The Stables

Living With Cancer and Horse Ownership

Imagine our stunned faces at my yard when a good friend sat down and told us she has breast cancer. We were absolutely floored by the news. We all trundle along in our daily lives moaning about the trivial and then from no where, normality is threatened and turned upside down! Our reaction was to cry and then to try and have positivity about it ,but then tears flowed again. One of the major worries and concern my friend had unsurprisingly was not her own health, but what was going to happen to her lovely horse? She was a horse owner after all…

How Do You Manage?

So how do you manage when you are facing months of treatment for cancer and what happens to the pets that are in your care? Last year nearly 400,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer. I wonder what the percentage of them have pets and especially are horse owners? Cancer treatment can affect people in different ways, some receive aggressive side effects and others can seem to follow some route of normality and carry on with the day to day routine. Receiving cancer treatment is at least 6 months to a year out of your life fighting this disease.

So how does this fit in with horse ownership? I imagine many horse owners either seek help from friends or livery to look after the horse while they are ill. Financially though, with a lost wage a horse is usually the first financial sacrifice to be made. This was my friends concern as and her monthly income has decreased drastically with her not working due to having cancer. How was she going to financially look after her horse too?

We discussed it between us and decided that we would look after her horse through her cancer treatment. It was the only option in our eyes as it would be absolutely heartbreaking for her to lose her horse on top of the terrible time that she was going through. Her horse is not a novice ride, so to find a suitable loan home would be difficult. In order to reduce costs dramatically, he has had his shoes taken off and is going to be turned away through much of the winter. Fortunately he is not one to stand at the gate in winter gales with a fed up face on him and is quite happy in the field 24/7. This will reduce bedding costs considerably and reduce the workload on the yard.

What is the solution if you do not have a network of help? Many horse owners who experience illness such as cancer seem to look for a loan home to cover the months when they are not able to look after their horse. This is an excellent solution without losing your horse completely but knowing they are being looked after and then can be returned to your care at a later date. Unfortunately as a last resort, an agonising decision has to be made to sell the horse or send them to a rehoming equestrian charity, especially if a suitable loan home cannot be found. This would undoubtedly add further stress to the owner having to give up their beloved horse which would impact further on their mental wellbeing through illness such as cancer.

Bob Champion

One of the most famous riders who battled cancer in the equestrian world has to be former jump jockey Bob Champion. At the height of his career aged 31, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 1979 with doctors giving him eight months to live.  He endured months of gruelling treatment including a range of chemotherapies after discovering the cancer was also in his lymph nodes. With strength and courage he overcame the cancer and then triumphantly and bravely won The Grand National in 1981 on his favourite horse Aldaniti. Public interest was so strong in this “overcome all odds” fairytale that in 1983 the Bob Champion Cancer Trust was set up. To this day the trust has helped thousands through cancer especially for men dealing with diagnosis, treatment and after care.

How Can I Help?

If you have been touched by cancer, especially through your life with horses there are many ways to help. Why not buy some charity Christmas cards that donate to cancer this year? Alternatively why not donate to a cancer charity instead of sending cards? Most of all, be there for your friend that has cancer, or go and help with their horse or just buy an extra bale of two of hay for them to ease the pressure. These gestures go a millions miles in the battle of this very cruel disease…

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Written by Samantha Hobden of