‘Find a way — not an excuse’: inspiring young rider presented with Hannah Francis Award

  • Para rider Evie Toombes has been awarded the first Hannah Francis Award for talent, courage and inspiration.

    The 15-year-old was born with a form of spina bifida, which affects her lower legs, bladder and bowel.

    Despite this, Evie continues to take part in Pony Club activities. She also mentors and supports other young people with bladder and bowel issues, encouraging them to have the confidence to take up activities.

    Hannah was a true inspiration to many, and receiving this award is absolutely incredible,” said Evie, who is a member of the South Wold Hunt North branch of the Pony Club.

    “No matter how bad things may be, the fun and horsey therapy I enjoy whilst riding and at the Pony Club far outweighs the bad times.”

    Evie was nominated for the award by DC Bethan Leather.

    “Evie’s condition means she is frequently in hospital, but she will make every effort to compete for her branch,” said Ms Leather.

    Evie’s weight continues to be an issue and tests have shown she has a narrowed lower intestine, causing pain and sickness as she struggles to digest food.

    She is also awaiting further MRI scans to assess the state of her tethered spinal cord which is causing increased pain in her back and legs.

    “Evie’s saying is ‘find a way – not an excuse’” said her mum, Caroline Toombes.

    “This was tested to the limit last year as she suffered another decline in health due to gastroparesis, or paralysed stomach, but Evie’s dedication far outweighs her exhaustion, and she competes for and attends training with her Pony Club as often as she can.”

    “The Pony Club, specifically the South Wold Hunt North branch, has always found a way to include Evie.

    “This has helped her develop confidence in all areas of life, which is a fantastic stepping stone at such a vulnerable age.”

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    Her wins include the senior national grade III showjumping title at the Riding for the Disabled Association championships.

    “It was an exhausting six-hour drive, and as her mother I seriously questioned the sanity of it,” Caroline said.

    I will never understand how Evie mustered the energy and focus as she fought off the competition, but somehow she did and I knew I’d made the right choice in taking her.”

    The award — a statue of a thoroughbred horse with his ears picked, gazing ahead — was created to honour Hannah and the bravery she showed in living life to the full despite having an aggressive terminal form of bone cancer.

    The panel was made up of Hannah’s parents, James and Rachel Francis, Wyle Valley branch of the Pony Club DC Miles Toulson-Clarke, her Pony Club area representative Louly Thornycroft and Pony Club chairman Mary Tuckett.

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