A YOUNG girl’s battle to overcome excruciating pain is seeing her triumph with the horse that has become her lifeline.
The family of Rowan Crosby, 12, were told she would be lucky to live beyond the age of four after being born with a rare skull abnormality.
Her condition means Rowan’s head is limited to that of a year-old child.
Doctors told her parents she would never be able to walk or talk as a result.
But 10 years on from the diagnosis, she’s battling on and defying all the doubters.
Brave Rowan deals with daily bouts of crippling spasms but is still following her dream of riding her beloved 11-year-old part-bred Arab gelding Tex at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Her mother Elizabeth Crosby, 38, said: “We knew from when she was very little that she was a fighter.
“We always believed she would do what she wanted – and she’s doing just that.
"Brain scans at the age of two revealed the parts of her brain allowing her to walk and talk were missing.
“We were told she would probably only live until she was four. But here she is at 12 – walking, talking and most important to her, riding.”
Rowan, a pupil at Buckley’s Elfed High School, began riding aged just three as a physical therapy before she could even walk.
Her Paralympic dream soon hatched and aged six she started on a Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) programme for talented riders, giving her sports physio, extra training and access to a sports psychologist.
“The sense of freedom she gets from riding is very welcome in her life,” said mum Elizabeth.
Soon the family, who live in the shadow of Hope Mountain at Llanfynydd, bought Rowan her own horse, Tex, a Welsh-Arab breed of horse known for its fiery temperament.
“Nobody could believe we had been so stupid as to buy him as young as he was,” Elizabeth said.
“Tex was very different to the steady, reliable horses she’d been used to at the RDA in Llanfynydd.
“They spent six months getting to know each other and, three years later, their partnership is amazing.”
Rowan spent two years training him to respond to her voice, but just when they were about to begin competing, her condition deteriorated.
Having become the youngest ever rider to be selected for the Disability Sport Wales programme, Rowan developed four different muscle spasm conditions and an unknown auto-immune disease.
She also developed such a severe case of Raynaud’s phenomenon that she loses all the skin to her fingers in blisters and sores.
Within six months, she went from coping and being fairly mobile to becoming reliant on a wheelchair and in incredible pain.
“The pain was so bad, she couldn’t think about moving out of bed, let alone riding.
Her pain threshold took a serious battering,” said Elizabeth.
“She has deteriorated quite a lot physically in the last year and stopped riding on doctor’s advice as her body was spasming so badly.
“It was too painful for her. She didn’t really understand what was happening. Her body twists and contorts into strange positions.
“Then one morning last October she got up and asked us if the pain would go away. We told her we didn’t think it would – and she just said: ‘Well, I’d better get on with it then’.
“She nearly always trains with tears of pain running down her face – with her legs, arms, back and neck twisted tightly into spasm. But she doesn’t ever say it’s too painful to ride.”
In the first six months since she resumed competing, Rowan won the British Para Dressage Talent Development for her age group.
The Grade II para dressage rider has also qualified for the prestigious Hickstead British Para Dressage Championships and represented Wales in last month’s Para Home International.
“As she was doing her first freestyle to music at the Home International, her whole body went into spasm but Tex kept going,” said Elizabeth added.
“He’s an incredible horse and really looks after her. He tries to give her what she wants and is so loyal to her.
“She stops being able to use the reigns but he listens to what she is asking him verbally despite her body asking him otherwise.
“He’s stepped up to the responsibility.”
Rowan, who attends two hydrotherapy sessions each week as well as rheumatology sessions, does all the stable work and grooming for Tex.
She is coached by Claire Cooper-Wyatt who rides for the Welsh Dressage Team.
“We couldn't have got this far without Claire,” said Elizabeth. “Claire helped pull Rowan out of the misery she was feeling last year and she has adapted her riding technique to suit the problems she encounters with her body.
“They have such a good rapport and Rowan’s ambitions go all the way.She’s expecting to go to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.”
The Crosby family is seeking sponsors to help Rowan reach her paralympic goal.
Anyone interested can visit www.rowancrosbypara.com or call Elizabeth on 01352 779917.
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