Jumping into the unknown
Courtney Bromby and her horse have become accustomed to clearing obstacles in the showjumping ring, but it is the obstacles they have overcome off of it that has led them to become one of Bermuda's most competitive partnerships.
Having waited years for her own horse, Bromby finally had her childhood dream fulfilled when she and her mother, Carol, travelled to Virginia in the United States and purchased Worth the Wait in July 2016, having struck up an immediate connection.
Bromby finally thought she had her moment to learn whether the wait had been worthwhile and bring Olly, as he is affectionately known at the stables, onto the island, however, everything was not as it seemed with her dream horse.
“I've wanted a horse since I was about eight years old and my dad promised me one if I stayed on the honour roll [at BHS] for a year and I stayed on it for five before he finally said yes,” the 17-year-old said.
“We tried eight different horses before I finally tried Olly, he was the last one I tried, as I soon as I rode him I knew he was the one I wanted; we connected straight away.
“Right after we bought him and arranged to fly him to Bermuda we got a call to say there was something wrong with his eye. They thought it was just a scratch and we just needed to wait before bringing him into the country, but we ended up waiting almost two months. I flew back over and we brought him back finally in September.
“We knew the left eye wasn't 100 per cent, but we all thought it was getting better. The infection went deeper than they originally thought and so although it looked like it was getting better and he was cleared to come here, we realised quite quickly it wasn't getting any better.”
Having finally brought Olly home, Bromby and her family were faced with the very real realisation of putting him through the trauma of flying him back off island, having discovered the true extent of his eye problem was in fact a rare condition, requiring specialist treatment.
“It was pretty upsetting when he finally got here and at first they said I couldn't do any work with him and there was no one on island that could do the surgery,” she added.
“We didn't know what to do and I was worried that we could fly him off island and I'd be back to not having the horse I waited so long for again.
“By chance we had dinner with someone who knew an equine ophthalmologist and they gave us a contact for a vet who is one of the only people in the world who can perform the surgery he needed.
“She was able to come here and do the surgery for him, which was incredibly lucky.
“At the time, we were hopeful that just the abscess could be removed, but it had progressed too far and the vet believed that he had been blind already for a month or so.”
The result of surgery was that it was determined that the left eye had to be removed, a procedure that incredibly Bromby assisted the specialist veterinarian with, before caring for her “best friend” and helping him through his recovery, strengthening their special bond in the process.
“Being at the barn to assist with the surgery, helping with his recovery throughout and then spending two hours a day together, we became really close,” Bromby added. “I think because of what we had to go through from the start, our bond was already stronger than most people have with their horse.”
That bond was put to the test just over a week after the surgery as rider and horse finally stepped out into the environment their partnership was always intended for, a moment Bromby concedes was slightly unnerving as they literally jumped into the unknown.
“My biggest worry was if he was going to be the same horse that I first rode in Virginia and how he would be.”
“However, after the surgery in November I got on him about a week and a half later and it was like nothing had changed. I think because he was already blind, he was used to it almost and he was never fazed at all.
“Once the eye came out, he was completely different. He seemed a lot more relaxed and happy around the stable, I think he was just relieved to be out of pain.
“He never had an issue with jumping. His main issue was because he had been out of action for six months that he had lost a lot of fitness that he had and wasn't as strong as he was.
“My first show with him was the following January. The first couple of jumps it was a case of learning what he was going to do, but he was always incredibly brave and didn't seem scared by anything.
“Amazingly, he was pretty much the same horse he was when I first rode him in Virginia.”
Having successfully performed in dressage and equitation, their passion always remained showjumping. They underlined that fact by becoming one of Bermuda's most competitive partnerships, claiming victory in the Category B Division (1.10-1.20 metres) of the FEI Jumping World Challenge this year, having failed to finish a lower category division just two years previously.
Bromby concedes she still has to adjust to Olly's obvious disability at times.
“I still have to be aware because obviously we can't turn quite as tight to the left because he can't see to his left,” admitted Bromby, who will be travelling to Belgium to train with Bermuda Olympian Jill Terceira and compete in some events, having been granted $4,900 by winning the National Junior Athlete Sponsorship Award.
“There's been occasions where I've turned too tightly. However, having spent so much time with him, I've got to know him so well and we know how each other will act going into the ring.
“We trust one another enough to go for big jumps and that's really important.
“Nothing has held him back and to win that event was massive.
“The first year we competed in that event, I entered him at a lower height and we didn't even finish the first round. It was too early for him and his fitness wasn't really there.
“That's a good indication of how far we've come because the following year, we won that same height category and then we moved him up this year and we won that too.
“We've almost forgot that he has one eye, but it's great to be able to change perceptions. His limitations have never held him back.
“He has a great mentality; he really is the perfect horse and is like my best friend.”