A rider who hit “rock bottom” as she struggled with an undiagnosed medical condition says she is delighted to be back doing what she loves, and urged others going through similar ordeals not to give up.
County Durham-based Rachael Warneford, 30, enjoyed showjumping her 15-year-old gelding Boo to 1.20m level but developed chronic pain in her right arm almost two years ago, after which everything became a “downward spiral”.
“The pain used to come and go at first, but then it became daily,” she told H&H.
“Doctors thought it was some kind of nerve damage, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, but eventually it became difficult getting out of bed to go to the yard and muck out.”
Rachael underwent various medical tests and was prescribed different types of medication to control the pain but her condition did not improve.
“It felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, everything was so inconclusive,” she said. “I started struggling to ride and mentally I hit rock bottom. I just wanted to go into a hole and not leave the house.
“Boo kept me going but it was a vicious circle because while being around him made me feel better, I also felt guilty because he loves his job so much and I wasn’t able to do what I wanted with him.”
In November 2019 Rachael made the decision to stop riding.
“I was absolutely heartbroken but I wasn’t able to ride to the standard I normally would because of the pain. I felt like I wasn’t doing Boo justice,” she said.
“My boyfriend Jason would go and muck out for me, and my sharer Alex took on riding Boo.”
Around two months later Rachael started developing pain in other areas of her body, and on researching her symptoms believed she had a fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that can cause pain all over the body.
“I know people say you shouldn’t look online but I started reading about fibromyalgia and realised that’s what it sounded like,” said Rachael.
“The doctors sent me for further tests to rule out any deficiencies and arthritis. Fibromyalgia can’t be diagnosed by a specific test so it’s been a process of elimination, but I now have a diagnosis.”
Rachael said understanding her condition has helped her deal with it better mentally.
“At one point it was thought the pain in my arm could have been ligament damage, so I avoided exercise as I didn’t want to cause any damage – but now I know exercise can help fibromyalgia,” she said.
“There’s no known cure but I’ve been talking to others about how they manage it which has really helped.”
Rachael, who continues to manage her condition with painkillers, has since returned to the saddle.
“I decided now is the time to get back to doing something I love,” she said. “I started riding a couple of times a week and am trying to build up my fitness again. Alex has been a massive help keeping Boo fit for me.
“My yard recently held a fun showjumping evening for liveries and Boo and I won the down and out, where a single fence gets bigger and bigger, at 1.45m. I’m going to take things slowly, but next year I hope to return to competing and getting out again.”
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Rachael posted online about her journey and said she was shocked at how many people have been affected by the condition.
“I hadn’t heard of fibromyalgia before but I now know I’m not the only person who has it,” she said.
“Boo has been the best therapy and got me through, the power of horses should never be underestimated. You’re allowed days when you don’t feel great, but don’t give up – if you can just go to the yard and give them a brush or some treats it can make a huge difference.”
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