'My horse saved my life' says North Yorkshire mum after debilitating stroke

Struck down by a terrible stroke, North Yorkshire mother Janine Bower felt as if her every opportunity were over.

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Janine Bower, from Huby near York, will compete in Ride Yorkshire on November 3 to raise money for research with the Stroke Association. This will be her first major ride since she suffered a stroke two years ago, fearing she would never be in the saddle again.

Janine Bower, from Huby near York, will compete in Ride Yorkshire on November 3 to raise money for research with the Stroke Association. This will be her first major ride since she suffered a stroke two years ago, fearing she would never be in the saddle again.

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She couldn’t work and was unable even to write her name, turning in desperation to children’s books to practice her letters.

Worst of all for the keen horsewoman, she was overcome by anxiety and, terrified of leading her horse, feared she may never ride again.

Mother of two, Janine Bower, 54, from Huby in York, pictured with horse Syd whom she credits with helping her regain her confidence after a stroke. Image: Gary Longbottom.

Mother of two, Janine Bower, 54, from Huby in York, pictured with horse Syd whom she credits with helping her regain her confidence after a stroke. Image: Gary Longbottom.

Two years on, she is back in the saddle, preparing for her first major challenge. Piebald cob Syd is her saviour, she laughs, proving to have been all the therapy she needed.

And while next month’s challenge may only be 14 miles, it is a momentous advance.

“There is a potential assassin, that I live with daily,” says the 54-year-old mother-of-two, from Huby near York.

“There’s something very therapeutic about being with a horse that I can trust.

Janine Bower, 54, from Huby near York, who suffered a stroke in December 2017. With the help of piebald cob Syd, she says, she has slowly made progress on the road to recovery. Image: Gary Longbottom.

Janine Bower, 54, from Huby near York, who suffered a stroke in December 2017. With the help of piebald cob Syd, she says, she has slowly made progress on the road to recovery. Image: Gary Longbottom.

“Tomorrow is not guaranteed, not for any of us,” she adds. “If I keep looking backwards, I will probably never do anything.

“So my focus now is much more on enjoying the here and now.”

Sudden stroke

In December 2017 Mrs Bower, crossing her kitchen, had felt a ‘pop’ in her head, knowing immediately she had suffered a stroke.

Irrationally, she says, she had carried on, her lunch falling limply as she tried to eat. Attempting to stand, she had fallen to the floor.

“I registered that it hurt, really quite a lot,” she says. “And I knew, internally, that you either get up or you don’t, but I couldn’t.

“My daughter said ‘what has happened to you?’. I was able to say ‘I’ve just had a stroke’, but then I tried to go back to work, as if nothing had happened.

“There was no logic to any of this. My rational had just gone.”

Mrs Bower was taken to hospital, arriving within the one hour ‘golden’ window, but it was to be hours before it was recognised as a stroke.

That night, she says, was one of the worst of her life.

“I sat at the nurses’ station, all through the night, trying to write my name,” she says. “I felt I’d lost my identity.”

Recovery

And while she was soon to return home, it would be months of pain and fear to follow. She could no longer stand noise or light, she had no fine motor skills on her left side.

Every day she would practice writing on toddlers’ letter books, or stack coins into piles, just to win back what she had always taken for granted.

And she had to sell her horse, suddenly terrified of leading him to stable.

“Part of me felt as if I’d lost my life,” she said. “I was stuck at home, in this very quite world of my own, and unable to work for five months. I did nothing but cry. It was devastating.

“I was afraid of death. That this horrible imposter, that had struck me down that day, could come back again, and I wouldn’t see it coming.”

Recovery has been a slow battle, she says, one that started with deciding she had to be kind to herself and take it slow.

The past two years, she says, have been inconceivably hard. Looking now to help others and raise money for research, she will join Ride Yorkshire next month.

"Syd saved me," she said. "And the stroke has put my life into perspective. I certainly see the green much more, whereas before I would have just passed it by and not noticed.

“My battle was a good nine months, clawing for recovery, but I was one of the lucky ones.”

Charity campaign

Raising money for research for the Stroke Association, Janine Bower is to join a charity ride organized by the Ride Yorkshire Foundation on November 3.

The ride has routes of six, 11 and 14 miles through countryside near Easingwold.

Janet Cochrane, director of Ride Yorkshire, said: “Fourteen miles is a significant distance for many riders, especially for someone like Janine who has experienced not only a sudden crisis in her physical abilities but also a drastic loss of confidence. After hearing her story, we decided to donate all the proceeds from this ride to the same cause.”

To support search Janine Bower on justgiving.com or click here.