Deb, a police sergeant, and her fiancé had flown to St Lucia to get married and, two days before the ceremony, had decided to take a scuba-diving trip. But problems with the boat’s engine led to a crew member trying to hotwire it, and the boat exploded in a fireball.
Deb bore the full force of the explosion, which shattered her lower spine and left her paralysed from the waist down. Yet in some ways she counts herself lucky – four people died in the blast.
That was in 1997, and in the intervening years she has battled depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and has endured a number of operations and medical complaints as she tried to rebuild her life in a new world.
Deb is a very active person and before the accident had represented the UK in running and worked as a swimming teacher. She found it very difficult to have that level of fitness and activity taken from her.
In 2005. Debs came to the Perry Group looking to try carriage driving with the potential of being a fast paced, high adrenaline sport. She quickly realised how good she was at it and has gone on to represent Great Britain in the 2010 Para World Championships (she was the highest-placed Briton) and to win both club and national titles.
She has a sense of dynamism and ambition that she feared she would never feel again.
Deb’s involvement with RDA has, she says, “really given me a sense of purpose”. “I’ve always been a competitive person and what this has done is show that just because the body doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean the head and heart are the same. Carriage driving gave me goals to aim for at a time when it was easy to sit around listlessly, thinking ‘what am I going to do?
Deb has achieved so much but she is always grateful of her fantastic groom Holly for which her success would not we possible without.
“Since joining the Perry Vaulting Sessions we have seen Blossom flourish not just physically but as a person in her own right, it has improved her general wellbeing and how she feels about herself. Being with the other children in the group with whom she feels comfortable and confident has really helped and watching her friendships grow has been beautiful. Blossom is in a mainstream school and is aware that she is different to the majority of other children who are there; at the Perry she is just the same as everyone else. At Perry there is an understanding and acceptance of everyone’s differing lives and needs which has helped us all as a family.”
Before the accident I lived and breathed racing and thoroughbreds. Nothing gave me a greater thrill than schooling young point to pointers or ‘chasers over fences.
When I came out of hospital three months after the accident I felt that I no longer knew my body. My head, arms and shoulders we’re fit and strong but below my chest I could only feel a strange and unsettling burning.
Secretly, I desperately needed to know how it would feel to sit on a horse. Without telling anyone, I asked a local racehorse trainer if I could have a sit on his daughter’s 12hh pony and walk around the gallops. The first thing I realised was that, without the use of my core stomach muscles to keep me vertical, I would have to lean forward and hold onto the neck. The second thing was that a saddle and stirrups were pointless and the third thing was that this idea had not been very well thought through.
I died a silent death as the reality dawned on me. I could barely even sit on a horse’s back, let alone ride in any meaningful way. I sold my own two horses and over the next few years gradually came to terms with a different way of life and took up new interests. As the years went by, my body felt less alien but it also became very stiff and almost wheelchair shaped.
It occurred to me that riding would be the ideal therapy to help with my physical problems and I even made a few enquiries. I was chatting with Lynne Munro, an experienced physiotherapist, she immediately identified my dilemma and suggested I contact Jane Barker and just have a go.
I turned up at Jane’s with low expectations and a familiar sense that I would be disappointed, that even after 18 years I would still be yearning to be riding a spirited racehorse as opposed to passively sitting on a pony. However, I instantly identified in Jane and her helper Holly, two practical people who totally ‘got’ what I was looking for, not least, as little fuss as possible. Then I saw Stubbs, who made me smile, just 14.2hh, with his flaxen mane and tail and pretty, blonde eyelashes, framing huge, brown, kind eyes. I gave him a pat and breathed in his gorgeous grassy pony smell.
He was placed in a hollow where I could place my wheelchair alongside him and, with some help, transfer from my chair onto Stubbs. Job done.
Oh my Goodness I hadn’t expected this. I felt enormously tall and on top of the world. I looked around and it seemed like everything was below me. I was so upright, with my legs dangling next to Stubbs’ sides.
The rhythm of Stubbs’ swinging gait, the sensation of his legs walking beneath me filled me with indescribable joy. I remembered how, when I first started going around in my wheelchair, I missed that rhythm of walking. Holding onto the handles in front of me enabled me to balance and stay upright with nothing else to support me and I felt free and just very happy indeed.
I love dear Stubbs for being so noble, generous and trustworthy. I am sincerely grateful to everyone at Perry, for without them I would not get my weekly “Happy Fix”.
I started volunteering with Perry RDA twelve years ago because I have autism and being with animals and especially horses helps me with communication and keeps me calm.
I love looking after the horses and ponies also seeing the riders that come on a Saturday who get a lot out of it. To know that I have been a part of keeping the animals healthy for them to ride is a huge plus for me. I also clean the tack regularly.
I used to be part of the vaulting team. I have cantered on a horse which I never thought I would and I have stood up on a moving horse in walk in vaulting.
‘Thank you Perry group for helping us develop the most wonderful and able child from the raw material with which we were blessed. Thank you for your tireless patience and effort and allowing us to join in and achieve’.
‘Thanks for the opportunity to make such good friends with other families striving to reach their own goals and for understanding that on some of the more difficult days, that a hug, a custard cream and half an hour with like-minded people, whilst our children are being worked with, by people they love and trust. Priceless’.