I love ‘horsey’ people… who else apart from ardent clubbers would send a message at 5am via Facebook saying ‘I’m up now if you want to call’. Such is the fervour of my friend Lorna Collins, especially when talking about her recent comeback to eventing.
I met Lorna about seven years ago when we worked on a community arts project at Cambridge University. Neither of us was riding at the time and neither realised we were once keen eventers. This was a friendship based on arts and research. Flip forward a couple of years later and I was telling Lorna about my comeback to riding after having children. It was at this point that Lorna’s fascinating story emerged.
Lorna’s life was eventing and horses. She had great ambitions and the results to match until a horrific accident 15 years ago. Riding out on one of her racehorses, Lorna suffered a heavy fall. The horse tripped on a polo bandage and Lorna suffered a massive head injury. Her life was saved by her father who gave her ‘the kiss of life’ before the air ambulance arrived. Ventilated and in a coma, no one thought Lorna would survive let alone gain a PhD from Cambridge and, more recently, compete again. We don’t speak in much detail about the 15 years of Lorna’s recovery, save she had spells in numerous hospitals, suffered total amnesia and praises the doctors who helped her gain some life back through therapy and medication. At Cambridge Lorna was trying to ‘make sense’ of it all via her writing and art making. But how does one piece together a life that you have no memory of? At no time did Lorna have contact with horses; indeed her consultant said further head trauma could prove to be fatal. That was until almost a year ago…
I remember Lorna’s Facebook post well. ‘Does anyone have any horses for sale suitable for a novice rider?’ Ok, I thought, is Lorna getting back into riding again? It turned out the request was to find a ride for her sister-in-law but it marked the start of a new journey for Lorna.
‘I contacted an old friend Zoe Williams and asked if she remembered me. I was worried that as I had lost my memory of people perhaps they wouldn’t remember who I was. I was thrilled when she knew exactly who I was and headed down to see her and try some horses for my sister-in- law. I hadn’t sat on a horse since my accident but literally as soon as started riding my memory of ‘how’ to ride, the feelings of what to do came flooding back’ said Lorna.
At this point Lorna decided that she would forget buying a horse for a relation and find one for herself. What followed were several months riding for Zoe, and then the purchase of Jaffa, a gangly 4 year old unbroken gelding from Holland. Lorna admits she doesn’t like to make life easy for herself but has genuine pleasure in teaching as well as learning from Jaffa. Interestingly, Lorna recalls how her past memories returned as she engaged with horses again.
‘I have felt so much happier since riding again. I have got fitter, put on weight and feel complete. It has also been lovely to engage with old eventing and Pony Club friends’ said Lorna.
Lorna is now based in Cambridge and combines her academic work and lecturing at a local art college with her riding.
‘My job is very stressful and I have to think in a very intellectual way. Riding is an antidote to that pressure and it allows me to switch off that part of my brain and relax’.
A recent development has been Lorna’s move to the yard of Tiny Clapham. ‘My family have had connections with Tiny for many years and as she is based so near to Cambridge it was the ideal place to keep Jaffa so I could train alongside her. Tiny has been fantastic. She works us hard but is incredibly supportive, developing a very positive ‘team’ feeling at her yard.’
Lorna marked her return last weekend with her first run on Jaffa (named Fightback for obvious reasons). In her blog for EWW she recalls this momentous event, not everything went to plan on the juvenile Jaffa but Lorna speaks highly of this horse and the combination will be one to look out for. We wish Lorna and Jaffa well and can’t wait to hear her next tale of discovery and ‘fightback’.
Lorna’s story…Fightback. One step at a time…
Today was my first British Eventing horse trials for over fifteen years. The long gap was full of trauma. I started riding again last summer. It was an epiphany. The trauma forgotten, I was desperate to compete again. So today was epic, before it had even started. This is my Fightback. That’s also the name of my horse.
The alarm went off at 3.45 and I leapt out of bed. Soon I was at the yard where ‘Jaffa’ (his stablename) is based, with Tiny Clapham. I perfected Jaffa’s pristine plaits, got everything ready, and soon Tiny and I were on our way to Shelford Horse Trials, in Nottingham.
As soon as we arrived I recognised faces. Eventing is like a big family. Emily Chandler walked past Tiny’s lorry: “Hi Lorna! Haven’t seen you for a few years! How are you?” The last time I saw Emily was when we were at the Junior Europeans in Poland, way back. But no time was lost. Old friends never die.
I collected my number, walked the show-jumping, and tacked up Jaffa for his dressage. He’s a green, lanky, five year old warmblood-cross-thoroughbred who is taking time to grow into his body. I got on, with a bit of help (he’s enormous!), and went to warm up. Tiny has been training me intensively since I arrived at her yard with Jaffa 10 days ago. I’m the newest member of her well-known team: Eventers International. This is proving to be an immense and inspiring learning experience.
Now was the time to put what I have learnt to practice. Tiny’s voice was unusually silent. She let me warm up. Jaffa strutted his stuff. He really can look quite smart! But I fluffed up my aids to canter. Oh dear! Nevertheless, I was pleased with our dressage test. It felt good.
Tiny and I went to walk the cross-country course. Meanwhile Jaffa stood on the lorry, cooling his heels. This was a big test for him: every time he’s been on an outing so far, he’s whinnied non-stop, and tried (with some success) to destroy the lorry. But this time, he was calm. This bodes well, I thought.
Walking the course we bumped into David Merritt, the Technical Advisor, an old blast from the past. Some things never change. The cross-country looked strong; if I can get over the first 4 fences, I’ll be fine, I thought. Then we got ready for the show-jumping.
Our round was thrilling. It felt like cross-country! “Sorry Tiny,” I said on my way out of the ring. “That wasn’t very elegant!’ Jaffa spooked and wobbled around, protesting to my protestant aids for impulsion. But nevertheless, he gave each fence some air and we went clear! I was very pleased.
The cross-country was almost straight away. As I walked down to the warm-up I had a very serious word with Jaffa: “Now we need to have a LOT more energy now, Jaffa. We’ve got to be really positive. No slowing down.” Tiny told me to gallop around and wind him up, which I did. Several times. Thoroughly wound up (with gritted teeth).
Three, two, one, go. Lift off! And he did lift off! Our cross-country round was – strenuous, on my part, and green, on Jaffa’s. We jumped all the difficult fences! With my encouragement (i.e. if in doubt, kick and (discreetly, this is BE) shout), Jaffa clambered over the fences giving them lots of air. He was green but showed scope. I was unfit and also green (not sure about the scope). At one fence we both dried up. Sorry Jaffa!
But we got round. I felt like I’d run a marathon. Jaffa felt pretty chilled. He just wanted to eat the long grass all around him. I was disappointed we hadn’t gone clear, since with a double clear we possibly could have won our section (eventing is made from ‘if only’s…). Nevertheless, we won in so many other ways. It is a victory to be riding again. It is a victory to rediscover the eventing family. It is a victory to be under Tiny Clapham’s wing now.
It is a victory to have such an exquisite horse as Jaffa. Fightback. One step at a time.