‘She’s been through hell and back’: young rider takes on illness and beats bullies to run successful business

  • A young rider who had to give up her dream of professional showjumping owing to a long-term medical condition has set up a thriving business — and may be helping inspire others along the way.

    Grace Patrick, 17, was diagnosed with arthritis when she was about 18 months old, but has not let that stop her riding, qualifying for the bronze league final at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in 2019 and the Blue Chip Winter Showjumping Championships, and clearing 1.40m to win at the Bury Farm bareback challenge the same year.

    She has this year set up Tors Equestrian, making products including hot oils and tack balm. And although Grace said she has never been one to talk about her condition and its limitations, her proud father Dean was the one to get in touch.

    “She’s been through hell and back, all her life,” Dean told H&H. “No one’s known about it because she doesn’t draw attention to it but I’m amazed by her.

    “She goes from strength to strength despite the physical and mental trauma — she did not go to school after she was 14 because of bullying — and I’m blown away by her work ethic and attitude. I’m so inspired by her.”

    Grace told H&H her initial diagnosis was juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a rheumatoid condition, in her knees and ankles.

    “It’s all I’ve ever known, that pain,” she said. “Quite a few days are worse than others; some days it’s ok and I can do all my normal things with the horses, and some days I’m struggling to walk. It’s always there but it does attack sometimes; I get an inkling if the pain wakes me up at night, and it’s worse when it’s cold and after I’ve been competing.”

    The condition was treated with weekly chemotherapy injections, and joint injections, for some time, but it has developed into osteochondral lesions.

    “I’ve got two holes in my knees,” Grace said. “I’ve kept riding, just about, there’s been a couple of months I’ve had to have a break because I’ve been in a wheelchair, and but most of the time, it’s just a case of me having to push through it. I might struggle afterwards, but horses just isn’t something I could give up.”

    Grace said that jumping at the top level, as a professional rider, had “always been the dream” from childhood.

    “If someone gave me that opportunity and my knees would let me, I’d snap their hand off!” she said. “But it’s difficult to admit when you can’t, or not can’t but when you find something that difficult, when you know you won’t get to that level. But I’ve been lucky enough in the horses I’ve had, jumping at HOYS, and to be able to get through it and get to these milestones.”

    Her business is named after her HOYS ride, Tors La Loi, who was put down recently aged in his early 20s.

    I’d named it after him before I lost him so I’m even more glad I did,” Grace said.

    “It’s still early days but the business has really taken off, and it’s important to me all the products are environmentally friendly.

    “I had to leave school because of the bullying; some of the teachers were the worst, rolling their eyes and huffing and puffing when they had to push me up a slope in my wheelchair. My mental health couldn’t cope.

    “But now I’ve got lots of new ideas and there’s stuff I’m working on; I’m going to have a stand at the London International Horse Show, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve got big plans and I’m still competing.”

    Grace is jumping her 10-year-old mare Rella at newcomers level, and hopes to step up to bigger tracks next year.

    And asked if she thinks her story may help others, she said: “I hope so.

    “I think everything happens for a reason, and maybe if I spoke up about it, it might help other people, maybe to think ‘If she can do it, so can I’, whether that’s physical or mental health issues. Mine is also an invisible illness, and sometimes other people don’t understand, which can make things difficult.

    “I always get worse days in winter but it’s worth pushing through for the horses; I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. It’s worth it all when you have the good days — but you have to have the bad ones, to appreciate them.”

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