Having a mutual love of horses, our own Robyn Martland has recently been in touch with International Para Showjumper Laura Goodall and following their conversations Laura was kind enough to write the following letter as an item to help explain her MS diagnosis. Whilst our members may not be in the same place as Laura, we hope it might provide guidance and inspiration to others in their own endeavours!
I was diagnosed with relapsing remitted MS in 2015 at the age of 21 and to say my world came crashing down would be an understatement. My life had always revolved around my horses and my love for competing in show jumping (which became a massive struggle) so the future didn’t look bright.
My first symptoms were noted when I was competing as soon as my core temperature got hot my vision would blur, my muscles would go like jelly and I would fall off the side for no reason. I would struggle to walk and started having panic attacks. After a year of tests, the MS diagnosis came as a massive shock (although I was relieved to have answers) and by that point, my symptoms had put a stop to my life on the competition circuit!
I struggled to care for the horses never mind ride, as my lack of balance, muscle weakness and dizziness took hold – it seemed that show jumping would remain a distant memory. As my symptoms got worse, one side of my body kept letting me down and depression kicked in. It took a long time to get my head around the diagnosis but once I had accepted it and started thinking more positively, I decided that I was not going to let MS beat me or rule my life! My passion was my horses and so I was determined to get back doing what I loved.
I turned my attention to what could help with my MS, so started by trying to get fit and improve my overall health. I got myself a personal trainer to help with my lifestyle, we have found ways of doing different exercises that are more difficult with my MS and my fitness has improved massively. I see a PT twice a week and couldn’t be more grateful for the help she has provided, helping me gain better strength and fitness.
I also visit a chiropractor a minimum of once a week (more if I’m relapsing) to keep my body in the best possible condition and keep everything working as it should. I would recommend anyone with MS or any other health issues to have regular visits to professionals to keep your body in the best condition as possible. Get as active and healthy as possible and use as many muscle groups as you can, as often as you can… because like they say, ‘use it or lose it’ and I for sure am determined not to lose it!
I started back riding, by going for small walks on my horse and tried building this up gradually. The more I did, the better it got. In October 2017, I was able to attend my first showjumping competition in more than three years and it was successful! The buzz I got from proving everyone wrong and being back doing what I loved was amazing – so much so that I cried with joy!
Since then, I’ve kept going and continue to build on my weaknesses and try not to get too disheartened when things don’t go to plan. I have had to have a whole new ‘cooling’ kit to keep my core temperature lower and reduce the muscle issues when I’m competing – but it works!
Granted, I’ve had many bad days and struggled to even tack a horse up on occasions, but I’ve always said, anything is better than nothing, so even a quick walk around the arena is more than I would have done a few years back! It is a mammoth task carrying out such a strenuous sport with such weaknesses, but I like a challenge and am strong-minded enough to keep going!
We were treated as a partnership by Elite Equine Therapies, receiving sports massages and various other treatments to ensure our alignment was correct and we were in the best position possible. They also provided many different techniques and training, to help with rider confidence and dealing with competition nerves. I had personal training twice a week to ensure my fitness was at its best and my muscles would be able to cope with the high intensity of competing. I also did equi-pilates with Fit2Ride weekly to help with my balance, alignment and strength.
I have monthly intravenous transfusions of Tysabri at The Walton Centre in Liverpool to keep me on the road and reduce my chances of relapsing. I had weekly visits and adjustments at Shrewsbury Family Chiropractic to keep my body in alignment and working as it should.
4 years on I am just as dedicated, I have regular dressage and show jumping lessons and am now back competing properly, doing what I love! I was accepted onto the British Show Jumping Para team in 2018 and get to compete alongside other people in similar situations to myself at Para competitions as well as able-bodied competitions. Since then, I was one of five riders in the country selected to represent Great Britain para showjumping in Germany at Pferd International Munich.
We attended the prestigious competition at the end of May this year. Preparation for the event took over two months to ensure both myself and my horse were in top condition and as prepared as possible for a prestigious international event. Over the two months, we had lots of show jumping training, attended UK day shows and stay away shows every week to prepare the horse. We were getting her competing in as many different atmospheres as possible as being a relatively young horse, she is still very spooky. We are a new partnership, still getting to know each other and so wanted to have as much riding time as possible. We also trained on grass surfaces to ensure we were prepared for the ring in Germany.
It took three days to travel to Germany with the horsebox, where we travelled from Dover to Calais on the ferry before continuing our drive to Munich, Germany. On the Tuesday, we were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity of some show jump training with the World Champion German Showjumper Simone Blum and tour of her incredible yard, meeting her champion horse ‘DSP Alice’. It was a once in a lifetime experience and amazing to see!
The first day of competition took place on the Thursday where over 13,000 visitors were in attendance. The competition on the first day was optimum time (where you had to complete the course of show jumps as close as possible to a selected time chosen by the course builder). We completed with a clear round, 1 second off the optimum time which landed us in 2nd place, I was the highest place Great British rider and lady rider.
The second day of competition on the Friday was a speed class, so fastest wins! We were delighted with our second clear of the competition and ended up WINNING!
We were awarded with a rug, a gold rosette, prize money and gifts including riding attire and horse feeds. To come home from our first international competition with a gold and silver for Great Britain so early in our partnership together really was incredible and a dream come true. It certainly made all of struggles/effort, blood, sweat and tears worth it!
Now that I am back on the competition circuit and attending International competitions, I have obtained numerous sponsors Elite Equine Therapies, Bodans UK Ltd, Shrewsbury Family Chiropractic, Mojo Europe, La Flex Equestrian International, Desidero Horseboxes, Vision Upholstery, Crewe Saddlery and Something From the Hart Photography.
I am very thankful to all of them for their invaluable support and for believing in me. I have had a massive amount of support from friends, family, specialists and trainers helping me to achieve my competition goals and for that, I am extremely grateful!
The results I have achieved and the position I am now in is a dream come true and I honestly didn’t think it would ever be possible again. I couldn’t be prouder of what I have accomplished considering my circumstances and would urge anyone with a passion or a dream to keep trying, work hard and you will achieve it!
Never give up and certainly never, ever let MS or any illness beat you!
International Para Showjumper