A rider, who will never walk again after a horse flipped over on top of her, hopes to aim for the Paralympics and inspire others to “keep going”.
Olivia Fairclough, 34 from Middlesbrough, was working in Cairo, Egypt as a riding instructor in 2016 when the horse she was sat on fell on her on 18 April.
Olivia told H&H: “The lessons had finished for the day and I was doing some pole training with the riding school horses. I was sat on the horse waiting for my turn and then I have no memory of what happened.
“I was told the horse flipped and landed on top of me. I had ridden the horse before and nobody knows why it happened or what made the horse do that, we were stood still at the time.”
Olivia, who was left unconscious, was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Cairo.
“I broke my back, three ribs and punctured both my lungs. I spent 10 days at the hospital, but they couldn’t do the operation I needed because my insurance had lapsed by two weeks,” she said.
“The staff at the hospital didn’t speak English, my boyfriend at the time who spoke Arabic tried to translate things for me but I was terrified. The staff would take me for scans but I had no idea where they were taking me or the drugs I was being given – I thought I was going to die.”
Olivia’s brother in England started an urgent Gofundme campaign to raise funds for Olivia’s surgery and to fly her home.
“In nine days £32,000 was raised – it was phenomenal,” said Olivia. “It went worldwide; we had donations from strangers New Zealand and America. It’s incredible so many people wanted to help.”
Olivia was transferred to a second hospital in Cairo for surgery and spent four days there before being flown home.
“The doctors and nurses at this hospital spoke English, which gave me some comfort. I was told I wouldn’t walk again following the surgery and when I arrived in England I was immediately transferred to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough who confirmed it. I spent four months in hospital doing rehab and learning to adapt to my new life,” said Olivia.
“I didn’t cope very well at all. I wanted to end my life and I still have hard days, but I see a psychologist when I need to. I spent the next year trying to go out again and learning to do things on my own in a wheelchair.
“I started going to Pop-Up Gym in Gateshead, who deal with spinal cord injuries. They’ve helped me hugely and I got to speak to others and share experiences. It’s really helped me to build up my strength and work on my core.”
Olivia began attending local stables with a friend and recently led a horse for the first time since being in a wheelchair.
“I’ve been going to the stables and giving the horses carrots and stroking them. I feel so happy to be back around the animal I love,” said Olivia.
“I led Merlin who is a riding school horse. He’s never been around a wheelchair, but he was so good. He’s my baby, I used to ride him many years ago and it’s like he remembers me.
NB: Please wait while the video loads below… if the video does not appear, click here to watch
Olivia, who has been riding for more than 20 years, is in the process of arranging riding lessons at the Unicorn Centre in Middlesbrough.
“I’m just waiting to have my riding assessment. I can’t wait, I’m dying to get back on a horse,” she said. “I’ll be hoisted on and have a leader and have a walker either side of me until I am more stable.
The rider is undertaking a challenge thought to be the Riding for the Disabled Association's most ambitious fundraiser to date
‘I said to my mum there’s no point preparing a speech as I have no chance of winning’
A magazine subscription is the gift that lasts all year. Save up to 40% on a Horse & Hound subscription
“I want to aim for the Paralympics, it’s a goal and something to aim for. I want to prove I can do it. I look at the other Paralympic riders who have inspired me and think if they can do it, why can’t I.
“I want others that are facing something similar to keep going, don’t stop and give up – there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I never thought I would be riding again two years after my accident.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.