‘I could barely walk to the end of the garden’: eventer’s milestone win after long Covid

  • EIGHTEEN months ago, Voltaire Design Eland Lodge BE90 winner Claire Bennett could barely contemplate walking 50 feet to the end of her garden, let alone ride a horse, such was the devastating long-term impact of contracting Covid in one of the early waves of the pandemic.

    “I was hospitalised with it in September 2020. I still had not recovered by Christmas, or by Easter. Long Covid wasn’t a widely recognised condition at the time, but I knew it would be a very long road to recovery for me,” explained Claire, who managed to clamber back on a horse again in January 2021 when she could “just about manage half an hour in walk”.

    Claire’s four-legged partner, the 16-year-old Irish-bred mare Bouncing Lucienne (Lucie), had not been out affiliated eventing since 2013, initially owing to injury and subsequently because Claire’s competing was put on the back burner while she studied for a three-year doctorate in clinical psychology.

    “[After Covid] I decided that I needed to spend my very limited reserves of energy on something that really mattered to me,” she said. “So I set myself the goal of getting back out eventing.”

    Claire sought help from a local therapist who specialised in chronic fatigue.

    “It was not a case of trying to get fit again in a normal way. I couldn’t afford to push myself too much as it would set me back weeks,” she explained.

    Claire is now back at work three days a week and can use the gym for half an hour, five days a week.

    “Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband and a wonderful mum, who have been behind me from the beginning,” she said. “When you are faced with chronic illness, I think being involved with horses, and experiencing all the ups and downs that are part and parcel of having them, sets you up for the challenge and gives you that grit and resolve to keep fighting.”

    Claire credits her trainers, Fiona Davidson and Serena Cawkwell, for getting her riding back on track.

    “I did my first showjumping show in January this year and had two stops and four poles down. Then, the next time out we were eliminated in an 80cm class,” she admitted. “We made it out to two BE80s in March, at Aston-le-Walls (1) and Northallerton (1), but Eland was the first time I managed to drive myself to an event, walk the course, ride and drive home again.”

    Claire has her sights set on a couple more outings before possibly putting Lucie in foal later in the spring.

    “I’d love to breed my next event horse – that’s the dream,” she added.

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