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‘I couldn’t do it with out Bob’: rider who competes regardless of spinal-cord harm hopes to encourage others again into the saddle


  • A rider who was told she should not ride owing to her spinal-cord injury, but who hacks, jumps and competes side-saddle says if her story inspires one more person to ride again, she will be happy.

    Jackie Larkin has cauda equina syndrome as a result of a disc “exploding” in December 2010. The rare condition, caused by compression of the nerves in the lower back, causes varying levels of disability. Jackie’s balance is affected and she has left-sided weakness and cannot feel her feet and seat, but she told H&H she competes in able-bodied classes side-saddle as it is easier for her to balance.



    “I can’t feel what I’m sitting on, or where my feet are, so it can get interesting!” she said. “But I wouldn’t be able to to do any of what I do without Bob my Irish cob, who’s a wonder horse.”

    It was a week before Christmas 2010 when Jackie’s disc spontaneously burst, and she was told she should not ride again.

    “I only started again three or four years ago as a friend of mine had a retired mare called Sasha, and I’d lost 80% of my bodyweight. I’d gone up to 23 stone after the accident but I had surgery on my stomach, lost 11 stone and thought ‘Right, I’m going to ride again’.

    “With Sasha, I started my journey again, and she was brilliant, a super special mare.

    “It was amazing to be riding again; I felt like I was walking on air.”

    Instructor Patricia Hewett suggested side-saddle, as Jackie was struggling astride, and she rode that way on Sasha, then the first Covid lockdown came in.

    Patricia had heard Bob was for sale, and as Jackie’s planned trip to New York had been cancelled, she was able to buy him.

    “He was called Mr Blobby but I refuse to call him that!” she said. “Patricia said she’d found a horse for me. He was a former hunt hireling, so he’s been everywhere, and when I tried him, I lost my balance and he stopped immediately to let me regain it. He’s such a kind horse and he sold himself to me, and I’d rather have a Bob than a trip to New York.”

    Bob had never worn a side-saddle but “took to it like a duck to water”, Jackie said, and the pair have since done a bit of everything, with the “amazing” support of the Side Saddle Association; hacking, showing, concours d’elegance, dressage and jumping. Jackie also has a sharer, who rides Bob astride and does “the fast and fun stuff with him”.

    “I’ve done a lot of ground work with him, so I tell him to go and park and he’ll find the mounting block and park up there for me, and when I get on, I can drop the reins and he won’t move,” she said. “He’s fine with my crutches and wheelchair; he’s one of a kind.

    “He’s got a very Irish sense of humour; he’ll happily stand on my foot and when I try to walk away and fall on my bum, I’m sure he’s laughing at me. He’s just brilliant.”

    Jackie and Bob are also due to take part in the Side Saddle Association display at the Great Yorkshire Show this summer.

    “It will hopefully include showing people how I get on and do things, and that you can be disabled and still ride and have fun,” she said. “I’m hoping to do the Kiplingcotes Derby next year, England’s oldest horse race, and raise money for the cauda equina syndrome charity – I get on in life by setting targets, and when I’ve done one, I set another one.”

    Jackie added that she would tell anyone in a similar position to her after her injury, to “go for it” if they want to ride again.

    “I wasn’t supposed to but I’m not only riding, I’m competing,” she said. “I want to compete like everyone else. I’ve always been told when I’m on a horse, I’m not disabled; when I’m in my chair, I get bored staring at people’s navels but on Bob, I’m above their heads.

    “I couldn’t do it without Bob, my unicorn, and I’m very lucky to have him. And if my story inspires one person to start riding again, I’ll be happy.”

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