Simon Grieve: Tackling Burghley Against All Odds

After enduring a hellish four months in which he endured Deep Vein Thrombosis, a possible cancer scare and a severe concussion, Simon Grieve completed Burghley against all odds with his beloved mount Cornacrew. Many thanks to Simon for sending in his incredible story, and we wish him all the best as he continues to bravely battle his health challenges.

Simon Grieve at Burghley last year. Photo by Samantha Clark.

From Simon:

Imagine this — you are enjoying the time of your life, flying high, competing in the sport you love and running a small but productive business with an amazing support network behind you. You take yourself to the hospital for what you believe to be a minor ailment and bang! You are rocked by the news that you cannot complete any of the tasks that are core to your business and career.

As I laid miles from home in a hospital bed listening to a consultant tell me that the surgery to remove the dangerously large blood clots that riddled my shoulder and arm had been unsuccessful and that I would be unlikely to ride for three to six months, I was alone.

I cried with despair as I tried to explain to him that the horses would no longer be there. Who would keep their horse with me now? My world, business and life would be in pieces. Granted, there are thousands of people in a lot worse situations than this all over the world, but it’s a dark place to be, nevertheless.

How wrong can one be? My amazing support network jumped into action almost immediately. Bradders, my trusty companion, and my awesome mum were the first to pick up the pieces. Before I knew it, all my owners had responded, almost insulted that I’d even considered them taking their horses away. Not one of these incredible people left me.

A plan was hatched that we would — with the help of my brilliant grooms and riders Lucy Crocker, Amanda Hill and my great friends Harriet Herbert and Rose Bridgwood — keep the horses ticking along until I was back. It felt like we were all in it together.

All was going so well. Then I received the news that a lump had been found on one of my kidneys from the CT scan I’d had whilst in the hospital. It could be nothing, or it could be cancerous. Wow — I didn’t see that coming. I had several weeks to wait for an appointment, so I put it to the back of my mind and concentrated on the horses.

I decided, with a certain amount of protest from his owner Maria Buckley, that my top horse Cornacrew should continue with another jockey. We chose Jeanette Brakewell and what a great choice; she is awesome. Jeanette prepared him for Bramham, but it was not to be. “Bozzie” had sympathy pains and was withdrawn, and with Maria’s strong belief in fate, she decided that he would wait for me.

The ups and downs of a three-month wait are indescribable. It was frustrating beyond belief, but the road was smoothed by the overwhelming support of my team, owners and wonderful friends. To fill the time, I fence judged and stewarded at events, drove the young horses to shows for Lucy to ride, cycled out with the horses when they hacked, and ran a couple of times a week to prepare myself for my return to competition. Toward the end of my recuperation, I took Bozzie — rightly or wrongly and against medical advice — to some dressage shows. Burghley was still the aim, albeit a long shot.

My mum and sister escorted me to the hospital to establish a plan to investigate my lump, but the consultant opted to wait until I was back to full health, as a biopsy would be too dangerous with the drugs I was on. So it was now a waiting game for the all clear to event.

On August 12, I saw my original consultant, Mr. Mark McCarthy, and waited to hear if he would allow me to ride. The pause while he pondered felt as long as the previous three months, and I could have hugged him when he said yes! I stood on the street outside Leicester Royal and cried, cars and buses streaming past. What a relief!

I jumped all the horses immediately. It’s quite something getting back into the groove, and it wasn’t easy jumping again, but jumping nine horses each day certainly helped. I went show jumping and cross-country schooling, so Somerford Park just four days later — Bozzie’s first outing — seemed possible. We were back on track.

It was a nervous wait for the cross country. Being counted down was awesome; I was so excited. Then we were off. We landed over fence two and I remember thinking to myself “Yes, we’re back, Boz.” As I turned for fence three, he slipped and onlookers reported my beloved horse fell like a stone, crashing both of us into the floor.

I woke facing the sky, unable to move, on a spinal board. I was lifted into the ambulance, and there sitting next to me was Bradders, picking up the pieces once again. I remember little else, and nothing of the next four days. Thankfully, I only had a severe concussion, but was suspended from eventing, with the suspension terminating the day before Burghley.

I substituted the events I had entered for show jumping shows, and jumped 400 fences in three days with nine horses. I was not going to be defeated. Bozzie had been swimming, and we kept that up while I galloped him too. He was on great form; it was the jockey letting him down.

Two weeks later, I saw a neurologist and was given the all clear to compete again. Four days until Burghley, and not a cross country course completed since May. Could we do it? I rode three horses in the BE100 at Keysoe two days later, where they all jumped double clears. Finishing second on Davina Greenwell’s Oliphant in the Arena Eventing Final the following day got my blood up, and on the Monday, Boz and I headed for the Open Intermediate at Keysoe.

He did a super dressage test, but I missed terribly in the show jumping, which knocked my confidence, and I went very steadily across country. We felt rusty, but my wonderful horse popped through the fences easily.

The following day he was sound and happy, so off we trundled to Burghley, feeling rather unprepared, but I wasn’t about to admit that to anyone. Burghley is intimidating at the best of times, but with so little preparation and knowing that there were many who thought me stupid to be there, it was even more intimidating. At least I knew Bozzie would look after me regardless.

Warming up for the dressage, I could not stop smiling as I realized how lucky I was to be there. I followed William Fox Pitt, and as I entered the arena the crowd went wild as his score went up. I decided to accept the applause for us, and we started our test. We enjoyed every second. Matt Ryan interviewed me immediately after and asked why I smiled so much, but it was simply a miracle to be there.

I’d walked the course with my trusted friend Jeanette and received lots of kind good luck wishes. I felt pretty confident that we could do it, but as cross-country day wore on, my confidence deteriorated. Half an hour before I got on, for the first time in my life, I admitted to my great friend Marie that I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Was I stupid; was this a big mistake? The course was one of the toughest on record. But then I thought of my best friend in his stable — excited, ready and waiting. I couldn’t let him down!

As I walked to the start, I thought of how lucky I was to be there, and before I knew, it we were off! The roar of cheering and clapping as we jumped through the main arena seemed to echo around the length of the course. The encouragement was indescribable. To complete the cross country at Burghley was simply out of this world on so many different levels. I felt so incredibly lucky. Boz trotted up sound the next day and, having show jumped, we finished the biggest three day event in the world. What an achievement after all the traumas of the previous four months.

Now I need to arrange my biopsy, and another chapter of my story begins. Thankfully, I know I have my trusty support network to help me on my way. Thank you to my wonderful friends, my wonderful horses and, in particular, to my ultimate friend and hero Bozzie Buckley!

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