Rider overcomes ‘deep darkness’ of eating disorder to return to eventing on pony she sold 10 years ago

A rider who had to stop eventing and sell her pony 10 years ago as she was in the depths of an eating disorder has come fourth in her first competition since – having bought her old pony back.

Lizzie Robinson could see no way forward from the illness that was consuming her in 2009 and was so terrified of falling and breaking her weakened bones, she sold her part-bred Connemara Buzz Lightyear.

“My last event was at Pulborough in September 2009 and I think we got placed but afterwards, I was just so relieved to have survived,” Lizzie told H&H.

“I had no energy, I was always cold, even in summer, I’d eat nothing but a packet of Haribo just to keep me going at an event, but then feel guilty afterwards.

“I sat down and said: ‘I can’t do it any more’. It wasn’t fair on Buzz because I wasn’t strong enough to ride him. I was aware I’d break bones if I fell off but wasn’t at the point where I could get out of it; I had to change my life.”

Buzz went to a young girl who evented him, while Lizzie tried to get her life back on track.

She explained the eating disorder had its roots in a bad fall with a previous horse when she was a teenager, which led to 18 months in a wheelchair and subsequent feelings of isolation as her friends were going out and enjoying themselves.

“It took a long time to realise I needed help,” she said. “When you have an eating disorder you’re a horrible person. My family stood by me so much but you think everyone’s out to get you, you lie to people; I’d tell my mum I’d eaten out when I’d been sitting in a car park, waiting to go home.

“Friends have told me since they didn’t realise how bad I was because you get very good at hiding it. People think it’s caused by vanity but it’s not – it’s such a deep darkness.”

Lizzie said the illness came from a need to have something in life that can be controlled, and that especially in the sporting world, there is pressure to be “perfect”.

“I knew things like missing my periods wasn’t right, but at that point, you can’t really see those things; they’re not important,” she said. “I know I’ve got lasting effects on my body from what I’ve done to it but the illness consumes you.”

Lizzie said that for the past couple of years, she has been free of her eating disorder, crediting her recovery partly to her boyfriend, now husband.

“He saw it all first-hand and said ‘I love you for who you are, and I don’t want you to be in hospital’,” she said. “And my family, who went to hell and back for me and have always been there for me, but also rediscovering the riding.”

Lizzie’s sister, who had some horses to sell, would persuade her to ride them, which “made me feel happy again”. She bought a “godsend” Connemara, Tigger, in 2014, who helped her regain some confidence – then two years ago, “Buzz” was for sale as his owner was going to university, and Lizzie was able to buy him back.

“It felt like fate,” she said, adding that the family thought he would be perfect for Lizzie’s mother, who wanted to get back into riding, to hack out.

“But he came back with a new lease of life,” Lizzie said, adding that Buzz had had his own challenges, having been misdiagnosed with wobblers syndrome as a youngster, narrowly avoiding being put down.

“I can’t believe my luck, how far we’ve both come and what we’ve been through together; he’s a one-in-a-million pony. If I’m nervous he’s like: ‘come on Mum, we can do it’. A real little star.”

Lizzie and Buzz contested their first unaffiliated event at Munstead on Good Friday (19 April), with a 37 dressage and double clear earning them fourth place.

“It was so amazing, like I’d stepped back in time,” she said. “I was shouting at him all the way round the cross-country: ‘Come on, let’s go!’. I finished in tears because I was just so overwhelmed with happiness.

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“It couldn’t have gone better; the best day ever, and now I’m really excited about the year ahead.

“I really believe in karma and I think we were meant to be together; I’m so lucky we’ve got such a lovely partnership, and he’s so happy.

“We’re going to have so much fun – and if speaking about my experiences helps one other person – it’s all worth it.”

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