The Your Horse In­ter­view

Para dres­sage triple gold medal­list Suzanna Hext

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

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

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