Jockey Suzzanne France overcomes life-threatening fall to reinvent herself as a trainer (From Gazette & Herald)
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Jockey Suzzanne France overcomes life-threatening fall to reinvent herself as a trainer
SHE remembers a horse veering across her path but nothing more. Perhaps it is a blessing Suzzanne France can’t recollect the accident that changed her life forever five years ago.
A clip of heels, a thrown rider and a horse cartwheeling on top of her, the incident which ended the 32-year-old’s riding career at Redcar Racecourse in May 2007 damaged her brain and almost claimed her life.
Left half-blind in both eyes, and no longer able to experience the thrill of victory on the turf as a jockey, France admits she yearns to get back in the saddle – if only to choose the time and place to finish her riding ambitions.
But that is no longer an option.
Rather than wallow, bitter at the cruel hand fate has dealt her, however, the Norton woman has staged the most remarkable of recoveries.
Casting aside the white stick well-meaning health workers recommended she use every day, France has reinvented herself as a trainer.
And the determination that brought 17 winners as an apprentice is now being brought to bear in this new sphere.
“I was taken to hospital at James Cook and my parents were told ‘she’s unconscious, but she is fine’,” she says of the dreadful fall, which happened in a six-furlong handicap when she was riding three-year-old filly Uace Mac for her then boss, Neville Bycroft.
“They came to Middlesbrough and, probably within another 12 hours, they were told I might not come out of it. I went further unconscious. They were debating whether to put me in an induced coma, to let my body recover, because I wasn’t making the progression I should have been at the time.
“It has left me half-blind in both eyes. The race riding was over. I remember very little and I don’t remember the accident at all.”
Observers wouldn’t know to talk to France that she has been through such a traumatic event – “that’s the way I like to keep it really,” she says – and it is another measure of the spirit that has marked her recovery.
“I think I had every opportunity to say, ‘enough’s enough’,” France adds. “I was studied by specialists at the time, with my sight. Originally in the first few months, I wasn’t with it mentally, or physically, to tell them what exactly the problem was.
“I didn’t realise for three months that I was half-blind. It was only when I was out with a couple of friends of mine that I realised. The doctors had been telling me from quite early on though.
“I couldn’t walk in a straight line for six months. I couldn’t hold a knife and fork. I always remember lifting my plate and seeing how much was round it – thinking it wasn’t bad that there wasn’t much on the table. Even then, I didn’t realise how bad that would look to anyone else.
“It’s a long time after that I realised how bad I must have been. I was given a white stick. It was strongly recommended that I should use it. It’s literally the right hand side of both eyes. I can see everything from the left but, if I look straight ahead, I can’t see anything to the right hand side. If I shut one eye, I only have quarter vision. I don’t use the stick though.
“I would definitely like to race ride again. I ride anyway. I rode two lots this morning. I think, ‘If I can do it at home, why can’t I do it on the track?’ I realise there are rules and regulations, which is maybe a good idea really. I would like to choose when I want to finish – rather than it be cut short for me.
“But, at the same time, I think – at 26 before the accident – if someone had asked me what I was doing by the time I was 30 I would say I was probably training. I ended up doing that. I always want to go as far as I can with anything I do.”
Having served as an assistant trainer for two years with Malton -based Bycroft, France’s current Newstart Racing operation is in need of new faces. There are just four occupants in the barns at Cheesecake Hill House but they have been paying their way.
Stamp Duty recorded the first win, picking up an amateur riders’ race at Wolverhampton in February, and, since setting up in April 2011, France has also enjoyed place finishes with the likes of Bachelor Knight and Bond Blade.
“When you look across the line, it isn’t really that bad,” she says of her yard occupants. “Bachelor Knight finished fourth last time out. Bond Blade was seventh of 14 but there is much improvement to come from him. He has taken a little bit of working out but I think we are finding the key to him. He has had time to settle in and time for us to get to know him.
“It was different (having a winner as a trainer than as a jockey) but I said the same thing I did when I was riding. After my first winner in the saddle I said maybe I should give up now I’ve done it, and I said the same thing after I trained the winner. But you always want one more and, after that, you want another ten.
“What I need is support from outsiders. We are not having ten winners a week because we don’t have that amount of horses. For what we have got, you can say they are improving. They are doing well.
“We are getting a couple ready for the all-weather season and hopefully we can get some good results again. I would like another winner this year, just to confirm we are doing the right thing. What I’d like, in the next five years, is to have a little yard with full boxes and horses paying their own way. I want to be able to get the same results for other people that we have had for ourselves. I want to be successful.”
For more details on France, and ownership deals which start from £25 a week, log on to her website at www.suzzannefranceracing.com