Rider due amputation after shattering leg hopes to inspire others with showjumping success

  • A rider who was told she would not walk again and was put on the waiting list for amputation after she shattered her leg in a fall hopes her journey to showjumping success may help others in dark places.

    Rachel Davis lost everything when she was injured five years ago; her job, the home that came with it and her horse. She spent a year immobile, with a circular frame on her leg, and in emergency council accommodation.

    This year, she has jumped at the British Showjumping National Championships, and the Dodson & Horrell national amateur and veteran championships, and she has plans to go further.

    “It’s been an incredible journey,” she said. “And we’re still on it; who knows where we will go.”

    Rachel had ridden since childhood but only seriously in her late teens, after which she bought her first horse Harvey. She had always wanted to work in the industry, so left her job as a chef, and her home, to move into and work at a showing yard.

    About a month into the job, she was mounting her first ride of the day when everything changed.

    “I had just put my foot in the stirrup when I heard galloping from an adjoining field,” she said. “All the horses had been turned out and were off, and the pony I was mounting reared up vertically.

    “I landed on my feet, or on one foot. If I hadn’t broken anything, it would have been quite spectacular but I completely shattered my leg; doctors told me it was doomed.”

    Rachel was taken to hospital and put on the waiting list for amputation, as she was told she would not walk on the leg again.

    “I think I must have been in complete shock,” she said. “When I think about it now, it’s the most awful feeling but all I remember is feeling numb, and wanting to get out of hospital; I didn’t really take in what was going on, but I was just left nailed and bolted together for days.”

    Rachel says she does not know how or why the plan changed but she was moved to the Bristol Royal Infirmary and her leg put in a spatial frame; an external device with pins to hold it together, which stayed in place for over a year.

    “It was brutal, barbaric,” she said. “I couldn’t drive and couldn’t do anything. I’d lost everything as I’d given up my home for the job, so I was looking at being put in a bedsit. Someone I know’s parents, who I’d never met, invited me to stay for a bit, which was great, and I got back to Somerset and ended up in emergency housing. I had no money and no way of earning any. The whole time with the frame on was the worst time of my life, I don’t know how I got through it.”

    Eventually, the frame came off and Rachel had surgery to fuse her ankle, which made a huge improvement, although she has been left with issues as she cannot move her foot when riding, for example. She was given a council flat, and eventually, when she was paid compensation for the accident, was able to move out and move on.

    She got her horse Harvey back, who had been with a friend while she was injured, but “it was like he wasn’t my horse any more”, she said, and she gave him to her friend to keep.

    “But good things have come out of the situation,” Rachel said, adding that she came back to a point where she could look for a horse to buy, with a very limited budget.

    “My friend had told me about a dressage horse, who hadn’t been ridden for some time; a sassy chestnut mare who didn’t get on with her owner,” she said. “I got talking to the owner and said no, as I couldn’t take on a horse I didn’t know if I could ride, but I couldn’t walk away. I went to see her and she was running round on the lunge, and I thought ‘Oh my god, this horse is mad’, but I bought her anyway. And the first time I rode her, she bucked me off.”

    Rachel persisted, and took KWPN mare Benate (Ruby) to dressage competitions.

    “But she absolutely hated dressage!” she said. “Then by chance, I was in the arena and someone had left a cross-pole up, and I thought I’d give it a go. She jumped it, changed legs, came round and jumped it again and people were looking at each other saying ‘She’s a jumper’. That was the start of our journey.”

    It was not the most straightforward path, Rachel said, they were eliminated again and again at first until Rachel had a bad fall at a show, tearing ligaments in her foot, after which somehow, things clicked.

    “But after that, we were flying,” she said. “We started doing so well, I decided to buy another horse.”

    That horse was Dreamgirl, another KWPN mare, with whom Rachel has also enjoyed success. Both mares qualified for their grands prix at the amateur championships at Aintree last month, and both were placed in the para class at the nationals. Ruby has since been winning at 1.10m level.

    “I’d never jumped in my life before the accident,” Rachel said. “So good things have come out of it; I don’t think I would have jumped otherwise, or had the ambition to go out and do it. It was all down to Ruby as she chose this, and I thank her so much for it.”

    Rachel now hopes to step up to jump some bigger tracks, and would love to represent Britain in para showjumping one day, and she wants to help others who may have similar ambitions.

    “I’m sure there are lots of riders who don’t understand how to become registered as a para rider, or if they can do it,” she said. “Para showjumping I’m sure would love more members and it’s so easy; you go on to the British Dressage website and fill in the form, then get graded, then you can go on to jump. I think some people might be intimidated by the thought of going affiliated so I want to spread the word and give people confidence that they can do it. I’m so grateful to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, and for waiting lists, as without that one, I’d have lost my leg.”

    Rachel also hoped her comeback might help anyone currently recovering from an injury or health issue, whether mental or physical.

    “I was in a state of despair in my recovery and didn’t think I’d do anything again,” she said. “But it all turned round and worked out. It’s been amazing and it shows; it took a lot to pick myself up, and get fit again, but you keep pushing through the barriers, keep getting up and going.

    “A dog really helps, as it’s a commitment to go out, and the determination and want to do it. ‘I’m going to prove everyone wrong’ has been in my mind all the time; I wanted to show everyone I could do it. I show the doctors my jumping pictures and they say I’m mad but they’re happy, they said it was a miracle.

    “Since this, I’ve wanted to inspire others, that you can battle on and come through something that bad; whatever it is, you can battle through and come out the other side; you just have to try.”

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