Showman makes winning return after surgery on aggressive brain tumour

By Penny Richardson

Less than three months after an operation to remove an aggressive brain tumour, Buckinghamshire-based show producer Rory Gilsenan has returned to the show ring.

Rory and Atlantic Slim won the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) working hunter qualifier at the Ponies UK Spring Classic at Keysoe (23 to 25 March) with the only clear.

The world looked their oyster when Rory and Rebecca Collins’ gelding had their biggest success together at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) 2018, but the following month, shortly after the death of his great friend, showjumper Tim Stockdale, Rory was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and his whole family’s life changed.

“I’ve just finished six weeks of radiotherapy and chemo and I’m soon starting six more months of chemo, but I consider myself extraordinarily lucky,” Rory told H&H.

“Cancer affects everyone differently and I’ve got [my wife] Vanessa. I’m not a great reader, but she has now researched everything she can about the disease and tells me what I can and can’t do.”

Although doctors advised him after the operation that any riding should be confined to walk only, this was too much for the Irishman to bear.

“What would I do if I couldn’t ride properly?” he says. “I’ve only had one half-day off since leaving hospital and two weeks before I went to Keysoe, I jumped Atlantic Slim in a Foxhunter class at Addington. I was there again yesterday [2 April] and jumped a newcomers double clear and I’ll be back there showing next weekend, hoping to qualify more horses.”

Rory is looking forward to attempting to complete the RIHS/HOYS double later this summer.

“Atlantic Slim is such a super, genuine horse with buckets of jump, so he was a great one to kick off with again,” he says. “The biggest problem is that I’m no longer allowed to drive. We’ll be going everywhere we can, but it can’t be too far, so I might have to miss shows like Great Yorkshire this season.”

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Top showman awaits surgery for aggressive brain tumour

The working hunter specialist was diagnosed and admitted to hospital last week


Things may not be back to normal yet for the Gilsenan family, but with the help of Vanessa, an artist, daughter Katie and stepson Jamie, Rory is a picture of positivity.

“We live in a fantastic area with easy access to motorways and there are countless shows within two hours of home,” he says. “And I’m still exactly the same person. A few friends were hoping the ‘naughty words’ part of my brain might have been removed when I had the operation, but no one needs to worry. It’s still there!”

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