The Your Horse Interview
Para dressage triple gold medallist Suzanna Hext
When I’m on a horse all the challenges of daily life fade away. I feel free and not disabled. I’m on a level with other people again
SOMETIMES IT’S worth shaving off your hair in the name of progress. Those were Cornwall farmer Jamie Hext’s thoughts, anyway. When he took on a bet with his sister, Suzanna, he probably knew that the sheep shears would need to be switched on that very evening in the lambing shed, with the buzzing hand-held electrical tool running along the contours of his skull until each brown strand of hair lay in a jumbled mess at his feet. His self-confessed “stubborn and determined” younger sibling had been paralysed in a horse fall 23 months earlier and her goal, at this point in her rehabilitation, had been to temporarily leave her wheelchair and walk across the farmyard unaided except for a pair of crutches. A bet with her brother seemed the perfect incentive. “Jamie knew me well enough to understand that I would get on the crutches if I said I was going to,” smiles Suzanna, sitting on a beanbag next to a purple vase-shaped trophy which symbolises her latest milestone achievement — victory in the team test in the CPEDI*** Nations Cup in Deauville, France. The Royal Agricultural University graduate, triple gold medallist at the European Para Dressage Championships 2017 and world number one in the grade III category, only returned to her ground-floor flat in Cirencester the day prior to this interview, and was up until 2am washing gear from her competitive week away. Laundry hanging on an airer in the kitchen/ lounge area betray this small-hours activity. “I always have to tidy my stuff away straight after a trip. That’s my OCD,” says Suzanna who, just under six years ago, would have found living on her own, operating a washing machine and hanging out clothes impossible. Suzanna’s life changed forever on a July evening in 2012 in less time than it took Jamie Hext to brush his hair when he still had it. A home-bred horse, Carwarthen Harrier (Harry), who Suzanna was in the process of backing, reared over backwards and then rolled over her, like a rolling pin over dough, as he attempted to stand up. No one knows what prompted such a calamitous spook. Suzanna remembers only snapshots of the accident that turned her “perfect” existence, with a job as an equine veterinary nurse and weekends spent affiliated eventing, into a nightmare in Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital. With a broken pelvis, broken back, crushed shoulder, displaced spinal cord and a head injury, Suzanna was going nowhere fast. Other patients in neighbouring beds came and went, days ran into weeks and weeks into months, her collection of ‘get well’ cards grew, as did the list of people who came to sit by her bed. “There were so many people wanting to visit that we had to draw up a rota,” she says. “I’ve got incredible friends and, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have got through hospital without them and my family.”
After four months, Suzanna was transferred to the Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske) to be close to the family farm, but she left too soon and found herself back on a ward being fed through a tube on Christmas Day 2012. “I must have caught a bug and my body wasn’t strong enough to fight it,” she says.
Suzanna with Ljt Enggaards Solitaire, one of her two equine contenders for this year’s World Equestrian Games