A showjumper who suffered a stroke at the age of 31 a year ago fulfilled her dream of returning to Hickstead last week.
Bianca Seward-Morris jumped in a 1.40m class on her 16-year-old gelding Just for Spot during the Science Supplements All England Jumping Championships (2-6 September).
Bianca suffered her stroke while she was in hospital for a dermatologist appointment.
“I was lucky really, because I was with a doctor of sorts!” she told H&H.
Bianca first noticed one leg and arm felt “dead” when she got out of the car for her appointment, but as time went on, her hand felt worse. The dermatologist suspected a migraine, but when Bianca tried to stand up, she fell to the floor. Hre speech was deteriorating, and the doctor called an ambulance as a precautionary measure.
After hours in A&E, and a night under observation in hospital, Bianca was taken for an MRI scan.
“I came back and they said ‘you’ve had a stroke’,” she said. “I was so shocked; everyone had kept saying it was a migraine, and that I was too young to have a stroke.”
Bianca spent four days in hospital, and from the start, she was determined to do all she could to ensure as full a recovery as possible.
“Years ago, I had a bleed on the brain when a horse fell on me and I knew from that, that the quicker you try to re-learn things, the more you’re likely to be able to do them,” she said. “So from the first day in hospital, I tried to do everything left-handed because I needed to learn to use it again as fast as possible.”
Bianca was suffering severe headaches, could not feel her arm or leg properly or shut her left eye. Her speech was slow, and she said she struggled to find the right words.
“I suffered from insomnia, had a lot of pain and odd feelings in my leg – it felt like someone had put ice under my skin,” she added. “My co-ordination was non-existent and my spatial awareness was so bad that the whole of my left side was bruised as I constantly walked into doorways and furniture. I couldn’t drive and being a passenger in a car was quite scary because my brain couldn’t keep up with the speed, even at 20mph.
“One of the most worrying things when it came to riding again was how bad my balance was; I thought if I couldn’t get that, I wouldn’t be able to get back on a horse.
“I said to them at the hospital, ‘I don’t care if I can’t do anything else, as long as I can showjump again’.”
At about Christmas time, Bianca got back on board, on a pony belonging to a friend.
“It might have been a bit soon but she was such a good girl; she ignored me when I wobbled about,” Bianca said. “My eyes couldn’t keep up with the speed, even trotting, and I couldn’t really use my left leg. But gradually, that and my balance started to come back.
“I was lucky to have her to ride as I’d probably have fallen off one of mine!”
Bianca has 15 horses, including retirees and youngsters she has bred, as well as her appaloosa “Dino”.
She took him and a seven-year-old to a show in February, and jumped the youngster clear in a British novice.
“But Dino was so excited to be at a show, and I was so out of control, I didn’t dare jump him in the ring,” she said. “I thought I’d take him the next time, but then lockdown hit.”
Dino and Bianca’s first show back was in July, when they jumped a 1.15m class, then she entered for Hickstead as soon as entries opened.
“I so wanted to go, but we didn’t really have enough shows before it,” she said. “It was his first 1.40m this year, and he’d only jumped two 1.30s so not the best preparation but he loves Hickstead, loves the international arena and I didn’t want to miss it.
“He very nearly bucked me off in the warm-up, so I knew he was feeling well.”
The rider lost her finger when her ring was caught in the rug strap of a horse who panicked and
Bianca is still living with the after-effects of the stroke.
“I had always thought you have a stroke and that’s a one-off and you’re back to normal,” she said. “I’ve realised from this that that’s not it at all.
“I didn’t think it would be possible to get back into the showjumping arena again, but we have done it. I want to raise awareness of strokes in the young, and to show that life can go on after a stroke.
“I posted something on social media and had people contact me to say they’ve had strokes, and they were so pleased to see my post as they thought they’d never ride again. It’s really nice people have taken that from it.”
Bianca now hopes to jump some ranking classes on Dino next year.
“I never thought I’d have a horse capable of jumping area trials, like he has,” she said.
“He’s amazing, and when I feel most normal is when I’m on a horse.”
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