‘My absolute rock’: award for retrained racehorse who helped owner through cancer

  • A thoroughbred who has “been a rock” for his owner following her diagnosis with an aggressive form of breast cancer was honoured with Retraining of Racehorses’ (RoR) personality of the year accolade at the charity’s awards.

    Anastasia Choma bought the now 12-year-old Henri De Boistron in 2018 as the “perfect all-rounder”. The former Tom George-trained gelding had started his retraining with a “lovely lady” nearby, who thought he might enjoy a home where he could do some eventing.

    “As soon as I met him, I knew I wanted to bring him home. I just absolutely fell in love with him,” said Anastasia.

    A year later, Anastasia found out that she had triple negative breast cancer. She met Clare Taylor Reeves, who was diagnosed two years before, and who kept her horse nearby.

    “We used to hack out once a week and just chat about our experiences. She talked me through all the different processes, surgeries, options because I had quite a few decisions to make at that point as well and I was completely overwhelmed,” said Anastasia, who is now cancer-free.

    “Henri was just incredible in that time. He was my absolute rock. I felt like I had a sense of normality. I felt like I could come and be myself with him. He didn’t see me in any other way. I was just his mum and he was happy to see me. That was really amazing.”

    She added that what makes “Henri” so special is how sensitive he is to how she is feeling.

    “When I’m not at my fittest, after my surgery or after some treatment, he is so calm with me,” she said.

    “I can ride him on the buckle end if I’m not quite strong enough, I can walk him down the road, he’s not spooky. And I’m so grateful for that because even though he has had a bit of time off, he can contain himself and he realises I’m not quite up to fitness yet, so he really looks after me.

    “Equally, when I’m starting to feel a bit better, he’s a bit more on his toes. I think he knows me better than I know myself and he encourages me to keep moving and keep going forward.”

    She said Henri’s temperament is “testament to how incredible former racehorses are”.

    “It would all have been so much harder without him. I am so grateful to him and I’m looking forward to a long and happy future together,” said Anastasia, who received the prize on Henri’s behalf from Annie Dodd of the Horserace Betting Levy Board at the RoR Awards in the Jockey Club Rooms on 22 January.

    The pair have also raised thousands of pounds for charity, Breast Cancer Now.

    Record-breaking jockey Hollie Doyle picked the winner from more than 200 entries.

    “I loved how understanding Henri was in helping Anastasia through her treatment and recovery, how he responded to her when she was feeling weak or unwell,” said Hollie. “It really goes to show how sensitive horses can be and how good the rider and horse’s relationship must be.”

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