Nevertheless, Diana persevered, hoping to retrain the mare for a career as a dressage horse. She began to compete Panda in 2013, and qualified for her first SEIB Trailblazers Championships that year. The pair contested the Preliminary Dressage for Thoroughbreds and, although Diana admits that visiting such a large show was “very scary, with such a big atmosphere,” she was hooked on the experience. Diana and Panda would revisit the Championships again in 2014, contesting the Preliminary dressage class.
In 2015, Diana planned her competition season with a return visit to her favourite competition in mind. By April, Panda had qualified for both the Novice and Elementary dressage classes, but Diana suspected that the horse wasn’t quite herself, despite performing well at the higher level.
“She’s great in that she sees the dressage arena and the white boards and knows what she’s there to do.”
Diana explains of the mare, who she suspected of having a bruised sole. She consulted her veterinarian and called SEIB Insurance Brokers, with whom the horse is insured. The company is a specialist in equestrian insurance and is staffed by experienced horse people, so Diana was afforded peace of mind that she could update them on her horse’s prognosis. Diana explains:
“I wanted to forewarn them of what I thought would be a minor claim coming up.”
Her vet agreed that a bruised sole was the likely cause of Panda’s discomfort, which would require minor treatment and rest. Soon, however, the lameness progressed, and it looked as though Panda could have laminitis – an acute inflammation of the sensitive inner structures of the hoof, including the pedal bone. Then, Panda began to roll and thrash in her stable, indicating a possible case of colic on top of her lameness.
Diana drove the mare to the Royal Veterinary College for a full set of x-rays and ultrasound scans. This time, the results were conclusive: Panda had fractured her pedal bone, and her future now hung in the balance.
But Diana wasn’t willing to give up on her tenacious mare. Panda spent the next seven months on box rest – not an easy ask for a highly-strung and sensitive thoroughbred – with her injured leg in a plaster cast to try to offer the delicate structures in her foot the support they would need to heal. Diana was supported and motivated by the vets at the RVC, the staff at SEIB Insurance Brokers and the dream of taking her horse back to her favourite event. Panda’s insurance policy covered all diagnostics in the case of accepted claims, and so the cost of her treatment was covered. Diana says:
“The team at SEIB were fantastic, always helpful and understanding at what was a very difficult time. I can’t thank them enough for their support.
I went to Stoneleigh Park to watch a dressage show over the winter. Every year that I’ve been to Trailblazers, I’ve had the exact same parking spot. I saw it as I drove through and just burst into tears; I was heartbroken that we couldn’t be there, and my only thought was that we had to come back.”
Diana started to bring Panda back into gentle work at the end of 2015, but with no strength or fitness at all, the mare struggled. Diana took Panda’s rehabilitation slowly, and by February, the pair were able to contest their first qualifier since the injury. They qualified for the second round at the Novice level. At their next show, Diana decided to give the Elementary test a go, knowing that her mare could be inconsistent at the more challenging level, which she hadn’t contested for a year and a half – but the mare shone in the ring, again qualifying for the second round. Diana and Panda travelled to Oxford to clinch their final qualifications, and suddenly, Diana’s goals were firmly in sight. Diana laughs:
“I’m so determined, but now I always have that panic about whether she’s ‘right’ or not! She’s like the princess and the pea; she’s a rollercoaster. On her day she can do a brilliant test, but she has her moments – at one show, she was spooked by a lorry and galloped up the centreline!”
Diana is thrilled to return to the Trailblazers Championships, and notes the happy coincidence of SEIB’s involvement. She says:
“They helped and supported me so much last year. No horse owner wants to hear the word ‘fracture.’ The fact that they also sponsor the Championships just makes it even better.”
It’s certainly been a fortuitous full circle for Diana, Panda, and SEIB Insurance Brokers.