I’ve spent so much of my life just battling to stay alive, just being ok with life is enough. But
An eventer who returned from the brink, describing his mental illness as “death with a heartbeat”, has come full circle to rediscover his fundamental love of horses, and save one who was written off the same way he was.
Tom Robinson, who won the 1996 national junior championship when he was 17, and was on the gold medal-winning British team at the junior European Championships the same year, spoke to H&H last year about his desire to help others, and prevent anyone else going through such debilitating illness.
He writes a blog and is working towards publication of the book he has written about his experiences, Dying to Stay Alive! But in the past 18 months, he has recovered still further, to the point he has been reunited with a horse from his past.
“I went into horses from a young age because I loved them,” he said. “But, and I think this happens to a lot of competitors, I became so fixed on the business; earning money, keeping owners, winning medals, that I lost the love for it.
“I lost sight of the reason I’d gone into it, the love for horses, but now I’ve gone full circle. I adore looking after them.”
Tom said Something Funny (Ed), who won a bronze medal in the seven-year-old championships at Le Lion nearly 20 years ago, is still with him, and one of the horses he loves taking care of.
“He had a terrible tendon injury, at the same time my life was falling apart,” he said. “We retired him but always kept him because we loved him and he’s part of the family. Then he had colic surgery, and was given a 30% chance of survival, but he’s still here, and incredibly well.”
Another horse Tom has at home is Buddy, an “amazing” hunter who had been on loan for some years.
“I got to the point where I had no interest in horses or riding, or anything,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d survive. When I was really ill, I had to give up eventing as I couldn’t get out of bed, so guttingly, I loaned him out. But this year, they said he’d been having nosebleeds, it was a horrendous picture that was painted, and that the vet said he’d have to be put down.
“I rushed over to see him and he looked amazing. I said ‘No way are you putting this horse down’. So I brought him home.”
Tom said vets told him Buddy had heart issues, and his prognosis was not good. But after a few months, vet checks showed he had improved.
“I was written off by the medical profession; the NHS told me there was nothing more they could do for me, and if I hadn’t found one amazing private doctor, there’s no way I’d be here now,” he said. “So when I heard my horse had to be shot, and the medical profession had given up on him too, it affected me very personally.”
Tom said that now, seeing Buddy well and happy, is the source of great happiness.
He added that he wants to make clear the difference between mental health and mental illness, and although as has been shown countless times, horses can be of huge benefit to mental health, when he had a serious mental illness, “nothing was enough”.
“I was never this person when I was eventing,” he said. “I saw the stable management as a necessary evil; I didn’t enjoy it particularly, it was all about riding, training, getting better. Now, I love getting up at 6.30am, going out there, mucking out; I’m that person now, not even a happy hacker but I just adore looking after them.”
Tom added that although he will “never say never” about eventing again, he has other priorities, such as getting his book published, and trying to help other aspiring writers through the maze of that process.
“Losing my career felt like a terrible loss but it was an opportunity to go in a different direction,” he said. “There’s no shame in taking a break or a step away, and you can always go back. There’s nothing worse than suffering like that but you can learn from these disasters, and change is often a good thing. There are a ton of people suffering who need to know that it is worth holding on.
“I’ve come full circle and rediscovered the love of the horse, and of life itself.”
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