About a year ago, Claire Salter of Marlborough, England thought she may never be able to walk again, let alone spend time in the saddle. During a trip to Texas to ride her horses, the 52 year-old started to not feel well.
"My hands, feet and knees swelled and were so painful at the joints," Salter recalls. "I could hardly bear the feel of shoes, let alone be able to put on riding boots, and the feeling of walking anywhere was akin to walking on hot coals. As soon as I got back to England, I had tests, including a blood test, and it was found that I had sero-positive Rheumatoid Arthritis with sky high disease levels and as so often with auto-immune diseases, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."
Salter continues, "It came upon me so suddenly and for nearly half the year I was hardly able to leave our house in England, let alone travel to Texas to ride. I truly believed my riding days were over, and after shedding many tears, agreed to put the horses up for sale."
However, gradually, the strong medication Salter now takes for her condition began to take effect. At first, the medicine made it possible for her to wear shoes, then she was able to walk further and further each day. With each passing week, the thought of being able to ride and compete again entered her mind. Claire now feels like she has been given a second chance to live life to its fullest.
For 2012, Salter has decided to follow her own advice. Her reining trainer, Jared Leclair, turned her lovely mare, Nics Wimpy (Nicki), into a Non-Pro horse after Nicki and Leclair reached the finals of the NRHA Level 4 NRHA Futurity and also placed Top 10 in the Junior Reining at the AQHA World Show. Through Leclair, Salter has been able to up her game and compete on a higher level.
"Jared, with much patience, has taught me to ride her with sensitivity, and in return, Nicki has also learned the patience, understanding and tolerance needed for a fairly novice non-pro rider," Clair states. "Riding her has been like learning to ride all over again. I have a PT Cruiser to drive around in Texas and one can imagine what it would be like if that were taken away from me, to be replaced by a Ferarri."
Last month, Claire and Nicki made the finals at the NRBC held in Katy, Texas and her next big event is The Derby in Oklahoma City.
"I will try to make the finals for that, too, whilst keeping in my mind that these horses are not machines and that even a small rider error could knock me out of the finals" Claire acknowledges. "After all, at the end of the day - it is being able to take part at all and having so much fun - it's one of the best feelings in the world."
Claire adds, "I will ride reining horses for as long as I am able. Riding has always been my 'raison d'etre' (reason for existence) and always will be. My husband says he thinks I will come back as a horse in another life!"
We wish Claire the very best with her health and horses.