Horse and rider both survive life-threatening conditions to excel at championships

An eventer who survived a brain haemorrhage sustained in a riding accident and whose horse was on “death’s door” with sudden illness hopes to prove it is possible to achieve your dreams “no matter what”.

Claire Howie, 33, an HGV driver from Staffordshire, suffered a bleed on the brain after a “freak accident” while riding a youngster in August 2014.

“The horse stopped at a showjump and I went out of the side door. The way I fell and the impact on my head caused me to have a haemorrhage,” Claire told H&H.

“It nearly cost me my life but I was very lucky. I spent a week in hospital for monitoring to make sure the bleed wasn’t get any bigger. When I got home I had to rebuild my life.”

Claire, who previously competed at BE100 level with her 15-year-old former racehorse Obi, said it took three months to “get back to normality” but she had to give up driving lorries for two years.

“I spent the next few years taking things quite easy because I would get quite tired. Sometimes I still don’t feel 100% and I’m not as strong in my left-hand side. I developed a fear of showjumping after the accident and it caused me bad anxiety which became a real burden when I was eventing so I dropped down to BE80 level,” she said.

Claire said her eventing “came together again” in 2018 and the combination qualified for the 2019 RoR Goffs UK National Championships at Aintree (22 to 25 August 2019).

“Everything was going great, then out of the blue one evening, three weeks before the championships, I found Obi covered in hives, sweating and his face and legs were swollen,” she said.

“The vet said I had a very poorly horse and he had purpura haemorrhagica. I was told it was really rare and there was no way of knowing how he got it but the next 48 hours were touch and go.

“The thought of losing my best friend was awful. The vet said if I hadn’t phoned as quickly as I did, Obi wouldn’t have been here the next day. He was at death’s door.”

Nantwich Equine Vets partner Campbell Thomas, who treated Obi, told H&H purpura haemorrhagica is a rare autoimmune condition caused by an allergic reaction to streptococcal bugs, which causes the blood vessels to leak.

“It tends to happen seven to 10 days after something like a throat infection; it could have been very severe like strangles, or something mild like swollen glands which may not even be noticed by owners,” he said. “With purpura, horses get swelling round the joints of all four legs. They get elephant legs and instead of the swelling going up and down, it tends to be more around the knees or fetlocks. At the joint the blood vessels get damaged by normal movement because they’re so fragile due to this condition.

“If it’s not diagnosed and treated quickly with steroids it can be fatal, but if you recognise it and get the right treatment they can pull through remarkably.”

Claire said Obi began to “perk up” after 72 hours following veterinary treatment.

“He was prancing round the stable wanting out. When I phoned the vet with an update he couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It was like Obi said ‘I might be down but I’m not out yet’. He has always been a stubborn horse and he’s a fighter.

“The vet had said he didn’t think Obi would be well enough to ride for six weeks but after a week I was given the go-ahead to get back on. Obi felt strong and wanted to work and the vet said we could still go to the championships.”

Claire won the open intro dressage, finished second in the 80cm national arena eventing final and eighth in the 80cm regional league showjumping.

“The dressage was on the Thursday and he blew the judges away, scoring 73%. The next day we had a jumping lesson at home and my trainer said ‘this horse is ready’. We decided to go back to Aintree for the arena eventing and showjumping on the Sunday. It was my birthday and he jumped the best he’s ever jumped,” said Claire.

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“It felt like a dream because I never thought we would be going. I’ve never been so emotional. He is my horse of a lifetime – I couldn’t ask for any more.”

Claire hopes to inspire others to “keep going”.

“I’ve proven no matter what you can still achieve your goals and dreams. I always tell myself ‘we can do it’. I hope I can motivate others who are facing difficulties.”

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