A 10-year-old rider who ruptured his spleen in a freak cycling accident has bounced back to win a Shetland pony race at Plumpton.
The win was just one of a series of impressive accolades this season for Alfie Diaper, who has been undeterred by his injury to also clock successes with his 128cm ponies in British Showjumping classes.
The Dorset rider was attempting a small speed bump on his bike earlier this year when he landed on the handlebars, causing the life-threatening injury.
“He came off his bike the week before he was due to compete in the Shetland Pony Grand National at Badminton, and he was also supposed to be racing at Royal Windsor,” said his mum Helen.
“All he had on him was a little red mark, but my husband said ‘we better get it checked out’ and it was a good job we did or he would probably have died overnight — he had torn his spleen in half and he spent half the night in emergency surgery at Southampton Hospital.”
Nobody had realised the gravity of Alfie’s injury until, after a few hours of waiting at the hospital, he stood up to walk to the toilet and lost consciousness.
“He just dropped to the floor and was out cold, the next thing they had the scanner out, had him on blood transfusions and there were 20 doctors round the bed,” Helen recalled. “He was there for two weeks in the end. We had a few near-misses where we nearly lost him.”
Alfie’s first thoughts before surgery were whether he would still get the chance to compete at the prestigious events.
“He asked the surgeon whether he would be OK to race at Badminton on Saturday and if he could have a Subway for breakfast,” said Helen. “The surgeon said yes to both, which was a complete lie.
“When he realised afterwards that he couldn’t sit up he knew he wouldn’t make the race that weekend but he was still adamant he wanted to make Royal Windsor. If he could have sat up he would have tried to go!”
Spleen injuries are rare in children, more commonly being seen in motorcyclists, and Alfie’s doctors gave him mixed predictions about when he would be able to return to the saddle. Estimates ranged from six weeks to six months, but he was back on in walk after just three weeks.
“We walked for three weeks and then he was straight back into it,” said Helen. “He came home like a shell of himself and didn’t want to leave the house for the best part of a week but once he was back on the ponies he just got brighter and brighter.”
The rider lost her finger when her ring was caught in the rug strap of a horse who panicked and
The unusually hairy competitor kept up with runners from the 7km to the 9km marker, where she was eventually caught
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
His results this season include a third at the BS national finals in the Stepping Stones with Euro Magic; a fourth in the southwest bronze league (Euro Magic) and win in the silver league (Buddy II) and a second and fourth in the mini major at Bolesworth,
He is set to appear in the Shetland Grand National line-up at Olympia and Liverpool. Next season he plans to contest BS second rounds; also competing a new 138cm addition to his string.
“He came back fighting and is definitiely a stronger kid because of what happened,” said Helen. “He’s taken the bull by the horns since and really made up for what he missed.”
The Shetland Pony Grand Nationals raise money for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust. Donations to the trust can be made through Alfie’s Just Giving page.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.