Most riders have had to endure the odd tumble off our beloved horses, even sustained an injury or two, but for Chantal Siddle 2015 became the most challenging year of her life when she suffered a heart attack whilst she was galloping around a BE cross-country course.
Chantal was a fit and active business owner, rider and trainer whose passion for horses kept her striving for perfection. It was during a horse trails event in May last year that her life changed dramatically. With no prior warning she suffered a heart attack causing her to lose consciousness, she fell off and got kicked in the head.
After suffering four cardiac arrests before being airlifted to hospital, Chantal’s friends and family were told that even if she did survive she would most likely never get out of bed again and may be permanently brain damaged.
After months of treatment, Chantal suffered a further knock when she had major complications, required a tracheostomy and a debilitating 13 operations. It seemed never ending but Chantal began her slow process of recovery, determined she wouldn’t end up in a bed forever.
‘The medical teams thought I was mad at first. I was in a wheelchair and told I wouldn’t walk, so my focus was on how I could get strong enough to stand. Eventually I managed to walk with a zimmer-frame and it went from there,’ she explained.
For everyone around her, getting back on a horse was possibly the furthest thing from their minds but for Chantal it was never in question. ‘It did seem a long way off but it was never not an option. You can get a pretty sick person on a horse!’
The journey to riding again was focused more around Chantal working out what she could do physically, rather than the literal plan to be on a horse.
‘Once I had my tracheotomy tube I was told it would be too dangerous to ride so I went on some forums, questioning what I had been told. One lady, Kerry, sent me a photo of herself riding with her tube in and that was it! It was all the proof I needed.’
Chantal used to swim and run regularly, yet all of a sudden she couldn’t manage one lap of the pool or to jog out her driveway, but she kept at it and set goals. ‘You must notice your own achievements, no matter how small. It’s really important to recognise goals and keep at them. For me, it was to make it to the end of the drive! It sounds a silly little thing but these sorts of aims allowed me to move forward.’
The first time she did get back on a horse after the accident, it wasn’t planned; she just decided it was time to try. ‘For months I’d been told I would never walk, speak or ride again so it was hugely emotional. All I could do is walk a short way and that was it, but it was enormous.’
Over time, Chantal grew stronger and began to understand how much she could push herself. ‘I had plenty of great people around who kept their eye on me and told me when it was time to give it a rest for the day as I am inclined to go too far if I’m left to my own devices.’
Chantal decided she had to firstly accept where she was, then plan how to train and move forward. ‘There’s no point wishing things were different or that you could go back. At first I could only get on and walk a short way. Then I started riding some lateral work in walk and eventually found myself trotting a short distance. It meant my goals had to keep changing and adapting to my situation.’
When she could trot and then canter long enough, Chantal set her goals on riding a preliminary dressage test and won her class, then it was having a canter across the fields during a hunt and popping over a ditch – much to the horror of the rest of the riders! Some months later she managed to pop over some jumps and her aim became remembering a short course.
Continuing her training has also been a little tricky. ‘Quite understandably some coaches are weary of teaching me, I think they don’t want to be the one in charge if something happens again!’ Chantal explained with a smile.
However she is pushing onwards with her horses having completed her first full horse trials event recently and planning plenty more. ‘I am very driven and I feel that I do what I do because there is no other option. Admittedly I am quite stubborn but I’m certainly not doing this because I want to be a hero, I just keep persevering and will see where it takes me.’