‘There we were, standing on the A1, with articulated lorries doing emergency stops, and the wagon just went up’
A former non-horsey other half who only took up riding after he was “exploded” by a petrol-covered bonfire said: “If I hadn’t been blown up, I wouldn’t be living the dream now”.
Ross Cripps told H&H his girlfriend Olivia Allan is a rider, and he had gone with her to shows, but it was as he lay in his hospital bed, covered in bandages having suffered burns to most of his body, that he decided to learn to ride properly himself.
Three years later, he is competing at British Showjumping events, on one of two horses he bought as unbacked youngsters.
“I basically blew myself up with petrol,” he said, adding: “But it was 100% worth it to be doing what I am now.”
Ross said he met and started seeing Olivia in 2019. He enjoyed watching her at events, and riding her horse now and again, but that was it, until the party almost exactly three years ago.
“This big bonfire needed to be lit, and I’d put petrol on it beforehand,” he said. “It sounds stupid but I was very conscious [of the risks]; I had a metre-long stick to light it with – but it just exploded, and set me alight, from head to toe.
“I remember everything, and there was a paddling pool next to me, so I put myself out in that.”
Ross credits Olivia, who had had emergency training as part of her job as a flight attendant, for saving him from more serious injury, or worse.
“She saved my life,” he said. “She put me in the shower and kept me there for an hour, which stopped me from having to have skin grafts.”
Ross, who described his skin as “like a Tesco carrier bag if it’s set on fire”, adding: “It was melting off me,” was given morphine by paramedics, which “didn’t touch the sides”. He was wrapped in cling film and taken to hospital, then transferred to the specialist burns unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, where he underwent surgery.
“The doctors told me they’d peeled all my skin off with a razor, then wrapped me in pigskin bandages, which makes it regrow,” he said. “I had to teach myself to walk again because I couldn’t feel anything in my legs.
“But through all this, my partner came every day, and I made a promise to her that I’d start riding and buy a horse. I thought life’s too short, and I was lucky still to be here. I thought I needed to do something different, something I needed to do.”
After weeks in hospital, and three months off work, Ross was ready. Olivia had had a break from riding as she had lost her top horse so he suggested getting back into it together.
He found warmblood mare Tippy, who had not been in full work, and took her home.
“She needed love and I fell in love with her,” he said.
Olivia taught Ross on Tippy – “she’s a very good trainer with a lot of patience!” – and they progressed together but as she was not happy jumping much more than 80 or 90cm, he sold her to a teenager, who “absolutely adored her”.
And Ross went in search of a showjumper.
“I fell in love with jumping straight away; I wanted to do it all the time!” he said. “But then I didn’t have a horse – so I bought two unbacked youngsters from my friend Kieran.”
Ross wanted to learn all he could about backing and training, so Kieran kept the three-year-old mare Olympic Vivendi Blossom (Miley) at his yard and “showed me the ropes”, so Ross backed her, under his friend’s guidance, and with Kieran’s “pure generosity”.
The two-year-old, Finn, was turned out, and Ross rode Miley, while Olivia rode her new horse Biscuit. Ross joined Horsham Riding Club, and qualified on Miley, who is now five, for the 2022 British Riding Clubs winter novice championship, in which his team came 10th.
He has since affiliated, and competed at Wales and West this summer, in the 85 and 90cm classes, while Olivia jumped some bigger tracks.
“She won her first money there, and she was the youngest horse in the jump-off,” said Ross.
But two days after the show, Ross and Olivia were devastated to find Biscuit had sustained an irreparable leg injury in the field and had to be put down.
Ross gave Finn, who is now four, to Olivia.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I am now without her, and wouldn’t have ridden without her, so I gave her Finn,” he said. “My best friend Tim Puddifoot helped us reback him; he’s gone so much out of his way, and I think that’s been a bit of a lifesaver for Liv, as Biscuit was what she called her heart horse, but he’s got her up and riding again.”
Ross said he has always been interested in horses from afar but never rode as a child, adding: “If I hadn’t burned myself, I wouldn’t have got into it. That woke me up a bit and now I’m doing what I love.”
Ross has taken his HGV licence so he can drive a lorry, as he and Olivia love away shows, and said he would rather spend money on those than on holidays.
“I’d rather sit in the rain at a show and watch jumping; I’d watch it all day,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like the horse world, it’s amazing.
“I’ve jumped in the same class as William Funnell, and thought ‘Hang on a minute’, but they all talk to you; in what other sport can you go and have a conversation with someone who’s at the top of the game? It’s all such a great experience and I love it. I can’t imagine a life without horses now.”
Ross added that the “hell” he and Oliva have come through has made them stronger.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “If I hadn’t blown myself up, I wouldn’t be living the dream now.”
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