If Carlsberg made husbands…
When Louise Francis suffered a serious injury in a riding fall, a year ago, she thought she would lose everything.
Louise, who had ridden and showjumped since childhood, and had three horses, not to mention seven dogs and three cats, broke her leg badly last summer and was worried about her own and her animals’ future. But up stepped husband Stephen.
“I suffered massively with my mental health [prior to the accident]; I was on lots of medication but it was the horses who got me through,” Louise told H&H.
“Because I spoke out about that on Facebook, and it went viral, I got sponsored by Olvossa; I never thought someone like me would get sponsored but they’ve been brilliant. Then when I was hurt, I thought I’d lose everything, but they’ve stuck by us, and now they sponsor Stephen too.”
Louise was first told she had sustained ligament damage in her fall, then two weeks later, the break was found, and a snapped cruciate ligament. In September, her leg had to be rebroken and set, which was unsuccessful, so it was rebroken again in December.
“We’ve been married since 2011 and Stephen’s always towed me to shows but had never sat on a horse,” Louise said. “I was totally immobile; bed-bound for four months, then on crutches, and Stephen was working 40-hour weeks, getting up at 5am to sort the dogs, cats and horses.
“We couldn’t afford to pay anyone to ride the horses and selling them wasn’t an option as they’re part of the family. So he said ‘I’ll learn to ride’. And I laughed.”
But Stephen did it; with his wife teaching from her wheelchair, he learned to ride on her sport horses.
“He was so determined,” Louise said. “He’d fall off and get straight back on, and then it started to click, and I was thinking ‘He’s actually quite good!’”
Louise said her “football-mad” husband’s mates all now click at him in jest when he goes into the changing room, and that the support he has had from the equestrian community is “absolutely insane”.
“Other people’s husbands have now started riding because of him; he’s an inspiration,” she said. “He was worried he’d get laughed at but it’s been the complete opposite.”
Louise believes that having to learn on sharp warmbloods has helped Stephen’s riding — “he sits so quietly because he had no other option!” — and that he is a “breath of fresh air to watch”.
“I almost enjoy watching him more, and get more pleasure out of that, than I did riding myself,” she said.
Louise has been back in the saddle but is due to have another operation, and hopes she will eventually be able to return to competitive riding. But in the meantime, Stephen is not only competing her horses, he has bought another one for himself, and registered him with British Showjumping.
“He jumped seven rounds over four days at Chard recently and did seven double clears,” Louise said. “He was class, and came third overall in the leading rider.
“He’s so humble and so shy; everyone cheers and he goes bright red.”
Louise added that “if I could clone him, I’d be a millionaire!”
“He knew how much horses got me through my day to day life; I don’t think he could cope with me, without them!” she said. “He does everything with them now.
“He used to put bridles on upside down and everything is a snaffle to him, whether it’s a flash or a girth; ‘Can you just tighten my snaffle?’! I thought there was going to be a divorce at first! But it all worked out.”
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