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‘I couldn’t talk, it was terrifying’: rider puts hospital ordeal behind her for a post-lockdown winning streak

A rider who had planned to give up competing 18 months ago has overcome serious health issues to enjoy a post-lockdown winning streak on her new horse.

In March last year, mum of two Katie Blandford told her showjumping trainer Emma Slater that she was giving up.

“My horse had got too old, he didn’t want to do it any more, so I said I was selling the lorry,” Katie, 42, told H&H. “Emma said she had a horse I could borrow for the summer as she needed his stable for another one – I think it was a bit of a conspiracy and that she knew that once I fell in love with him, he would have a home for life. And he’s still with me!”

Abbott Jonesy is a 13-year-old gelding, a former point-to-pointer for Emma’s partner Mike James, who had had him since a three-year-old.

“I think he was a bit disappointing – he was the best at home but on the track he just never did any good,” said Katie, who has been showjumping since her pony days.

She and Abbott were starting to find their feet when disaster struck in November.

“I was tacking up and thought ‘I don’t feel very well’ so I thought I’d better go and get the mobile phone from my son, who was playing with it in the house,” Katie said. “When I got in I couldn’t talk at all. It was terrifying. I managed to write for my son, who was six, ‘Call Daddy, tell him mummy can’t speak’ and he rushed over.”

She was diagnosed with a TIA — a transient ischaemic attack — a temporary disruption in the blood supply to the brain. Katie was told she had to stop riding for a few months.

“But I told them: ‘He’s a racehorse, I’d be safer riding him in walk than I would be leading him on the ground!’” she said.

“I managed to get out jumping again in January because I wanted to do the Blue Chip novice qualifiers, and we qualified, which was amazing.

“Then in February I fractured my leg when falling off in the warm-up at a local show and had to miss another month or so.

“I didn’t realise at first that I’d fractured it so I carried on, but when it wasn’t getting better, that was another trip to hospital.

“But the six weeks they advised for healing was going to take me to just two days before the Blue Chips! So we got organised, Emma rode him a couple of times to keep the fizz off him — and then it was cancelled the week before due to the lockdown.”

The upside was this allowed Katie to give the hairline fracture of the fibula all the time it needed to heal.

“But it’s been tricky, working from home, looking after two boys and doing the horse,” she said.

“He won the discovery at our first show back at Allens Hill, which was a total shock to all of us, but he’s managed to get all his double clears in discovery since coming out of lockdown.”

At Summerhouse on Tuesday (11 August) the pair finished second in the British novice and won the discovery.

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“It was our fourth show back,” said Katie, who took a day’s holiday from her job in accounts for a family estate agent, and her father looked after her two sons so she and her mother could go to the show together.

“He’s hard to turn — he’s the biggest horse I’ve ever had, about 16.3hh and I’m only 5ft, and I keep trying to poke him through a gap that my little 15.2hh would go through and it’s like ‘oh, we didn’t fit’,” said Katie.

“But he’s naturally very athletic and quick. This new regime of not many in a warm-up is suiting him because he doesn’t like bullets coming up behind him in the collecting ring, it terrifies both of us.”

Like everyone this year, Katie has found all her plans up in smoke but would like to try some derbies at Wales and West, as well as making it to the Blue Chip championships next year.

“It’s not been easy but he is getting used to it all and is a lovely horse, we all adore him,” she said

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