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How a pony helped his 11-year-old rider following bone marrow transplant

  • An 11-year-old boy and the pony who played a “huge part” in his recovery following a bone marrow transplant will be dancing to music to support others going through the same treatment.

    Max Cookson-Johnson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia four years ago and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2021. His pony, Bambi, a Welsh section B, has been his “release” throughout.

    “Bambi has been a huge part of his recovery,” said Max’s mother, Amelia Cookson.

    He was first diagnosed aged seven and spent a long time on intense IV, intrathecal and oral chemotherapy. In April 2021, while he was still receiving chemo, Max relapsed. The intense treatment started again, eventually leading to the transplant.

    “When Max had his relapse, he required aggressive steroid treatment and several IV chemotherapy treatments each week followed by a month-long infusion of an immunotherapy drug called Blinatumomab.

    “He had to spend weeks in hospital and was then allowed home with a portable drip and slept with it in a bag next to him.

    “The risk of infection from other people was huge, and his pony was the only release he had. He couldn’t walk because of the treatment, and he couldn’t play sports or even see his friends.

    “After the transplant he was in an air-filtered room which he couldn’t leave for six weeks; it was hard not to see Bambi.”

    Max and Bambi are taking part in a musical quadrille as part of Whitegate Farm Livery & Training Centre’s Macmillan Coffee Morning tomorrow (8 October), in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

    “The link to cancer and the horses are things Max is passionate about, so it is something he wanted to support,” she added.

    Max is now progressing well and returned to school in September.

    “I have not been able to take Bambi to shows for years because of my leukaemia, so I am really looking forward to taking part in the event,” said Max. “It means a lot to me as it is to support other people who are going through the treatment I have been through.”

    Yard owner and dressage coach Steph Bradley will help choreograph quadrille with the team of eight on the day.

    “None of the riders have met before and it will be an exciting, enjoyable morning for the horses and ponies and the riders, adult and children alike,” she said.

    “Horses enjoy quadrilles as much as the riders. Being herd animals it is quite natural to move around as one, and they do enjoy doing these group sessions. The horses’ enjoyment of their work is of utmost importance to riders and coaches, and to equestrian sport generally.

    “All the riders will be wearing green Macmillan t-shirts, as a reminder of why we are doing this.”

    Katy Powell, partnership quality lead for Macmillan in Wales, said: “Every year we are blown away by the support given to Macmillan’s Coffee Morning and we see some wonderfully creative events – but this live quadrille has to be a first!

    “We would like to thank everyone involved for their support and are looking forward to seeing the riders and ponies and horses in action on the day and the routine they create.”

    She added: “One in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer during our lifetimes and the support provided by Macmillan makes a real difference in the lives of people living with cancer and their loved ones.”

    The event takes place at Whitegate Farm Livery & Training Centre, near Wrexham, from 10am until 1pm, with the routine performed around noon. Entry is free with donations welcomed.

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