Harry Meade’s return to competition after head injury: ‘I’m stripping everything else back so I can ride’

  • Harry Meade is back out competing, but says recovering from the head injury that he incurred when dragged in a fall last autumn is a “frustratingly slow process”.

    The British rider piloted four horses at the elite event at Oasby on Monday (22 March), with steady cross-country clears and top-15 finishes on all his rides.

    “For the first two months after the accident, my balance was really affected and I was in bed,” he told H&H. “Initially, I had in my mind that by Christmas I’d have had enough time, but the reality was that as time went by my balance was still not very good and my eyesight is still not great now.”

    Harry tried to start riding and was twice forced to stop, but has now been riding consistently since early March.

    “The main problem is mental stamina. You get a hit by a ‘neuro-tiredness’ – it’s not a normal tiredness and your brain goes into complete shutdown,” he said. “I still have to have a sleep in the day, otherwise tiredness brings on the other symptoms more strongly.

    “One of the things I struggle with is when there are lots of moving objects. Being on a horse is fine – no more difficult than anything else – but what is more difficult is being in a collecting ring. It feels like when someone is throwing 16 tennis balls at you and you can’t quite process that. When I go into the ring or onto a course, that’s better than being in a collecting ring or even riding through a busy lorry park.”

    ‘It’s a passive process – you can’t push’

    Harry explained that once the new year dawned, he became frustrated that he was the “limiting factor” in his horses’ progress.

    He said: “You don’t want to feel you are holding everything else up – you have horses you’ve put a lot of work into, owners who’ve been supportive. It’s one thing being patient for yourself, but frustrating when you feel you are hampering the progress of the horses and the people around you.

    “Things were made easier when I sent the younger horses away – having them in places where they could make progress, so I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to ride more than I could, was a relief and started to make things more achievable.

    “With all these things, it’s not a eureka moment where you can start riding again, it’s about how much you do and how much you recover afterwards. I’ve had to learn what I can and can’t do and to operate within those limits.

    “In the recovery phase, you go through repeat cycles of feeling better, then doing more, then overdoing it. If you do too much – which might be as simple as engaging in conversations with several different people – it can knock you back by as much as a week. Every time you have a downward wave, it elongates the process.

    “In a normal injury you can to a certain extent push though pain, but this is a case of knowing your limits and operating within them, which isn’t a normal mentality for most event riders. You can’t say ‘I’m going to be a model patient and work hard to improve’ – it’s a much more passive process, the opposite to a can-do attitude.

    “I’m trying to minimise everything else I’m doing to make it possible to compete – normally we are busy every hour we are awake so it’s about stripping everything else down and only doing what’s a priority.”

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    Harry is among the Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 entries with Mandy Gray’s Superstition, but says he is open-minded about whether he will actually make the trip.

    “We had to make a call whether or not to put an entry in – you can’t not enter then decide you’d like to go – but we are just seeing how things progress. If I’m ok to keep going with competing, then I’ll keep going and if not, I’ll back off and reassess my aims, working to a more manageable timescale.”

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