‘She’s incredible’: meet the pocket-rocket thoroughbred winning with one eye

  • An “incredible” sixth-generation pocket-rocket thoroughbred who had her eye removed towed her rider round the British Eventing novice at Frenchfield (2) to take the win on Saturday (9 September).

    Charles and Gilda Brader’s home-bred Doubled Duchess and Nicola Mason topped their section by adding just 1.6 cross-country time-faults to their 29.8 dressage.

    Nicola has been riding the mare, who is “15.2 and a half” hh, since she was a six-year-old, and competed her up to intermediate level. Then at the start of 2021, when “Ruby” came back from her winter holiday, aged nine, she had a weepy eye.

    “The vet gave me some eye drops and said she’d be fine,” Nicola told H&H. “But five days later, she wasn’t really any better. The vet came back and said he wasn’t sure but gave me some stronger stuff. And it went on and on from there.”

    Ruby had “all sorts of treatment”, Nicola said, and vets determined the probable cause of the issue was that she had picked up a virus, which had caused immune mediated keratitis.

    “So her own immune system was attacking her eye,” Nicola explained. “Removing it was always an option but the vets said they couldn’t guarantee her body wouldn’t attack her other eye afterwards.”

    Steroid treatment did stabilise the condition, but then it stopped responding.

    “She’s such a stoic little mare, she likes to let her opinion be known,” Nicola said. “She’s feisty, but then she went very quiet and was standing in the back of her stable. Every time we’d got it under control, it had flared up, and we’d worried about it for so long but in the end, the decision almost made itself.”

    Nicola said the surgery itself was very simple.

    “It was incredible,” she said. “They did it standing, with me holding her head, in her own stable. I thought how fantastic; if you’re going to wake up missing an eye, surely you’re better off in your own stable rather than in hospital, and she was very good, it was remarkable how she coped with it.”

    Ruby had a dressing on for two weeks, after which the eye socket was looking good, Nicola said.

    “Then she had the staples out and I said ‘What now?’” Nicola said. “The vet said: ‘Ride her!’

    “So I put the tack on and she didn’t feel any different.”

    Nicola said she has noticed some changes and made some adaptations, such as always loading another horse before Ruby, so she can see it and know she is not alone. The mare is also different going through gates, as she can judge things better from further away.

    “It was her nearside eye so she’s done a bit of standing on my foot – but that’s possibly slightly on purpose!” she said.

    Ruby came back into work in time for a couple of events that season. She had a quieter year in 2022 as Nicola had a fall from a youngster at home and suffered concussion, and has been competing at novice level this year.

    “When we started, she wasn’t keen on horses approaching on her blind side in the warm-up but now she’s fine,” Nicola said. “She’s had a couple of little blips where she’s dithered coming down a step, or down into water, which is something she’s had to relearn, but she’s pretty incredible, and that’s mostly behind her now. She was on fire at Frenchfield!

    “She’s the sort of horse who’s easy to read; you know when she’s grumpy or happy and she towed me round the cross-country on Saturday; she squeals and bucks and loves it. Our attitude has been wait and see and the more we’ve done, the more amazing we think she is and she still wants to do it, which is brilliant.”

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