Six months after breaking his neck, Tim Stockdale has his sights on a showjumping place at the Olympics

Six months after breaking his neck, Tim Stockdale has his sights on a showjumping place at the Olympics

By
Martha Kelner

PUBLISHED:

18:54 GMT, 28 April 2012

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 28 April 2012

Tim Stockdale faces the sternest test yet of his battle to make Britain’s showjumping team for this summer’s Olympics when he competes at next month’s Royal Windsor Horse Show just six months after breaking his neck.

With Britain’s showjumping performance director Rob Hoekstra watching closely, Stockdale, a 47- year-old Yorkshireman, must banish his suffocating fear that, after four decades in a sport he first took to at the age of seven, the London Games will come too soon for him.

Tim Stockdale and wife Laura at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital. where he is recovering from a broken back suffered in a fall in Wales

Big recovery: Tim Stockdale at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital after breaking his back

‘I got someone to take a video of me riding recently because I didn’t quite feel right,’ said Stockdale, who fractured his neck in three places last October when he was thrown from a horse while out in the Welsh countryside.

‘I was embarrassed at how bad I looked. I thought: “I’m a million miles off going to the Olympic Games”. I felt utter despair about where I was.

‘Sometimes you feel like screaming. It’s big highs and trenches of deep gloom at the moment. ‘When my neck collar came off, there was brilliant elation. I decided to go on the cross-trainer to celebrate.

I used to do 30 minutes in the gym as a warm-up. But I did one minute and had to stop because I had nothing left to give.

'I wanted to pick the exercise machine up and throw it through the window.’ Despite a lengthy career, Stockdale did not make his Olympic debut until four years ago in Beijing.

He was barred from British Olympic selection in 2002 after his horse tested positive for a banned sedative, but the lifetime suspension was lifted two years later because the offence was deemed to have been ‘minor’.

STOCKDALE...Great Britan's Tim Stockdale rides on Parcival during the Nations Cup at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany, Friday, June 28, 2002

Happier times: Stockdale in action on Parcival during the Nations Cup at the World Equestrian Festival in 2002

He failed to win selection for the Athens Games but went to Beijing where he missed out on a medal in the team contest. Now he knows London is almost certainly his last chance to grasp Olympic glory — a point he was not slow to make to medical staff, even though at one point doctors doubted if he would ever walk, let alone ride, again.

‘As soon as I got to hospital after the accident, I said: “I just want you to know I’m intending to go to the Olympics this year. I went to the Olympics last time and I’m going this year”,’ he recalled.

‘They must have been thinking: “Hang on a minute, you might not walk again”. It’s a bit like your house has burned down and you’re worried whether you got that 25 out of the drawer.’

Stockdale’s recovery from the accident, which happened as he was testing a young horse in north Wales with a view to adding it to his stable of showjumpers, has been extraordinary. He was thrown head-first into a fence, causing severe injuries.

AT THE BRITISH MASTERS INVITATIONAL AT CHESTER RACEOURSE, CHESHIRE

Top jumper: Stockdale in action at the British Masters Invitational at Chester Racecourse

After initial hospital treatment at
Shrewsbury, he spent almost six weeks immobilised at a specialist spinal
unit in Oswestry before returning to his home in Roade,
Northamptonshire, where he lives with his wife, Laura, and their two
children.

He was back in the saddle far earlier
than he had dared to hope and now rides five horses a day — including
Fresh Direct Kalico Bay, the mount he hopes to take to the London
Olympics — and betrays no sign of weakness as he marches around his yard
in fine rain, wearing jodhpurs and riding boots and tracked dutifully
by his Border collie, Tip.

Britain's Tim Stockdale riding Fresh Direct Animation knocks down some of the wall in the Accenture Christmas Puissance during The London International Horse Show at Olympia in West London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday December 15, 2006.

Before the injury: Stockdale riding Fresh Direct Animation knocks down some of the wall in the Accenture Christmas Puissance in 2006

Hoekstra, who has the final say on which four riders will be picked to represent Team GB at the Olympics, has given Stockdale enough encouragement to believe that he might make the cut, with regular telephone calls to check on his progress. The first of four selection events is at La Baule, in France, in early May.

That will be too soon for Stockdale, who is focusing his attentions instead on Windsor, where he will ride on the Saturday of the four-day show, which starts on May 9.

He plans to be fit, though, for the other three selection events and hopes that his performances in them can clinch a place when the Olympic team is announced in July. Meanwhile, he is bullish about his chances of success at Windsor.

‘I believe I’m going to go there and win it,’ he said. ‘I really do. I’m 75 per cent recovered. By the time of Olympic selection, my neck will be like rock. I’ll be fine.’

Occasionally, Stockdale allows himself to think of how it would feel to be standing on the podium having won an Olympic medal in London. ‘To do it in your own backyard is once-in-a-lifetime stuff,’ he said.

But would it be even sweeter with the knowledge that less than a year before he faced paralysis ‘It definitely wouldn’t be any worse,’ he said, laughing.

‘But let’s not get too Mills and Boon here. It’s a great story, but there comes a point where I’ll be written about for other reasons.’

The Royal Windsor Horse Show takes place at Windsor Castle on May 9-13, including the Diamond Jubilee Pageant. For further information and tickets (10-20), go to www.rwhs.co.uk or call 08444 581 4960.