Young rider who overcame ‘darkest days’ aims to inspire others

  • A young event rider who overcame mental health struggles wants to use her experience to inspire and mentor teenage riders going through similar issues.

    21-year-old Claire Drey-Brown, who is based in Eynsford, Kent, started suffering with mental health issues as a teenager having been diagnosed with chronic fatigue and depression. When she was 19, she lost her 24-year-old brother Jamie to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    “At school around my GCSEs my attendance dropped massively,” she told H&H. “I really did love school but I just physically couldn’t concentrate. I was on sleeping medication and having panic attacks before school.”

    “The turning point in my life was the year after my brother died. I was admitted to a psychiatric ward because everything got so dark; I didn’t find enjoyment in anything, even riding. The people I met there were so inspiring and people I’m still close to now, it helped me through it because they were going through similar emotions and feelings.”

    Claire spent four years training with and riding for eventer Francis Whittington, who she credits as a brilliant mentor. From this experience, she was inspired to start up her own young rider training squad for teenagers going through similar mental health issues.

    “It would have been a complete game-changer had I had people around me when I was going through my struggles, who were going through the same thing — I felt really alienated. Horses were my escape.”

    The CDB Junior Eventing Squad is going to be run from Claire’s own yard in Eynsford where she will host training sessions and focus on rider mindset.

    “I plan to host online support through a Facebook group where I will post advice and always let people know I’m just a phone call away,” she said. “I will attend competitions with riders so they get that team feeling and know that they’re not alone.

    “I’ve had interest from all over the country which is crazy to think of. I’ve been moved to tears by some of the stories, just hearing that people have been through the same kind of thing as me.”

    Claire credits riding for helping her through her most difficult days.

    “Horses turned my life around,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without them. If I have a low mood I go for a hack for hours and come back in a completely different mindset. I have been given the tools to deal with my feelings in a better way.

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    “I’d love to use this to help people going through what I did when I was younger.

    “Everyone says don’t bottle things up but as soon as you start talking people will start listening. It’s terrifying to get help but once you’ve got help everything is so much easier.”

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