A rider whose para squad hopes were derailed when she broke multiple bones in a fall has returned to the saddle.
Sixth-form pupil Leonie Saffy, who was accepted onto the British Equestrian podium potential pathway last winter, had taken on new ride Tino to support her team ambitions but was injured on 1 March.
“We’re not quite sure what happened,” she said. “He bucked and then reared and hit me as he came up, which meant I lost my balance and went out the side door. I broke my pelvis, femur and hip — it’s a risk sport and you have to accept that sometimes these things happen.”
Grade II rider Leonie has multiple pterygium syndrome (Escobar syndrome), which limits the movement in her joints as well as reducing the amount of muscle tissue she has to 40% of average. She first took up riding at the age of 10 when a doctor recommended it as an activity to strengthen her core before a planned total spinal fusion.
Riding improved her strength so much that the fusion was delayed for five years, but deterioration of the curve in her spine meant she underwent the surgery in 2016, when she had fusion as well as metal rods inserted.
“I was supposed to have a complete fusion but because the surgeon knows I ride, he did it so I could still have movement through the pelvis. I think he also left a vertebra in my neck,” Leonie explained.
“Because of the rods in my back I was worried when I fell as all it would take is for a rod to break and touch my spinal cord and it could mean paralysis. I couldn’t move my legs at first, so once I got them moving again I was quite relieved!”
She added that the timing of her accident, just before lockdown, “couldn’t have been better” as competitions have been on hold and still are not fully up and running in Wales, where she is based.
She was initially sent home with a zimmer frame and also used crutches while her leg healed but was able to get back on her former 13.2hh competition pony Jack four weeks ago.
“I competed him for four or five years and he is still with me in semi-retirement, so I brought him back out to ride as he’s just the perfect little pony to get back on, he’s my little safety blanket and I couldn’t trust another pony more than I trust him,” she said.
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“He said to me, ‘Let’s do this’, and on the final day when my body was in pieces he took
‘I couldn’t ride the first few weeks, I could barely move as it was so sore, which worried me, although
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“I’d just got Tino as a new horse to take me to the next level but he’s gone back to his owners until they are sure what happened and I am looking out for a new horse, something between 15hh and 15.3hh, so it’s not too far to fall if I do come off! Jack is 23 now so it wouldn’t be fair to ask too much more of him.”
Leonie heard on Thursday (13 August) that she had managed to get the A-level grades she needed to study biochemistry at Keele University.
“I’ll still be living at home so I can carry on with my ambitions with the horses and I will keep aiming for the teams,” she said.
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