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‘He’s my everything’: theatre practitioner working in intensive care credits her horse for getting her through pandemic

A theatre practitioner moved to working in intensive care during the coronavirus pandemic has credited her horse – as well as the “fantastic” NHS – for getting her through.

Gemma Sly said she felt scared and overwhelmed when she was first told she would move from her usual hospital, where she worked as an operating department practitioner, to intensive care in another hospital.

“I think everyone was scared by the situation,” she said. “I was thinking I’ve only been a nurse four years, can I do this? I’ve been scared, upset, vulnerable, felt overwhelmed and out of my depth at first. I’ve worried, cried and panicked.

“But the NHS has been absolutely fantastic. There’s no end of support for us and it’s amazing what’s been done in a short time.”

Gemma is working three 13-hour shifts, as opposed to her previous four-day week of shorter shifts, and although she was tired at first, this gives her an extra day to spend with her beloved 26-year-old Irish draught George.

Gemma bought the 17.3hh gelding some 18 months ago.

“I knew the first time I laid eyes on him that he was for me,” she said. “I was riding a friend’s horse and she asked if I could take pictures of him as his owner wanted to sell him but I couldn’t do it.

“I couldn’t get him out of my head and he’s become my best friend, my go-to, my therapist, my everything. He’s my horse of a lifetime and I feel so privileged to have him.”

Gemma and George compete in showing, coming second in their class at the British Elite Horse Show last year, and competing as members of the Veteran Horse Society (VHS).

“I don’t know how I would have got through all this without George,” Gemma said. “Whenever I’ve been stressed or worried, or felt like crying, I’ve gone up there and sat in his field and it’s blown the cobwebs away. It clears my mind and presses the rest button so I can go back and do another day.”

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Gemma sang the praises of the “fantastic” VHS, which helped her find a farrier for George when he needed urgent attention during lockdown, is running online qualifiers to try to allow people to qualify for its national championships in October, and has rolled over all NHS workers’ and carers’ memberships until 2021.

Society founder Julianne Aston said: “It is people like Gemma and her partner Josh, who is also on the front line, who make our society so very special, and for this reason we want to give these workers a massive thank you.”

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