The Story of "Hilberry" Wonder Pony
I'll start by saying that this is going to be a very different post, inspired by two very brave people.
Let me first introduce you to my mum.
As a teenager, she was horse-mad.
I grew up hearing stories of her horses and, most notably, her many, many falls and subsequent trips to A&E.
It was a family joke that there was always a bed reserved for her at the Princess Margaret's Hospital at the weekends.
Her 'horse of a lifetime' was William, a 17hh handsome chestnut hunter-type. He would jump anything (with or without mum!).
When I was about 6, I decided that I wanted to ride ponies.
After begging and wheedling, I started riding lessons.
Some early memories:
• POLOS - no one bothered with fancy 'healthy' horse treats
• Little jodhpur boots without half chaps and those ugly skull caps with no silk
• Getting my stirrups and girth adjusted for me (those were the days)
• Being very allergic to horses (I still am, but it has eased up – sometimes stubbornness is rewarded!) and spending the rest of that day sneezing, itching and with a puffy face
Then came the day I got my first pony!
Colorado and Sapo were Criollos, imported from Uruguay. They were western-trained and so we had to learn how to neck-rein.
Sapo, mum's horse, was your stereotypical 'grumpy old man'.
He was a minimalist when it came to effort.
I taught him to jump, but it always felt like he was slowing down, down, down…until we finally got to the jump and, with a pony club kick or two, he would pop over and trot away. He did things at his own pace.
Colorado, on the other hand, had a bit more fire about him.
Once, out hacking in the woods, I asked him to walk through what I thought was a puddle.
Next thing I know, we were both deep in muddy water. Luckily he jumped out – but there was mud all the way up his body and my legs.
We arrived back home a little sheepish.
When my parents divorced, the house and land was sold and we started afresh.
For a while, neither my mum nor I had much to do with horses.
Then, we got some terrible news.
Mum had cancer.
We were devastated.
It is a scary word.
However, mum reassured us. Medicine was so advanced. She would be fine.
I remember going with her when she had her operation to remove the cancerous cells. She was so nervous.
It felt so surreal.
When she woke, the doctors were optimistic about the success of the operation.
She began chemotherapy as a precautionary measure.
Now, she had a new lease of life.
She began updating her wardrobe, wearing some make-up, going out with friends.
She started considering dating.
She went on holidays.
She was happy.
But then she started getting migraines.
They affected her moods and they prevented her from feeling like she could go places and do things.
One night, she called me to her room. "I'm coughing up blood" she told me.
We went straight to A&E.
After hours of waiting, and mum wondering if she had been wasting their time – perhaps it was a burst blood vessel? – we were seen by a doctor.
They carried out some tests.
Then we waited.
The next day, we received the news that we had been dreading.
The cancer was back. And this time it was terminal.
All I can remember is disbelief.
It just seemed so unlikely.
Breast cancer was not the kind of cancer that killed people. It was treatable, wasn't it?
I have no idea how I would feel if someone told me my days were numbered.
I know that mum struggled.
I know that she was angry, that she was sad, that she was confused.
However, I don't want this post to be about that.
Because above all else, and despite the ups and downs, mum was brave.
She was courageous. Even though she knew how her battle would end, she kept fighting.
She worked hard at her rehabilitation therapy - her personal nemesis was stairs.
She struggled each night, boy did she struggle, but she got herself up those stairs nonetheless.
She walked a little each day.
She refused to be dependent on anyone.
Despite breathlessness and muscle wastage she walked to the bus station, got the bus to the supermarket and bought a few things. And she got herself back.
She rang me to let me know. We were both so proud.
That may not seem like a big thing to most people, but to us, it was.
She took up art as a way of expressing herself and painted at her day hospice sessions. She even got her 5 minutes of fame in the local newspaper for it! To read the article, click here.
She forgave people for all of the wrongs they had done her in the past. And I mean truly forgave.
She completely tidied up and sorted out the house, so that we wouldn't have to deal with that when she was gone.
It's amazing the strength people find when they need to. And that's exactly what mum did.
When she passed away, she took a piece of us with her.
But she had also shown us, first-hand, what it was to take the hand that life deals you, and make the best of it.
She taught us to find the ray of light in a very dark room.
Hannah Francis did the same.
Hannah also battled with cancer.
She also turned her situation into something truly wonderful.
She created 'Hannah's Willberry Wonder Pony Charity'.
The charity was initially set up to help Hannah fund a wig for herself, as she lost her hair due to chemotherapy, and some vital equipment which would aid her independence as it was stripped from her.
However, it quickly became much more than that, and now the charity supports a host of other cancer charities, raises awareness of the disease, supports vital research into osteosarcoma and helps to grant equine-related wishes to seriously ill people and their families.
Hannah passed away over a year ago but her legacy lives on in the form of this charity.
She was a successful eventer, and she has inspired so many people to take up eventing in the name of her charity.
The 'Wobbleberry Challenge', as it is now known, has boosted the eventing community and encouraged those who might not have done so to give eventing a go in the name of a great cause.
It has spurred on those that are held back by nerves, or fear of failure, or not feeling good enough, to kick on and have a go at a one day event.
Many top riders can be seen riding round the cross country course with a Willberry on their back.
They ride for Hannah.
She will be remembered by so many, because she was so determined to make a positive impact on this world.
She reminded us that it's so vital to enjoy waking up every morning and going out there and taking on the world.
Whatever form that finds, be it eventing or something else.
Find something you love and GO OUT AND DO IT.
Do it for those who aren't able to.
More importantly, do it for yourself.
To find out more information on Hannah's Willberry Pony Charity, please visit the website here.
PS. say hello to Hilberry, our wonderful eventing mascot!