‘Never underestimate horses’ healing power’: rider returns to eventing after cancer diagnosis

  • A woman who was diagnosed with a very rare cancer the day before her wedding said being able to event again is “the best tonic ever”.

    Milly Simmie was diagnosed with epithelioid haemangioendothelioma affecting her lungs and liver in July 2015.

    Milly and her fiancé Alistair, from Kent, went ahead with their wedding but cancelled their honeymoon as they were unsure as to what treatment would be offered.

    Milly thought she would need to fund treatment in the US, so sent her four-year-old Capels Hollow Drift, whom she had owned since he was a foal, to be competed by Georgie Strang.

    But the blood vessel sarcoma does not respond to chemotherapy and it was felt an operation to remove a large proportion of her liver could be traumatic and unsuccessful so she has had no treatment.

    “It was extremely difficult,” she told H&H. “I was 31 and had just got married; it’s not what you want to hear.

    “I was put forward for a treatment which uses electrodes to kill the tumours but mine have stayed stable so they said it wasn’t necessary for me to have it.”

    Milly has regular scans to ensure the tumours have not become aggressive, which is possible, and has raised more than £250,000 for research into the condition, mainly thanks to her husband Alistair’s cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

    And this year, her thoughts returned to eventing.

    “At first, I didn’t know what I was going to do about riding, or life in general,” she said.

    “But then at the beginning of this year, I felt I needed to go out and compete; watching Georgie makes me want to do it more! So I decided to find myself another event horse.”

    Milly bought five-year-old Kiltubrid Oscar (pictured), who is by the same stallion as Capels Hollow Drift, from Ireland some seven weeks ago and has since competed at BE90. Her ambition is to ride Oscar at one-star level, and to see Capels Hollow Drift compete at the six-year-old championships at Le Lion d’Angers this autumn.

    “I took the mentality that you have to go out and live, especially in eventing as it’s a dangerous sport,” she said.

    “Who knows what’s going to happen in the future? As long as I’m doing something I love, that’s the main thing.

    “It’s amazing to be competing again; the best tonic ever. You can’t think about anything but the next dressage movement or jump, or where you’re going cross-country.

    “I was diagnosed a couple of months after Hannah Francis was. She used to say when she got on a horse, the pain went away.

    “I’m lucky enough not to have symptoms but I never underestimate the healing power of horses and the happiness they bring.”

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