Over the stable door: Equine world responds to teen rider’s passing

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.
Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.
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A brave young event rider I wrote about some months ago, Hannah Francis, sadly passed away earlier this week.

The inspirational 18-year-old was a keen event rider with dreams of representing her country when she was found to be suffering from osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer last May.

Shortly after beginning treatment she was given a stuffed toy pony which became known as Willberry the Wonder Pony. The gift set Hannah off on her fundraising quest - firstly to buy herself a decent wig after losing her hair and then to help others also suffering.

Throughout her treatment she kept a blog and her story was followed by thousands.

The Willberry Wonder Pony Charity is now raising funds for bone cancer research and granting equine-related wishes to seriously ill people.

The teenager devoted much of their time and energy to raising more than £115,000.

Fellow event rider Ben Hobday is a patron of the charity. The pair met in hospital whilst Ben was receiving treatment for leukaemia. In 2016 he competed at Badminton Horse Trials with Willberry Wonder Pony tucked into his body protector as he rode Mulrys Error in the cross country phase, delighting fans and creating a storm on social media.

In June 2016, Hannah travelled to Ireland to complete one of her life goals - to ride under the British flag at an international event. She and her mare Mavis were invited to ride the dressage tests at the Tattersalls International Horse Trials and they did so in style.

But fulfilling her dream was followed by a setback as she needed emergency surgery on her trip home to England.

Despite being very sick Hannah continued campaigning to raise funds for her charity until recently including meeting members of Team GB ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Since her death the equestrian world has been awash with charity pledges to raise money in her memory and a theme of riders saying farewell to their hair has started to emerge.

Zara Tindall will shave commentator Spencer Sturmey’s head live on TV at Blenheim Horse Trials on September 11 in aid of Hannah’s charity, and there are several other initiatives planned in her memory which include a charity skydive.

You would think jockey Chris Meehan’s luck couldn’t get much worse after he’d been kicked in the face by a horse but further disaster was to follow for the Irish jockey recently.

The 22-year-old was on a working holiday in Italy and riding in a hurdle race at Merano racetrack when he got unshipped from his mount. It kicked him unconscious and left him with a broken nose and Chris needing 27 stitches in his gashed jaw.

As Meehan lay on his back choking, the starter placed him in the recovery position. The racecourse ambulance was called... and inadvertently reversed onto his leg.

The irony is that several close members of Chris’s family work as ambulance drivers at home in Northern Ireland.

It seems that Chris is trying to look on the bright side however. He said: “If people didn’t know my name before this they might do now.”