Jack Daniels to the Rescue

Hi All! My name is Clare, and my partner in crime is a 14hh Fell x Cob called Jack Daniels (Jack-Jack to his friends!). Jack-Jack and I are out competing at BD Prelim at the moment, with the aim to step up to BD Novice next year.
I run a Facebook page called Chronic Illness, Dressage and Me, as getting to this point has not been the most straightforward.

When I was younger I had my life planned out as many horsey made kids do, I was going to run my own business and ride forever! Now, I feel very priveldged to have achieved this. I went to Uni, and came out with a First Class BSc (Hons) in Equine Science, hold my BHS exams, and was training with Alan Davies (yes the Super Groom!). I then went on to run my own business retraining racehorses and had 10 horses in with me for competing and re-homing at my busiest. I then took a little tumble off a horse I would happily of put my Nan on, and fractured my skull. My partner and I talked a lot about the future, and so I chose to take a step back from riding full time and move into Equine and Farm insurance, where I am very happy, and remain until the present day.
Things then started to take a bit of an odd turn, I was getting really poorly. Thin, tired, unable to keep food in my body and weight was disappearing, and I was in constant pain. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, shortly followed by Fibromyalgia as well. I had to give up what I loved most and that was my riding because I just physically couldn’t hold myself in the saddle any more. I was a mess, physically and mentally, I coudn’t even hold it together at work. I have also been diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue disorder) and a heart condition called POTS (which means I faint and fall over a lot). So riding was really off the cards for a long time.
I met Little Jack when I had given up hope, I had recently lost my gorgeous little cob Buzz to a freak injury and life felt pretty pointless. Honestly, this is the lowest I have ever felt in my life. Jack was just a grubby little black cob in a field, but his eyes were the kindest lights I have ever looked into. I loved him from the minute I saw him (even if he was a rather large undertaking!), he came home to be my best friend, nothing more. He was tasked with putting me back together again and helping me get through this.
Well what can I say he was amazing, I still couldn’t bear to ride, so my Mum did jockey duties for me and we lightly backed him under saddle, before setting off with the long reins and tyres to get him carriage driving. He took to driving like a duck to water and under the watchful eye of Roger Page, we became a good little team and were soon out and about in the Forest! However, I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling at the back of my mind that I just wanted to ride. I adore driving, but I love being in the saddle and feeling a horse move with you. So with the support of my Doctor, and my amazing MFR Therapist Emily Spry, I am back in the saddle. My God those first few months were hard. It hurt like hell, but I was so determined not to be defeated by pain. My Doctor and I worked out a routine with the pain killers that suited me and allowed me to ride effectively for around 30 minutes before it gets too much. Re-educating my body is hard. My hEDS means that I am too bendy, so I have to do a lot of strengthening exercises around my key joints to allow me to be stable in the saddle, I also where strong braces on my ankles, knees and wrists when I ride, and Kinesiology Tape to stop me wobbling about all over the place!!
Disolcations and subluxations of joints are common with hEDS, and my ankles are the worst! Emily of E Equine worked really hard with me on Mechanical Millie to show me how to move my feet to remove this tension and make my lower limb more stable. Even though I hurt, mentally I am so happy as I feel like I am who I am meant to be when I am in the saddle. Jack-Jack is amazing, everything I have asked of him he has excelled at. It wasn’t until I started to collect him up a little and started to work with the walk and supple it up that I noticed he had some sparkle. When I was strong enough to trot, it was obvious he had some serious dressage talent! He is a real show off, and once he understands what you are asking of him he gets his Dressage Diva head on and owns it! I’m still limited to around 30 minutes work in the saddle so our sessions are short and sweet, but he gets to hack out on the Forest with my Mum every week which he loves!
I’m lucky, I have the world’s best support team in my family, partner James, Doctors and of course my MFR Therapist Emily, I don’t really want to think where I would be without their love and support but I know how low I’ve been and I don’t ever want to go back there. Next year we are aiming for BD Area Festivals, and the TGCA BD Nationals, and I think I’d like to have a go at some Concours D’Elegance classes for a bit of fun!
I think the key to staying positive is I just take every day as it comes. Some days I can’t get out of bed and James brings me my ‘Two Course Breakfast’ made up of pills and tea! And other days, I can get myself moving. I’m not going to lie and say there is ever a day that I feel amazing, becasue there isn’t, the pain is always going to be there, the dislocations are always going to be there, and my useless gut is always going to be a pain in the a**, but I refuse to let them stop me being who I want to be. I may have Chronic Illness but it does not have me. It’s your life, live it how you want to.