An ex-racehorse with a new career as a para-dressage horse has become the perfect partner for his 17-year-old rider, who has been registered blind since birth.
Aspiring para-equestrian Daniel Bates has spent the past 17 years in and out of hospital having different procedures.
“He struggled through school with bullying and teasing, and never seemed to find his passion until 2012, during the London Olympics. He turned to me and asked if he could have a go at riding – and dressage in particular,” said Daniel’s mother, Leanne Hart.
For a while they struggled to find the right instructor to help Daniel achieve his goals, but in August this year they met trainer John Biggs and former racehorse Captain Wilson, who became Dan’s very first horse.
Captain Wilson is a 17.1hh Thoroughbred by Olden Times. He spent a brief spell as a National Hunt horse, but it was decided he wasn’t going to make the cut on the racecourse. He was then taken on by John’s daughter Eleanor Biggs, who had recently lost her event horse and was looking for a new project to bring on.
“I spent 18 months in total retraining Wilson,” explains Eleanor. “In the beginning he couldn’t even trot without wobbling, he had no muscle, topline or even basic schooling.”
He went on to compete up to BE90 level, but his eventing career was to be shortlived.
“I took him out cross-country schooling at the beginning of the next season with high hopes from my successful two events the season before. That’s when he started refusing,” said Eleanor.
“I could tell his confidence was dented and I immediately took it right back to basics as he really wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Wilson would happily showjump all day long but not cross-country.
“I had to make the heart-breaking decision to find him a home doing what made him happy. He spent a year hacking and having fun with a lady called Vanessa, who loved him as much as I did, but unfortunately was unable to keep him long term.”
Eleanor was concerned that any new owner would be put off by Wilson’s huge size, and the fact he was an ex-racehorse.
But then they met Leanne and Dan.
“Leanne had a long chat with John, who assured her Wilson was a gentle giant,” said Eleanor. “Dan came to try him, and Wilson was his kind and loving self. Since then him and Dan have grown from strength to strength,” she adds.
Dan and Wilson now train at least four times a week with John Biggs.
“Dan has come such a long way in his riding ability in such a short time,” Eleanor said. “We are all very proud of them both and I am so pleased that I get to watch Wilson in this new journey he is having with Dan.”
Negative attitudes to ex-racehorses have changed in the past few decades, with work by charities such as Retraining of Racehorses highlighting their versatility.
But Captain Wilson proves how incredible these horses can be.
“I feel he understands Dan’s disability and is always so careful to look after him,” said Leanne. “Dan’s goal is to go to the Paralympics, and he is currently training hard – he couldn’t be in more supportive surroundings.
“He has gone from being a quiet shy boy to a young man who smiles and laughs every day. His life has purpose and he knows what he wants out of the future, and I don’t think this would have happened if he hadn’t met Wilson and John Biggs.”
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