Steven Coyle, who lives in Sheffield and is a valued member of the team at Brook Barn Equestrian, had always dreamed of riding and working with horses. But his life was overtaken by addiction to drink and drugs which left him barely able to function and destroyed his relationship with his family.
Born and brought up in Newcastle, Steven, now 42, said he had a good childhood and upbringing in his native Newcastle but experimenting with cannabis at the age of 13 led to harder drugs and by the end of his teens he was using cocaine and drinking heavily.
“A friend of mine died in a car crash when we were both 16. It was the first real experience of death I had outside my grandparents and someone my own age dying really shook me. I started drinking more and doing more drugs.
“I didn’t really think I had a problem, I did well at school and got my exams then went to college.
“I have always loved horses and it was my dream to work with them,” Steven said.
Taking his first steps towards fulfilling his ambition, Steven started an equine course at college but it was brought to an abrupt halt when he was the victim of an assault which left him with a severe head injury.
“I had to have a metal plate put into my skull and it took me around a year to recover.”
The injury affected his short-term memory and his balance.
“My college course had gone by the wayside and I just gave up hope.”
Steven fell deeper into addiction and said his life started to spiral out of control.
“I was drinking and taking drugs every day. Not to get a buzz but just so I could function. My life was like a revolving door as I was in and out of prison and my relationship with my family was disintegrating
“I started to question myself but I didn’t know how to begin sorting it out. Then my best friend died.
“We were like brothers and I was at his funeral, full of drugs, staring at his coffin for about an hour.
“I was dying then. I weighed seven-and-a-half stone and I realised as I stood there ‘that will be me next’.”
Steven said that it was a turning point.
“I went straight home and contacted my social worker asking them to help me. Three days later I was out of Newcastle and in rehab in Sheffield.” Steven said it took five months of “hard detox” to clear his system. “I really thought I would die in that detox but I got through it and moved into supported housing.”
It was here that Steven’s dream of working with horses proved a lifeline.
“We needed to set up a commitment as part of the rehab and I had a friend who I had talked to about wanting to be around horses.
“He spotted a local advert asking for someone to ‘poo pick’ and I rang up straight away. The next day I was working and I loved it.
“After the detox all the emotions come to the surface and I spent nearly every day in tears. Facing the world again was really scary.
“The horses at the yard started to get to know me and would come up and talk to me and it helped me get better.”
Brook Barn Equestrian in Remires is next door to the yard where Steven was working and his dedication was noticed by owner Alison Garner.
Alison offered Steven a three-month trial, just before the first lockdown last March.
“I offered to help teach Steven how to ride and his ambition was to be able to hack out. We did a lot of work on the lunge and Steven made really great progress. He is so keen and excited about what he is learning and naturally confident.
“Lockdown has been pretty tough for everyone and teaching Steven gave me a purpose as well.
“If someone had suggested I would have a recovering addict on my yard before I met Steven, I would have said ‘no way’, but I trusted him from the first time I met him and my livery owners all feel the same.
“I am really proud of him and what he has achieved,” Alison said.
Steven has now progressed onto hacking out Alison’s competition horses and there are plans to start jumping later this year.
Almost a year on from Alison’s offer, Steven said he finds it hard to believe his new life at Brook Barn, crediting both horses and Alison for saving him.
“I still, and always will, get triggers but if I sit with the horses for 20 minutes, talking to them or crying if I need to, those triggers go away.
“My family keep saying it is a miracle. I have a normal relationship with my dad now and I just want to make my mam proud.
“If I hadn’t found horses I wouldn’t still be here and for a person like Alison to give me a chance restored my faith in humanity.”