbard, Blue Cross horse welfare coordinator, who has closely followed Mario’s journey, said: “When I first met Fiona she was looking for a horse that would give her her confidence back after an accident and bring the enjoyment back to riding again. While he is still only young, Mario has proved older than his years and has done just this and more for Fiona.
“There isn’t anything they can’t do together and every time I see a picture of them out doing something new Fiona has the biggest smile on her face.
“It’s been so lovely to watch their journey and to see them both grow in confidence together. Mario is a very special horse with a big heart who has found his perfect partner with Fiona.”
Blue Cross initially rehomed Mario to Fiona on loan, but having seen him become a central part of the family, the charity has now transferred the six-year-old’s ownership to her.
Described as the perfect family pony, Mario brought home eight rosettes from his first gymkhana with Fiona’s children, who are aged five and 11. He has also proved a favourite with her children’s friends because of his placid nature.
“He has been the go-to cob actually, when we’ve gone to shows. When all the other ponies have kicked off and the kids have cried, I say ‘put them on this one because this one will be fine’, and they’ve come home with their ribbons and they’ve been happy. There’s always [someone saying] ‘let’s borrow Mario’, always!”
Fiona added that she would never part with the superstar cob, who has a home with her for life.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday