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‘She gave me reason to live’: rider with severe medical condition takes national title

A rider who has overcome the challenges posed by her severe medical condition to win a national title credits her horse for keeping her going – and saving her life.

Georgia Massey, riding her nine-year-old Irish draught mare Indigo Clementine, was named national senior pleasure rider champion, as well as champion of her age group, by Sport Endurance on 1 March. Clemmie was also named top pleasure mare.

Georgia told H&H she thought she would never ride again, when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2017. She weighed six stone when she was admitted to hospital, and her organs were shutting down.

“The process of regaining my health was not linear and was the hardest battle I have ever had to face,” she said. “I was in and out of hospital constantly for months, but the thought of seeing my horse again gave me the strength to keep fighting.”

Georgia believes the stress of years when she kept her previous two mares on a livery yard where she was badly bullied contributed to her autoimmune condition – one in which the body’s defence system attacks its own tissues.

As a result of the bullying, and having to leave the yard, she had found new homes for both mares, but her partner Lee Chapman and Nick Phillips, who owned a livery yard nearby, persuaded her to see Clemmie, who was still with her breeder Janet George.

“I was so poorly, I just went along with it,” Georgia said. “I didn’t want another horse but Nick said ‘you need something in your life to keep you going’. And when I said yes, three rainbows appeared, so I think it was a sign.”

Lee and Nick looked after Clemmie while Georgia was very ill. And although she still goes through periods of better health followed by flare-ups which result in hospital admissions, she credits the mare for her recovery.

“Without a doubt, she saved my life,” Georgia said. “There was a time when, even doctors said, it was my attitude that got me through when everything else had failed. I remember lying there thinking ‘I’ve got to get well for my horse’. That might sound like a cliché, but something’s a cliché because it’s true.

“She was my motivation to fight this. Being diagnosed with a life-changing condition is so tough because you don’t recognise your body any more; I’m approaching 50, looking different, feeling different; but I didn’t get depressed because I had my horse to focus on.”

Georgia has to plan her endurance rides carefully around her condition, but she cites the support of fellow competitors as another factor in her success.

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She added: “The message I want to get out is that I was given this life-threatening prognosis, in a really dark place and wondering what was to become of me.

“Everything changes. You’re told you can’t do things and on support groups, I heard of other people having surgery and taking drugs and becoming a shadow of themselves, and I thought ‘that’s not for me, I’m going to live my life’. It almost doesn’t matter what the diagnosis or prognosis is; listen to your body and do what you love. It keeps me going and motivated, and it saved my life.

“Clemmie gave me a reason to get up in the morning; a reason to live. If I can do it, anyone can.”

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