Brighton-based showjumper Leesa Long made an amazing recovery from injury to win at Hickstead on Thursday.
“It means a lot” said Brighton-based Leesa, who took top prize in the Harcour Hickstead Amateur Championship at the Longines Royal International Horse Show, riding Saber.
Though a much-coveted win in the venue’s iconic main arena is always a special occasion, for Long, it holds extra gravitas: the thought of riding in it once again has been her primary motivator throughout an intense bout of physiotherapy, following a serious riding accident at the beginning of the year.
“I broke my ankle pretty badly in January when I landed on my feet falling off a horse,” she explained.
“I was told I wouldn’t ride for nine months, and I had to have an external fixation.”
Her injury came four years after another ankle injury in eerily similar circumstances left her battling for the full use of her foot.
“They said this was the worse break, because it crushed eleven bones, but that one damaged the nerves and paralysed part of my foot,” she said. “Since I’ve been back the hardest thing has been that that old injury hurts more – I guess I’d been protecting it, which I can’t do now. When it starts hurting I can hardly walk, but I’m getting stronger all the time.”
In both cases, Long’s rehabilitation included stints at Oaksey House, the innovative physiotherapy centre spearheaded by the Injured Jockeys Fund.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again – I was non-weight bearing for four months and because of the paralysis, I had to relearn how to take every step. But I’d been told it’d be a year before I rode again, and it was only nine months,” she said.
“I went to Oaksey again this time, and they gave me loads of exercises to do. Then I came to Hickstead to see Johnny Harrison [whose practice overlooks the arena], and I sat there looking out at the arena thinking, ‘I’m dying to ride out there again.’ I just really hoped I could get the all-clear and ride at this show.”
Hard work and ineffable grit – “my husband is an ex-jockey, so I don’t get much sympathy at home!” – meant that Long was able to make her return to the show ring at Pyecombe at the beginning of the month. Her placings snowballed, and suddenly, she found herself qualified to ride in the main arena at Hickstead once again – on three horses.
“I had to choose one, and Saber loves this main ring and has won a few times here, so it had to be him,” she explains. “He hadn’t jumped for nine months – he had the time off with me, and he’s only jumped at one show before this, but he’s one of the best horses I’ve ever had, and we’ve been together for ten years.”
The Longines Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead in West Sussex ends on July 28, amd features international showjumping being held alongside championship showing classes and national jumping competitions. The feature class of the show is the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain on Friday 26 July, in which the British showjumping team will be competing for honours.
For full results and further information on the show visit www.hickstead.co.uk