Sallyanne wins on horseback again after life-changing accident left her paralysed

May 29 2019
Sallyanne wins on horseback again after life-changing accident left her paralysed

A FRAMPTON Cotterell woman left paralysed from the waist down in an accident has fulfilled her dream of competing on horseback.

Sallyanne Haigh, 45, was warned not to ride again after her horse took a fence at the wrong angle and reared up and backwards, landing on top of her, in Chipping Sodbury. She needed nine hours of emergency surgery, was in hospital for six months and left with irreparable spinal cord damage.

But the mum-of-two was determined to get back in the saddle and, three-and-a-half years on from the accident, has won her first competition as a para rider.

Sallyanne, above, took part in the South West Dressage Championships, a two day event in Bicton Arena in Devon, on a horse called Flynn - and won her class.

Sallyanne competing

Sallyanne said: “I was absolutely overwhelmed to win. Once the adrenaline had gone, I thought I can’t believe I’ve attended, I’ve competed, I’ve won. I was so happy.

Right from the beginning after my accident I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something that everyone said I couldn’t do. The doctors said ‘don’t ride again because of the risk’. Well, everything that I do is a risk now.”

Sallyanne has worked incredibly hard for two years to get to the point where she was physically ready to enter a competitive event. The support of a specialist gym has been essential. She has been working on her core to make sure she has the strength to sits up and stay in the saddle.

Just taking part at Bicton was a challenge.

Sallyanne said: “Venues aren’t adapted for para riders. We had to do the hoisting in the lorry park. Then I had to navigate from there to the warm-up arena and from there to the arena – nothing’s nearby. Down paths, over rough terrain, through crowds of people. The arena was down a steep slope and people don’t realise how difficult that is for me, I’ve got no core, no feeling from the waist down. I’m not strapped in, staying on is down to my core strength. It was a massive achievement to even get to the arena.”

Sallyanne is classified as a grade 2 para rider. The grading goes from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most severe disability to 5 the least compromised. She had to qualify to take part at Bicton, which hosted around 200 riders during the championship.

She fond it an overwhelming experience:

It was surreal, so emotional,” said Sallyanne. “I was told to forget everything that I had ever done before my accident. When I was first in the arena it was like I was welling up, the adrenaline, the relief, the excitement, the fact that I can do it. I never thought it was going to be this hard.”

Sallyanne’s specially adapted saddle has a bar at the front and rolls for her knees and thighs. She uses two whips, holding one in each hand and using them as her legs. She has adapted reins so that she can loop them and doesn’t get pulled forwards.

Sallyanne competing

Sallyanne’s horse Flynn, above, has been trained by his owner, Beth Miller at Lone Oak Stables in Old Sodbury. He’s had to learn that the whip isn’t a punishment, and to wait while she’s hoisted onto his back. She has a hoist at home and on the back of the lorry which transports Flynn.

The specialist equipment doesn’t come cheap, but Sallyanne is fortunate to have had the saddle sponsored by the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust. Her lessons are partly paid for by a grant from the Disabled Sports Foundation, which also funded her weekend at Bicton.

She has also recently been awarded a bursary for lessons from the British Horse Society.

But financially it isn’t easy. Sallyanne said: “I don’t have any ongoing financial funding. I’m a middle aged lady with children and a mortgage.” She has two teenagers aged 15 and 17.

Trotting is next on Sallyanne’s list to master, then competing at a walk and a trot. She wants to visit other competition venues to learn how to cope with different environments.

And she wants to carry on giving something back to the Great Western Air Ambulance whose staff saved her life, and to charities which support those with spinal injury. Her latest fundraising event is a Black Tie Ball at the Grand Hotel in Bristol on 28 September. Tickets are available by email at

If you can help Sallyanne with funding, you can contact her via Lone Oak Stables’ website