A showjumper who returned to competition after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) hopes to inspire others to “keep trying”.
Laura Goodall, 24, from Shropshire, started suffering from unexplained symptoms in October 2014.
“When I was jumping I would get blurred vision and when my core temperature got warm my muscles would go weak and I would fall off for no reason. At times I struggled to walk and I began having panic attacks,” Laura told H&H.
“Things got worse and worse – when you get stressed your symptoms can get worse so it got to the stage I would be falling over or dropping things – I couldn’t even tack a horse up. My last show was in July 2015 and I had a massive panic attack at a county show in front of a load of people and decided that was enough. I stopped riding completely in the end because things got so dangerous.”
In October 2015 Laura was diagnosed with MS after almost 100 blood tests during the previous year and a MRI scan.
“It felt like everything had crumbled and couldn’t be fixed or get better. It felt like that was it and I thought it’s only going to get worse from here on, I’ll be in a wheelchair and unable to ride again,” said Laura.
“The doctors didn’t want me on any treatment for a year because they had to judge how many relapses I was having. I had five, which is quite severe in terms of MS – some people only have one relapse in 10 years. A relapse is different every time and tends to last me six to eight weeks at a time – I’ve had one where I can’t feel from my knees down or one side goes weak and I get constant pins and needles, I’ve gone blind in one eye for eight weeks. The doctors had seen enough and I was started on medication in summer 2016.”
Laura returned to riding that summer.
“Riding felt horrible to start with – I really struggled,” said Laura. “The movement of the horse was horrendous, I couldn’t trot and would fall off the side. If I was hacking and heard a noise I couldn’t turn my head to have a look at what it was or I’d completely lose my balance.
“Once further into my treatment it all got a little bit better, things calmed down and I got it under control and it was nice to be back riding.”
Laura started jumping again in October 2017 and started competing in para showjumping in 2018.
“My first show was October 2017 – I just decided ‘I want to go to a show and I’m going to do it’, so I did. I was so happy I cried out my eyes out when I came out of the ring because I hadn’t fallen off and nothing had gone wrong, I was so happy,” she said.
“I carried on competing and in 2018 I took Nessa to my first para show. Nessa is quite unpredictable and proved her point there and threw me off so I only got halfway round.”
After retiring Nessa from showjumping and putting her in foal, Laura bought seven-year-old mare Suzie in 2018 who she hopes to continue showjumping with.
“Nessa has been fantastic but she’s not a very suitable para-horse, she is so exciteable. She can be a lot of effort between fences and very unpredictable which would make me really warm and I can struggle to hold on to her. I decided to get something I could stop if I needed to and who would be a bit kinder to me,” said Laura.
“I have been classified as grade III for para showjumping and plan to do both para and able-bodied. My aim is to go to all the para shows this year and it would be nice to go on the international circuit. I just hope I don’t have another relapse which stops me competing. The doctors say to move your muscles and do as much exercise as you can to keep things at bay, I ride as much as I can and have a personal trainer twice a week and I see my chiropractor once a week which has been a massive help. The more training I do, the better my muscles get which helps in the ring if they do get a bit weak, as at least they’re a bit stronger to begin with.”
The former event rider is now successfully competing in dressage
The rider hopes to raise awareness about mental health using her blog
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
Laura hopes to inspire other riders who are thinking about para riding.
“I’m a very determined person so the more I did, the more I wanted to try. I had got to the stage where I thought I’ll never compete again and people said ‘you don’t need to compete, look at what you’ve done and think of the memories’ – that was hard to accept,” said Laura.
“Since sharing my story I’ve had people message me asking how I’ve kept going and asking about para riding – I had no one to speak to at the time so it’s nice to speak to people and help them. If you really want to do it, and it’s something you love, keep trying – don’t let something beat you. I was told it’s impossible and it’s not going to happen but I’ve made it happen, if you work hard enough you’ll get there, don’t let things get the better of you.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.