‘I feel like I’m flying’: showjumping success for rider having intensive chemo for returned cancer


  • A rider who is undergoing intensive chemotherapy on the breast cancer she had overcome once before said her showjumping is a “joy” that takes her mind off her health, and hopes sharing her story will encourage others.

    Catherine Pritchard and seven-year-old Knockbridge Dancer, aka Ronnie the Connie, have been in flying form since they switched from eventing to showjumping this year, clocking up their four British novice double clears in four attempts, and also jumping double clears in 95cm and discovery classes.

    “He’s a local legend,” Catherine told H&H. “I come away from shows fist-pumping; he’s eating his hay in the back, oblivious, but I’m on a high for days.”

    Catherine, a police chief inspector who describes herself as a “true serious amateur”, bought the 15hh Connemara gelding from Ireland when he was a just-backed four-year-old, and was eventing him at BE90 last year.

    “Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer again, I thought I was spreading myself too thin, and couldn’t keep him fit enough,” she said. “So I went British Showjumping to see how he went and I’ve loved it.”

    Catherine had chemotherapy and a double mastectomy for her triple-negative stage three breast cancer six years ago.

    “There’s only four grades so it’s quite serious and aggressive,” she said. “I won’t say I flew through it last time but I think it was naivety and positive attitude, and I rode through it. I thought it was confined to the past, and was horrified in November to find a lump in the same place, and it’s the same type.

    “I had it removed in December – I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction last time but there must have been the slightest residue of breast tissue left – and now I’m on six months, six cycles, of chemotherapy. I’m philosophical; it’s happened now and I’ll keep thinking ‘Future, future’ and focus on the finish line. I don’t know how I’d manage without Ron; he’s my everything.”

    Ronnie and Catherine have jumped “double clear after double clear”. She is aiming for British novice and maybe discovery second rounds, and also considering the Dodson & Horrell National Amateur and Veteran Championships in November, for which a horse has to clock up five double clears at the same height.

    “It’s been such a joy to get to shows, do a couple of classes, and he just mops up the double clears,” Catherine said. “He’s jumping double clears at discovery, which is a 1.10m jump-off, and he’s only 15hh; he’s such a sweet boy.

    “It’s a lovely focus; I have lessons with Tony French and in essence, it’s ‘Forget about your illness’. It’s a fabulous distraction, however much I’m flapping or nervous, he just goes; whatever’s going on in my head, he keeps delivering his amazing double clears. Hair loss, for the second time, is hard but the good thing about showjumping is that everybody wears a hat and I have some great wigs and pony tails!

    “We get there and I think ‘You can do it, Catherine’, and I come away crying with joy; I feel like I’m flying back. Ronnie the Connie has been my key to happiness and really has pulled me through this, especially the focus on the BS competitions. I don’t think I’d have got through with any kind of joy in life without him.”

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