‘He never stops smiling’: six-year-old rider with leukaemia is reserve champion at first show

  • A six-year-old rider who has “never stopped smiling” during 18 months of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) stood reserve champion at his first show.

    Daniella Stuchberry told H&H her son Charlie has barely ridden his Welsh section C Bobby, whom he was given a week before his diagnosis last January, but he was determined to go to the Leyland and District Riding Club show at Coppull on 10 September.

    “He said he’d had the best day ever,” Daniella said. “I was so proud. He was in pain but he never complained.”

    Daniella, who rides and showjumps but has put that on hold since Charlie’s diagnosis, said Charlie was five when she took him to the doctor to have a rash checked in January 2022.

    “The doctor sent him straight to hospital, and within a couple of hours, they said they thought he had leukaemia and would be going to Alder Hey [children’s hospital] first thing for treatment,” she said. “We thought ‘What?’ We’d been at the stables that morning and just thought we’d get this little rash looked at. It’s been a long journey.”

    ALL is one of the most common childhood cancers, and the survival rate is over 90%. Charlie has had months of intense chemotherapy, and is now on maintenance treatment, which means regular blood transfusions and daily oral chemotherapy at home. Daniella hopes his treatment will come to an end next March but he is still also on medication to control his pain, and uses a wheelchair as his legs are so weak and painful as a result of the chemo.

    “He doesn’t understand what cancer is, luckily,” Daniella said. “He missed half his reception year but did about half of year one, and friends said things like ‘People with cancer die’. I think that’s when he first realised it wasn’t a normal illness, but he always smiles, and he’s still smiling.

    “He’s starting to feel a bit more normal-ish, and he said he wanted to go to this show. I had no idea about showing; what we needed to do and wear, but the young girl who’s been riding Bobby does showing, and so does our lovely groom, so we had some help!”

    Bobby and Charlie competed in the best-mannered pony class, one for disabled riders and one for the pony the judge would most like to take home. They scored two wins and a second, and were invited to contest the children’s championship, in which they stood reserve.

    “I thought it would be too long a day but he wanted to do it,” Daniella said. “The club gave him a special rosette for being so brave, which was lovely; we’re not members but they made sure he felt part of it. They let us have a leader and a person on either side in case he struggled with his balance, and he loved it. He was made up.

    “I said he didn’t have to trot but he was adamant he wanted to ‘do his up-downs’. He was in pain but he fought through it. It just shows that there are no limitations; if you want to do it and try your best, that’s what matters. It’s not about winning or looking the best, it’s about having fun and enjoying the time you have with horses. And it shows how special they are, the way Bobby looked after him. It was an emotional day.”

    Daniella wanted to share Charlie’s story in September, which is childhood cancer awareness month, to share the symptoms of ALL and raise awareness.

    “It’s not talked about the same as adult cancer; ALL is one of the most common ones in the UK but we’d heard nothing about it till it affected us,” she said. “You don’t know how many children are affected till you’re sitting on the oncology ward. Your world stops the day it’s diagnosed.

    “A lot of people don’t realise the impact it has on parents and families; I stopped working and we sold horses because your priorities change completely.”

    Daniella added that Charlie now seems to have been bitten by the showing bug and wants to join the riding club next year.

    “I never thought I’d enjoy showing!” she said. “But I think he’s hooked. Charlie puts a smile on everyone’s face. It’s so hard what he’s been through and just to see him like every other kid, and doing well – it wasn’t pity votes, he and the pony did well. He was in pain that night but it was worth it for him; he was so happy and proud he’d done it.”

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