Rider who survived stroke to return to competition hopes to inspire others

  • A rider who has recovered from an acute stroke to compete in dressage hopes to inspire others that they can still ride competitively after illness.

    Rachel Fear, 37, of Pembrokeshire, was a keen eventer before she suffered the stroke in 2014.

    Rachel told H&H: “It came from nowhere. I was at work and remember getting a spinning in my head but that’s all I can remember.

    “The hospital think a clot travelled to my brain from my leg but they weren’t entirely sure. I had some pain in my back and leg previously but I didn’t think anything of it with being a rider and the pains that sometimes come with it.

    “At first the hospital thought I was suffering from vertigo, they didn’t suspect a stroke because of my age. It turned out to be an acute stroke and I couldn’t walk or talk and had no movement on my left side.”

    Rachel spent a week in hospital recovering where her speech and movement gradually improved and she was desperate to get back riding.

    I got back on as soon as I got out of hospital. My dad lifted me on so I could have a sit. My horse Thomas was still fit from eventing before my stroke but he was like a dobbin when I got on, he would walk round like a riding school plod,” said Rachel.

    Rachel spent a year going back to hospital for rehab and physio, and continued riding.

    “Trotting initially made me feel sick but I kept at it, it wasn’t easy because I struggled to grip. Riding has been the best thing because it helps with coordination, muscle development and balance,” she said.

    In 2016 Rachel sought the help of dressage trainer Adam Kemp, after she was told by other instructors she would not be able to ride competitively.

    “Adam has been fantastic; he’s helped get my confidence back and helped me overcome the last effects of the stroke, he says if there’s something difficult there’s always a way around it. We had to retire Thomas due to his age so I have been riding my other horse Tod, a five-year-old 17hh warmblood,” said Rachel.

    “Adam explained that riding a younger horse would be easier as a more experienced horse might get confused with my way of riding now. Adam has been helping with my technique as my left side can hinder what I’m trying to do so we do exercises to really focus on my right side.”

    Rachel said she desperately misses eventing but is now pursuing dressage and recently won a prelim test at her local riding club.

    “Eventing would be too dangerous now, galloping makes me feel sick and my left arm and leg can lock so in my head I’m asking something of the horse but doing something different,” said Rachel. “I’m just lucky enough to be back riding and making the best of what I can. The plan is to move up the grades and I hope to compete at novice soon.

    “I hope my story may help others who are struggling to overcome an illness and show that you can still enjoy competitive riding.”

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